Autism and Christmas

 

On Christmas Morning, AJ woke up at 6:45 a.m. (he came into our room at some point after midnight). I said, “Merry Christmas! It’s Christmas Day!” He dove under the blankets, and I got up, poured myself a cup of coffee, and delighted in the joy of Christmas with my spouse.

At 7:15 a.m., AJ finally got out of bed, and ran into the living room, super excited. Christmas has come! He sat down on the chair next to our tree, a big smile on his face. We pulled down his stocking and spent the next twenty minutes trying to get him to open it, and he opened the first present from his stocking—a small “pin impression” box—where the pins mold to the shape of your hand or whatever you have it on. AJ had one for Christmas two years ago but managed to break most of the pins (the small cheap ones are plastic, as was this one). He loved it. He pressed it against his hand over and over again.

Then he went to his room, and shut the door.

AJ absolutely loves Christmas—he is the reason we get the tree right after Thanksgiving, which we never used to do. He loves the lights, the songs, the Christmas specials (this year, How The Grinch Stole Christmas was his most requested movie). But when it comes to Christmas Day, it is often overwhelming. Too much.

We’ve scaled back Christmas presents. We figured three gifts were good enough for the baby Jesus, three ought to be good enough for AJ. Plus, grandmothers always buy more.

Still, it is overwhelming. This is the day he has been waiting for and he doesn’t want it to be over. Lucky for him, we have learned to practice the tradition of Twelve Days of Christmas, so if he doesn’t open them on Christmas Day, that is okay. He opened most on Christmas Day, the last around eight p.m. He opened one more today, and seemed okay with the prospect of only having to open one gift. It also means that the Christmas carols and movies in our house last a little longer, so that by the time Christmas comes to a close, he is ready to move on.

This year, with Christmas Day on a Sunday, we added in worship services. At my congregation, we did a “Cocoa and Carols” service and encouraged children to come in their pajamas. AJ loved this aspect, and that he could have a candy cane during worship. Also, due to the relaxed nature of the service and the smaller attendance, he could move about more easily. He enjoyed the service and it, once again, took away the pressure of having to open presents.

Most children with autism I know love Christmas, to the point that one parent I know struggles every time it snows (they live in Colorado) because their child is ready to celebrate Christmas again. AJ seems fine with it coming once a year. But the holiday season can become a demand on people with autism—the traditions, the social interactions, the need to open presents and react at what people have given them.

For us, Christmastide has become a blessing, to turn the day into twelve, to have a season to celebrate, and to create our own traditions as a family with two members on the spectrum.

To you and yours, Happy Holidays!AJ and Christmas.jpg

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