Christmas for Autistic Adults: What is it really like?

Three weeks ago my husband received a detailed written report which stated clearly that he was indeed autistic. Of course he always has been autistic but as this is his first ‘official’ Christmas as an autistic adult I thought I would dedicate this special blog to the millions of autistic adults who inspire me, encourage me and motivate me to do the best and believe for the best for my two autistic children always.

I have to be honest and say both my children struggle with Christmas and I wondered if that got easier as a adult.

I asked Lisa how she manages Christmas both as an autistic adult and a parent of two children with autism.

I love Christmas and spending precious time with family. Family that I’m comfortable with. I love the events we have over Christmas but at the same time seeing people I have not seen in a while can fill me with anxiety.

It’s like I try so hard, too hard for it to be perfect. And that’s when my obsessive behaviour kicks in. I have to have everything looking just right. I want to attend so many sensory related events with my close family, the ones I’m comfortable with. When they don’t share my enthusiasm it brings me down.

I like to have set people around me and if they aren’t, it makes me anxious.

So as much as I love Christmas and everything that goes with it, i am often accused of trying ‘too hard’. Trying too hard to organise everyone, and pleasing everyone. I build myself up and sometimes I get overloaded with it all.

Social expectations and anxiety was something Chris from (http://autisticnotweird.com) also touched on too:

As much as I love Christmas Day (and speaking as a practising Christian too), it’s surprising how little I love Christmastime. The day itself is usually wonderful, but it’s preceded by a boatload of expectations- some of which you can’t match, some of which are unclear.

Worst of all is the expectation that everyone MUST be happy in the run-up to Christmas – including those with mental health issues. And not only that, but you must express that happiness in very specific ways. (Even on the day itself, it’s a time when getting drunk at midday is seen as acceptable but if you check Facebook to see your friends enjoying themselves, you’re being “antisocial”.) And having to do a hundred things “because it’s Christmas” has never struck me as a good reason to make yourself stressed- honestly, I’d rather celebrate Christmas in a way that helps me to access the beauty of the season rather than the social expectations. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus wants too.

Social events can be a struggle for many with autism at any time of year but the extra pressure of so many events can be overwhelming even as an adult. I love how Nikki from http://www.spectrumgirls2.com describes the after effect of so much socialisation as a ‘social hangover’ as this is something I see in my own kids regularly.

I do love Christmas, I think it’s magical and it reminds me of fond memories when family all got together when I was a child. I must admit I do get very overwhelmed with it all as there’s a lot of preparation required on top of being a very busy parent carer.

I find the shops so busy this time of year, music, crowds, lights and I try and avoid taking my girls into crowded shops as many people don’t realise I’m having my own sensory overload as well as trying to cope with both my girls getting overloaded. I do a lot of online shopping. With events like Christmas fairs, nativities, meals, I will cope during the event but will feel emotionally drained afterwards, I often need to go and lie in a dark room and find it difficult to talk after busy events. I’ve heard this being described as almost like a ‘social hangover’ amongst adults on the autistic spectrum. I do a lot of avoiding if I find something quite heavy going, I’m not keen on the wrapping of presents so I do put it off a lot! One of the more unusual feelings I get every Christmas time is a slight depressed feeling of ‘fear of missing out’ which is something that I’ve only just recently found out about. It’s a feeling that my children are missing out on experiences such as visiting Santa, etc but then I have to take a step back and think that experiences like this are not always positive due to my youngest having a fear of Santa, we have to do what is in their best interest.

Helen from http://www.lifeandasc.com echoed some of those same thoughts:

I love Christmas but in small measured social doses (I prefer to limit social events to 1 or 2 over Christmas). I have a set routine for Christmas . In fact the way we decorate the tree and the meal I cook is the same since I was about 10. The hardest thing for me is present giving – I am bad at keep a surprise or waiting till Christmas to open things. For me the greatest thing about Christmas is the ability to stay at home without having to do much – as I tend to use it as complete downtime.

Surprise presents was something Nigel struggles with too:

I’m not a big fan of Christmas. I find it stressful, it’s hard to do the weekly grocery shop when everything has moved around. The whole pressure to socialise, shops being busy, roads full of traffic and the same old songs every year! I’m glad when it’s all over. I much prefer people to give me vouchers or money so I can buy what Iwant when Iwant it and not have to pretend what they have chosen is anything I even like!

