It’s coming up to that time of year again. You know, the ‘C’ word. Christmas can be a really tricky time for people on the autism spectrum; there’s a lot of change and disruption to routine; lots of new and strange foods to try
to avoid; lots of places to go and visiting to do; lots and lots of presents and excitement. It can be pretty overwhelming for neurotypical people, so just try to imagine what it must be like for autistics and those with sensory processing difficulties!
There are two events in particular that I anticipate Tink struggling with: her school nativity and visiting Father Christmas.
Last year was Tink’s first Nursery nativity. She had one at playgroup the previous year, but that was a total disaster and she refused to join in at all. That was pre-diagnosis, and we had learnt a lot more by last Christmas, both about Tink and about autism. She was given a part as an angel – no words to say (seeing as she was still rather non-verbal then!) and some dancing in a circle to do. They practised and practised so she would know what to expect. Then came the dress rehearsal. I was at work, but Tink’s teacher suggested maybe Grandad could come in to help in case she became overwhelmed. Which she did. Apparently, it was pretty awful. She refused to wear the beautiful angel costume I had
lovingly handcrafted ‘borrowed’ from the work dressing up box. She was very distressed. I even got a phone call from her teacher in the afternoon to warn me that it hadn’t gone well and maybe we needed to rethink the real deal the following day. I thought she was going to ask me not to bring Tink in, but, of course not. She just suggested we find something else for her to wear that she would feel more comfortable in and said she would put me a seat at the front right by Tink ‘in case’.
So, the next day arrived and I dressed Tink in starry leggings, a white t-shirt and silver shoes, with some tinsel in her hair. It would do. I took her to Nursery, then Grandma and I took up our special, reserved seats (I could see other parents wondering what we’d done to get the special seats!) next to the ‘stage’, nervously awaiting the performance. When the children came in, Tink seemed happy enough and sat with the other children and her TA, barely noticing Grandma and I.
And then, to everyone’s surprise, she did exactly what she was supposed to, when she was supposed to, including the holding-hands-dancing part. Even her teacher had tears in her eyes! It was amazing! But that’s our Tink – always surprising us when we’re least expecting it. I kept the angel costume in case she needed it in the future and, a couple of weeks ago, she found it and has been asking to wear it almost daily! So it’s typical that this year she’s down to be a shepherd… Hopefully this time she’ll know more of what to expect and things will go more smoothly, although she may still object to the shepherd costume as it doesn’t have wings! Grandad is once again on standby, as we have a Team Around the Child meeting with the Local Authority at the same time as the dress rehearsal, which is unfortunate, as it means even Tink’s teacher won’t be at the rehearsal!
The other Christmas tradition we’ve never had much luck with is seeing Father Christmas. Every year since H was little I’ve tried to arrange a family outing somewhere with a grotto; we used to go to Thomas Land, but I decided against that after a disastrous trip there with Tink. We’ve also see Santa at Christmas parties and school fayres. Pretty much every time, Tink has screamed. Every year I think ‘we won’t bother this year’ and then every year I think ‘no, we’ll give it a go – you never know!’… And every year I wish we hadn’t bothered! But then, why wouldn’t you be scared silly of a strange man in a weird red suit? And that beard! When you have no concept of Christmas or Santa Claus, it’s just something to make you anxious!
However, this year, I have, once again, booked a grotto visit. It could be the last year that H still believes, and I like to make it special for him. This year, Tink seems more aware of ‘Christmas’ as an event. I think she’s beginning to understand that Christmas involves presents. She’s asking for Paw Patrol toys, so we keep saying “you need to ask Father Christmas when we see him.” I’ll make a social story too, to show her a few times before we go. I feel as though she may not be as anxious this time, but who knows? She may blow us away with how comfortable she is, or she may have a full on screaming fit, and I’ll be regretting it once again and promising not to bother again next year… or will I?