Part 2 of An Autistic Christmas
Each year, on Christmas Eve, the family took Tom to ‘Lots Of Tots,’ a local respite care home for all its wonderful benefits. In addition to those identified factors, it served as an opportunity for all other family members could execute their plan of action.
‘OK, so Tom’s gone. Cally, have you got those sweets he likes?’
‘Yes, I have the sweets.’
‘Good, he can enjoy them in the garden.’
‘Wait a minute, could we maybe consider whether he could be WITH us this year?’
‘Well, we’ve done that for at least two years now. We know he’s probably if not definitely going to go outside, so we can prepare, can’t we Mum?
‘Absolutely! Good thinking, Cally.’
‘Oh, but what about the sugar intake?’ asked Mum.
‘Rubbish! He’ll be fine with or without them.’ Dad tried to say.
‘It could affect him…’
‘It does with most children,' again Dad attempts to chip in.
‘That’s true, Mum.’
‘I read that it can be different with autistic…’
‘Okay, STOP this. He’s a normal child who, when they don’t get their own way, lashes out like he did last year with my neck, remember?’
‘I don’t want you hurt, I….’ Dad assured.
Dad ceased pushing his side of the argument and a quick look at his phone told him it was time to collect Tom. Tom, as per usual, was happy to see Dad and they travelled home with ease. Dad and Tom went through their bedtime routine. An hour of play outside to allow time to readjust his sensory system (and to avoid any unfavourable behaviours brought on by the house’s new look) before Tom was led up to his bedroom, again, with Dad at his side.
Mum and Cally were busy decorating the way the family had for years, even before Tom was born. After Tom had gone to sleep about 8pm, Dad knew that millions in the world live by routines but just this once, he wanted a change, if not for his sake, for Tom’s.
He laid next to Tom for the rest of the night. In that moment, Dad wanted to try something. He waited agonisingly for the day to end and his loving, yet perhaps misguided, family to come upstairs to sleep before he set to work on his plan.
It was Christmas Day and Mum and Cally were tired but habitually woke around 7am, expecting Tom’s screams and hollers of excitement. No sounds of this sort yet. That surprised Mum.
‘Are you sure it’s Christmas, Mum?’
‘Is Dad with Tom?’ Cally wondered.
‘Of course,’ Mum replied.
‘Well, I’ll see you downstairs then, Mum.’
‘OK,’ said Mum, as she snatched the overhanging scarf from the door.
Mum looked into Tom’s room and Dad and Tom were not there.
Mum was stunned into momentary silence until reasoning shook her by the hand.
‘Hmm. Must be downstairs already.’
Before she went downstairs to make Christmas drinks and open presents, though Tom would likely favour the wrapping over whatever was inside, she heard ‘Mum...’ from Cally.
Mum entered what she perceived to be a bare room. No bright and cheery Elf decorations she had bought with Tom in mind.
Nothing of her design. Why?
She had her red scarf wrapped around her neck, perfectly fine but psychologically troubling, as she knelt to Tom’s level on the floor.
Tom was by Dad, playing with a colourful piece of wrapping paper.
‘I got him a spare piece, don’t worry.
He’s happy playing with that.’ Dad assured her.
‘What about the…the Elf...’
Tom suddenly spots the scarf and drops the wrapping paper. Moans begin.
‘Oh, no. Just because I’m here, you silly boy. You’re not...’
‘Give him your scarf.'
'What? Mum can’t do that Dad. Remember what he does?’
‘Please, give Tom the scarf.'
Something about this whole morning and Dad’s concentrated gaze made Mum give in.
She unwrapped her scarf, revealing the day’s gift.
Lisa very hesitantly outstretched her hand but before she could let go, Dad said firmly: ‘Say what it is, then pass it to him, like this’, he demonstrated, outstretching his hand and saying the word ‘scarf.’ Mum did as asked and Tom took its bright, cheery warmth into his body, slobbering all over it in pure glee. His happiness was unrestrained, thoroughly attached to the texture, the smell.
Mum, Cally and Dad watched this unfold.
‘Ah, darn. He’s slobbered all over it!’ Cally exclaimed, but Dad held a hand up, indicating that they should wait for this event to come to a natural close.
Tom finally looked up at his family, which had gathered together in awe and then, laughter and joy.
‘We need to talk about Tom and we need to change a few things.’
Sometimes a simple change of attitude, of practice, can make a world of difference at this and any other time.
Being autistic is not just for Christmas.
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Until next time!