I went on to ask Lee if he had any coping strategies that worked well for him:

Ear plugs/defenders, regular breaks to a quite area that others know are out of bounds (safe area/place) try and know structure of the day in advance like a timetable and also knowing who’s coming.

Which leads me nicely to the hope that Matt had for me:

As an adult I find christmas not to much of a problem to be honest, it makes a good excuse to drink and throw money up the wall lol. When I was younger it was a totally different storey though…

I hated the change of routine, things happening on different days, people turning up, tv programmes being cancelled,being so excited about the presents I was getting and staying up all night being sick and then being sick again when I didn’t get what I wanted and working out there was no such thing as Father Christmas and then feeling compelled to tell every other child I saw!

As I expected some autistic adults actually look forward to Christmas and I really hope that one day what Riko from http://www.dragonriko.wordpress.com thinks will be true for my children too.

I love Christmas and having loads of decorations, loads of presents, going shopping, going to parties and having people around.

As I debate whether to put a Christmas tree up or whether this change will once again be too much for my children I am filled with hope that while they will always have autism they may actually one day love putting their own tree up for themselves.

Thank you to all the autistic adults who not only helped me write this but give me hope daily. I hope by sharing your personal perspectives it helps more people understand and accept you all and makes the world a little more tolerant both for you all and for my children too.

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Why I told my Autistic Daughter There is no Santa

I love the magic of Christmas. I love the way it changes people and they think about others much more. Charities often make more money in December than the rest of the year and children sing carols and cheerful songs at school. Although it is very commercial it can be a real time for families to come together and children can have an excitement and anticipation as they look forward to a special day.

So why would I ruin all that by telling my sweet blue eyed daughter that there really is no such person as Santa?

Firstly I am not advocating this is right for every child. My daughter has autism so I chose to explain there is no such person as Santa for the following reasons:

1. Her literal thinking was causing her so much distress about Santa.

Books, TV programmes and all her friends at school talked about Santa coming down the chimney. We don’t have a chimney and no made up story of magic keys or flying through windows could change the fact that even the song talks about Santa being stuck up the chimney! She took Santa’s grotto as literal too so became very distressed and confused that Santa could be in the middle of the shopping mall, at her school party AND in the North Pole making presents all at the same time? Why did some Santa’s wear glasses and others didn’t? Why would some be tall and thin while others were short and tubby?

There is no enjoyment in the make believe of a story when your child sees everything in black and white and will not ‘play along’ just for the sake of it.

2. Her anxiety over all things Santa was stopping her sleeping.

The very thought that a stranger would enter her house while she was asleep utterly horrified her. Even though the whole story of him leaving gifts for her should have eased that anxiety she was worrying over how Santa would carry everything, wether his reindeer would get too tired or even if she would be forgotten (cheers for that one Peppa Pig!) The very mention of Santa was not exciting my child or making her suddenly want to be on the ‘nice list’, it was in fact causing her to stay awake at night worrying and making her jump every time the door bell rung.

I could not continue to see her so nervous and anxious over something that was meant to be a joyous and wonderful occasion.

3. The social expectations around Santa were all too much for her.

Ok so I know she never had to go and see Santa in his grotto anywhere but when he arrived at her school fair or party she found the whole social aspect very upsetting. Having spent years trying to get her to understand basic social rules such as we don’t talk to strangers and we certainly never sit on other people’s knees all of a sudden she watched in horror as every other child she knew broke all of these social rules just because the ‘stranger’ was dressed in a red suit. Her autism makes breaking any sort of rule horrifying and very distressing so Santa became linked with people doing very strange and confusing things indeed.

4. Her defensiveness and love for her brother was more important that any belief in Santa.

This was the crux for me and the reason I found myself sitting with my daughter on her bed while she cried begging me to tell her Santa was not real. You see my daughter has a brother who has complex needs. He can not speak and has a long list of diagnosis. Part of that means he often has very challenging behaviour for medical and developmental reasons. Her brother had just had a very difficult weekend where he had caused hundreds of pounds of damage to things in the house. He had killed her full tank of tropical fish by pouring bubble bath into the water, yet she still loved him fiercely. So when someone heard about her brother’s behaviour and happened to tell her he would be on Santa’s naughty list and would not get anything for Christmas she hated Santa more than she has ever hated anyone ever before.

