How we managed Christmas with ASD
All year Bright Eyes used Christmas against me. "I won't go to Christmas," he said, whenever he got upset. "I'm not going at all."
By about June I got tired of this. "What is so wrong with Christmas?" I said. If it kept coming up as blackmail fodder, I needed to know more about what was going on in his mind.
"I hate it," he said.
"But why?" I insisted. "What's so bad? You like presents, don't you?"
"Yerrsss, I guess so," he said.
"And you like swimming in the pool, right?"
"Uh huh. But I don't like the family Christmas. It's too noisy and there are too many people."
He had a point. We still get together with my aunt and cousins as well as my parents, my brothers and their families. It's a big deal and if everyone turned up we'd number 32, a fair proportion of which are kids. Noisy kids.
"I won't go!" he protested, and I believed him. For the last two or three years, to get to lunch, we had to put him kicking and screaming into the car after church on Christmas morning. It made the two and a half hour drive through holiday traffic that much worse and I didn't relish the prospect of doing it again this year.
About September I made a deal with him. We would leave for Christmas on Christmas Eve and stay at my parents place. We'd do no church or carols or extra-stress stuff that night, and none the next morning. And we'd get to the house early, mark out some 'quiet' space in a spare bedroom and be the first to arrive. If he needed me to, I'd serve him lunch on his own and I'd take an electronic device for escape time.
"Deal." We shook hands on it.
From that point on, whenever he tried to go back to using not going to Christmas as a weapon, I laughed him off. "Pfft. We made a deal. You can't go back on it."
The big question, of course, is: did it work? How did Christmas go?
I'm happy to say we were successful. Personally I had the most relaxing Christmas I've had in years. Of course, I didn't get to church at all, but there are plenty of years for that. The point was that Bright Eyes stayed calm and quiet and didn't get worked up at all on the big day. He used his screen time to good advantage but he swam happily with the others and sat up to lunch. (He did, the previous day, call our present 'pathetic' when we gave it to him, but that was because he finds family present time a bit challenging. All was good with a Wimpy Kid book and I noticed that the 'pathetic' item in question was well used for the rest of the day...)
It confirms again for me that if something is chronically stressful for our ASD kids, deconstructing the event and isolating the stress factors can really help. Being flexible enough to think outside the box and change the way you do things (in our case, this meant spending a night apart and taking two cars instead of one) can go a long way to solving the problem. It may not fit your picture of how things 'ought' to be (ie. a happy family Christmas morning at church and sitting up with everyone for a celebratory meal) but it can help relieve the tensions and create good memories for your child, which in turn builds competence and confidence and makes it just that bit easier the next year.