So I had to tell her.

Telling my young daughter there is no such person as Santa has been the most magical thing I could have done for her. All of a sudden everything now makes sense to her. She can now reason in her mind how ‘santa’ can be in the shopping centre, the local school and somehow in the North Pole at the same time. She realised that the chimney stuff is all a story and there is no need to fear a stranger coming in her house while she is asleep. She understands why children suddenly want to sit on someone’s knee and tell them what they want for Christmas because the man in red is actually not a stranger to them at all. But most importantly of all she knows without a doubt that her brother will have gifts this year regardless of how challenging and difficult his behaviour can be.

I actually wish I had told her there is no such person as Santa earlier. Now she knows Santa is all made up she is happier and more excited about Christmas than she has ever been before.

She knows she is getting presents, she knows who buys them and she knows how we get them.

For some children with autism the magic of Christmas is actually in finally finding out Santa is not real at all.

The One Thing I Want in Life for My Autistic Son

My son has lots of difficulties in life. He can not talk, he can not read, he can not write. He struggles to join in anything others are doing, preferring instead to flap at lift doors opening and closing or turning hand dryers on and off repeatedly. There is a long list of things I would love him to be able to do including communicate his needs, be more independent, understand what people are saying to him or even use cutlery.

Yet two days ago a photograph sent home in his school bag made me suddenly realise that all I really want for my son is one thing: to be included.

My son attends a school for children with severe and complex needs. Many of his ‘friends’ are wheelchair users, or non verbal or perhaps require to be fed differently via a tube. Some have behaviour challenges and others have genetic conditions or learning delays, but they all have unique and wonderful personalities. The small class sizes and increased staffing are necessary for all of the children, most, if not all, of whom will require support all of their lives.

However his school building is modern and custom built. One of the most remarkable things about the building is that it is shared with another school. This is a new and innovative idea where I live but one that seems to have huge benefits not just for complex needs schools and mainstreams but for schools of different faiths too. The building announces proudly to the community that we are all one and we are all the same even if we appear to others as different.

I have to be honest and say I would rather my son did not have some of the physical and cognitive challenges he faces daily. I wish he could speak, I wish he could read and write not because it would make me feel proud as a parent, but more so because it would benefit him so much. I wish he could attend mainstream school like his sister does because he would be known in the community and have friends locally he could play with, not because I have any issues at all with the challenges he faces. He is loved immensely for who he is but it would be beautiful if he was with his peers much more rather than separated and educated so far from home.

So getting the photograph sent home with him spoke so much to me. The photograph shows my son with children from a mainstream school playing a game. He is being supported not by specialist trained teachers or support staff but by another child. He is being included.

That is what I want above anything else for my son. I want him included as equal in society.

I don’t want him pitied.

I don’t want him ignored.

I don’t want him excluded.

I don’t want him mocked.

He has had enough of those things already.

Yes there are things my child can’t do, but there are things every one of us can’t do either!

The children in the photograph had no need to know the list of diagnosis my son has. They didn’t need training in the latest model of therapy for those with autism or have to have hours of training in physical therapy. They didn’t see a child who can not speak or who is unable to read. They saw a child called Isaac and did what they could to have him join in to the best of his ability.

See my child. See him for who he is and not all the things he can not do. See him as a child who is worthy just as every other child is. See him as a peer.

Please let this photograph help change society. Please let this be the generation who sees people as equal.

Please give me hope that the one thing I want for my autistic son may actually happen one day.

Maybe you can’t include MY son but you won’t have to look far for a child who may also have autism, or a genetic condition or who struggles. Send them that party invite. Encourage them to join in the game. Offer to push them on the swing at the park.

Every act of inclusion is an act of love. I promise you it is worth it. I promise you everyone will gain from this.

Autism: When your child’s obsession consumes the whole family

My son love lifts. He has done for many years now. He watches lift doors open and close on YouTube, he knows every shop in our town and beyond that has a lift, and when he has hospital appointments we HAVE to visit every lift in the entire hospital. 

It is consuming! 

It rules his life: He is drawn to lifts like a magnet is drawn to metal. He can not simply walk on by or use it for the functional purpose of just moving up one floor. No! He has to press every level, every single time. He has to get out at different floors and watch the same doors open and close from every possible angle. He has to flap, dance and giggle at people getting in, people getting out and the repetitive announcements telling you which floor you are at. He has to touch every wall, put his ear to the back and have a fit of the giggles at me preventing him from pressing the emergency alarm…at every single level! 

It is consuming!

I can’t just go to the shop to pick up milk or a loaf of bread because my local supermarket happens to have a life in the car park and two inside the shop. He either can not come with me (which involves a complete meltdown because despite having limited understanding he seems to be able to sense I am going to somewhere with a lift!) or he comes with me and I risk leaving having only made it to the lift! Moving him on is almost impossible. It involves him self harming, screaming, physically dragging him and sometimes calling for backup. It is not pretty. 

It is consuming. 

He loses all track of time in a lift. It is like an entire world to him. He loves the noise, the echo, the shiny walls, the confined space, the predictability, the voice that comes out at just the right time, the buttons he can press, and the feeling of it moving. It is exciting. It is his ‘happy place’ and he would stay there all day every day. I can’t let him do that though.

So I film him so he can watch himself back. I use ‘first and then’ and desperately bribe him to come away. I use timers and warnings. I use visuals and talkers. I could send God himself to rescue him but he still would not care. 

He is consumed by his obsession and nothing will move him on. 

Isaac is loved deeply. We allow him time at his obsession even though his sister would rather stick pins in herself than be at a lift! But what do you do when every family outing, every waking minute on YouTube and every google search (for images as he has no ability to read or write) is all consumed with your child’s obsession? 

There has to be a balance. Isaac has no understanding why he can not be utterly saturated in his own obsession. He has no awareness of the needs of others or that shops even have closing times! He craves the sensory feedback of lifts like you and I crave water and food. To deny him that would be to destroy him. 

So what do you do when you are consumed by the needs and wants of one member of the family? 

It is hard to get the balance right. We have tried the splitting up idea where one adult has the thrilling day of lifts (yes I am being sarcastic!) and the other entertains his sister. That causes resentment eventually. We have tried days without lifts (that was that awful screaming you heard ringing in your ear thousands of miles from me). We have tried compromising (have you ever tried to reason with a severely autistic non verbal 8 year old? It isn’t fun!). We have even tried the seesaw approach of you get a lift and we all get something we want too. That went down like a lead balloon!

There is no ‘little bit’ when it comes to an autism obsession. There is no ‘forget about it’ days. 

It consumes them. It consumes us. 

We are trying to teach our son patience, self control and limitations. Meanwhile he has other ideas…

P.s. I spent so long at a lift today I typed most of this up while watching him! 

His obsession really has consumed me now too…I am even writing about it! 

That is what happens when your child’s obsession consumes the whole family! 

——-

This article first appeared on http://www.autismawareness.com where you can find other great articles and information on autism.
A link to the original piece can he found here.

YouTube and Autism: The Magical Combination 


As I browsed the shelves of a local toy shop with my kids recently my daughter became rather animated and excited over something she saw.

“Hey, mum, I know what this toy does! I’ve seen it on YouTube!”



She had indeed. She knew everything about the toy from who made it, what came with it and she even knew the best way to ‘unbox it’.

 
It was not expensive and she had some birthday money to spend so we duly took the toy to the checkout where staff smiled at my 8 year old and said, ‘Good choice! Did you see it on YouTube too?’

Apparently the way to sell toys now-a-days is to simply have Ryan from ‘Ryan’s toy reviews’ or Cookie Swirl C film themselves buying them, taking them out the packaging live and playing with them. Kids are hooked on channels like this and many others and it is changing life more than we may realise. Some of these channels are so popular they get more views in one day than well known TV shows. 

 
My daughter was delighted with her purchase and could not wait to get home and comment to her ‘virtual friend’ on her favourite channel that she too had the same toy now! As we drove home she chatted away about how The Engineering family had not reviewed her toy yet and maybe they would soon too but that Cookie Swirl C loved it and she had promised to make a new video of it this week.

 
So what is my point in sharing all this: Well you may not know this but my daughter has autism. She finds communication and social interaction challenging. She is seen as different, she struggles with huge anxiety and leaving the house can be a massive challenge as transitions cause her so much stress.

 
To see her excited in public and able to overcome her anxiety enough to be able to speak, to communicate so freely and connect with me, to see her interested in something other children also like; these are all magical to me. Autism and YouTube is a magical combination to my daughter and a magical combination to me too. 

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My daughter is a visual learner and needs sensory stimuli to aid her learning. YouTube provides this so we use it to learn times tables, spelling, topic work for school and so much more. This way she is seeing, hearing, able to repeat parts over as often as needed to process, and she is in control by using her own tablet. It’s truly magical to see her finally understand something she could not grasp previously because she watched it on YouTube.



When we have to go somewhere new or unfamiliar like ten pin bowling we can type into YouTube what we need and hear and see the experience before hand. It takes social stories to a whole new level! It prepares her for sensory experiences in advance and she is able to suggest having ear defenders in order to cope. This makes her feel safer and more in control and makes the whole family at ease. That’s amazing!

 
When she struggles to know how to play with toys she can watch so many others (adults and children) play with play doh, playmobil, Thomas tank engine trains and so much more to learn ideas. While she may copy them she is still using the toys appropriately which is more than she was able to do before YouTube. That is magical.

 
YouTube helps her make friends and connect with others in a way that nothing else has. While her friends watch different (more grown up) TV shows or attend social activities she can not cope with they totally understand and connect with her when she mentions things she has seen on YouTube. It’s like suddenly she speaks the same language as everyone else. That is special.

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When she struggles to sleep (common with autism) we can find some quiet soothing music on YouTube, when she finds food stressful we can find a video of kids in a bath of jelly to make her see food is not to be feared, and when we are going out we can use a visual countdown on YouTube to help her transition.

 
If she likes YouTube then I will find ways to like it too. It is not just about nursery rhymes with Little Baby Bum or Stampy playing Minecraft, YouTube can be used to help autistic children (and adults) in so many ways. 



Oh and don’t forget that no matter how unusual their obsession may be there is most likely someone making YouTube videos all about that too!

 
Is your autistic child addicted to YouTube?

 
It doesn’t have to be all negative. Autism and YouTube can sometimes be the most magical combination ever!  

I Don’t Want To Be An Autism Parent Anymore


The day started far too early. There was no sweet cuddles in bed or a little voice asking for a drink; no I was woken as usual by screaming. I have had day after day, month after month, year after year of being woken by screaming and I don’t want that anymore. 

I don’t want to wake up to a smell that would make you want to vomit and bedding that is fit for the bin more than the washing machine, because yet again it is covered in something that ought not to be seen by anyone else. I am so tired of that now. 

I don’t want to sit on my couch in the middle of the night looking at my child and wondering what I did to have a child who sees no point in sleeping, who at 8 still can’t say ‘mama’ and who still thinks the world revolves around his needs only. 

I love him more than words could ever convey but I don’t want to be an autism mum anymore. 

I want to be a mum who has fun with her child rather than doing therapy with them. 

I want to walk my son to school and talk to his friends instead of sending him in a taxi to a place where I am a stranger to them. 

I want to be able to talk to my child about the fact it is his birthday soon and discuss what he would like to do to mark that day. 

I want to be someone who takes my child to bowling, teaches them to ride a bike or even goes to the movies with them. Instead the only place I ever take him to is hospitals or respite. 

I am tired of missing out on everything. I am tired of never having party invites, knowing nothing about his day at school, having to still dress him, having to take adult nappies and wipes with me wherever I go. 

I don’t want to be an autism parent anymore.  

I am tired of holding my child as he screams in public again. 

I am tired of the never ending judgement, the stares and the horrid comments.

I am am tired of carrying around my broken heart as a result of the interventions and therapies having achieved nothing. 

I simply can not bear the thought of my child as an adult knowing what society is like. 

I am tired of meetings. 

I am tired of phone calls from his school. 

I am tired of fighting for everything but then being accused as having an attitude or people thinking I act like I am entitled. 

I don’t want my child to have autism anymore. This is not a ‘different way of seeing the world’ that he has, or ‘a wonderful gift’. This is a child about to be 9 years old who can not say ‘mum’ or use a bathroom himself. This is a child almost my height who still can’t put his own clothes on, brush his own teeth or dry himself after a bath. This is a child who can never ever be left alone, who has to have everything the same all the time, who self harms and wanders. This is a child still with the mind of a toddler who will require others to look after him his entire life. 

Who would want that for their child? 

Who would want that as a parent? 

Today I don’t want to be an autism parent any more. 

The problem is I have no choice. 

So I strip that bed, bath that child, cook him that breakfast as I always do and let him sit on my knee while he rewinds the same ten seconds of video on you tube he did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. 

Nothing changes much in my house, except my feelings. 

Today I am tired. I don’t want to be an autism parent today the same way any other parent may feel about not wanting to be the mum of a toddler who tantrums daily or a baby who has reflux or the partner to someone with Alzheimer’s. We all have days when we are just down about the life we have. 

Yet we carry on. We dust ourselves down, search for some positives or listen to some music. 

Tomorrow is a new day. It will probably start off with screaming again too., but maybe tomorrow I will be stronger, more hopeful, more upbeat. 

Maybe tomorrow I will want to be the autism parent I need to be. 

Maybe tomorrow. 

Ten Seconds That Prove You Should Never Underestimate A Non-Verbal Autistic Child. 


People don’t expect much of my son. 

Speech and language therapists have all but given up on him, encouraging me to just accept he is non-verbal with limited understanding.

School take him on ‘environmental excursions’ rather than reading and writing because…well he can’t hold a pencil despite having been in school for four and a half years so he is never going to read and write is he?

The learning difficulties mental health team wrote to us explaining his challenging behaviour and long spells of screaming are just part of his complex diagnosis and are unlikely to change.

The public looks down on him in distaste.

Children his own age mock him in parks and soft plays when they see he can’t talk and is still wearing nappies.

Even as his mum I sometimes find myself wondering what the future holds.

It is easy to understand why. My son has a long list of diagnosis all of which are life-long conditions. He development is years and years behind what is ought to be and he requires support for all his personal care. He is a non-verbal severely autistic 8 year old who is still very much living in his own world. 

Well that is what I thought too. That is until I happened to turn my iPad video recorder on this evening while he was playing with his iPad. What I captured changed everything.

He had been handing me his iPad on and off for the last half hour. He was pressing the ‘google’ app wanting me to type things in to let him scroll though images. It was exhausting trying to guess what he wanted to look at with no eye contact, no words to tell you and no clues. In the end, frustrated myself, I handed him the tablet back and said ‘Isaac google something?’ I never for a minute even thought he would understand let alone google something so incredible it had me in tears:

He clicked on the search button and within seconds he pressed the ‘i’, quickly followed by ‘s’, then without hesitation he pressed the ‘a’ right beside it twice, before pausing for a few seconds then finishing his search with a ‘c’. In total it took less than 10 seconds for him to prove you should never underestimate anyone!

He just typed out his own name and I had no idea he even knew it let alone how to spell it!

The speech therapists may be right about him not speaking but he clearly understands far more than they realised.

School thought he would never be able to read and write…well he may not be able to hold a pencil cold but he just wrote his name using a keyboard on an iPad so who know what else he may be able to type?

The learning difficulties health team may be right about his behaviour being part of his comprehensive and complex diagnosis but what if so much of it is frustration at understanding but unable to communicate back?

Maybe this ten second video may help the public see that you can not judge anyone by lack of speech or lack of eye contact or lack of social skills. 

It only took my son ten seconds but in that ten seconds he has proved to so many that we must never, ever underestimate anyone, especially those with non verbal severe autism.

Does my son still have difficulties? Absolutely. Should I ‘not expect too much of him’? Never!

Behind the flapping, you tube on repeat, screaming exterior is a brain hard at work piecing things together in his own way in his own time. 
People don’t expect much of my son: I do. He just showed me why.