An autism nativity

angel

An autism nativity

If everyone in the Christmas story was on the spectrum…

Let’s start with Mary and Joseph. The story goes that they were not married.
Now that is easy to understand if they are on the spectrum! They would not like change for a start. And the social anxiety surrounding planning and attending a wedding would be very daunting for someone with autism. As bride and groom they would be the centre of attention and be forced into a social situation they would find overwhelming. The sounds, smells and traditions would all be so confusing. And then Mary would have the stress of changing her name. So it makes sense to not get married.

An angel appears to Mary and tells her what is going to happen. The angel even tells her what to call her baby!
Perhaps God knew how to lessen her anxiety by giving her a clear timetable of events? First become pregnant, then have a baby boy called Jesus. The angel may not have had visuals but the sensory experience of seeing an angel would sure help Mary to remember the events clearly. God even took away the anxiety of having to choose the name for her child.

Caesar Augustus wanted to list everyone in his empire.
An obvious case of someone on the spectrum needing to list and order. I wonder if he even lined them all up? Numbers were clearly his ‘thing’ and he needed to have everyone just where he wanted them.

Miracle of the Virgin birth.
If you know anyone on the spectrum you will know that sometimes the unexpected happens. Non verbal children can all of a sudden start saying words, a child who has struggled to talk in school suddenly finds the confidence to speak up, a child who has not been able to understand the concept of toilet training suddenly has a breakthrough. Never underestimate what anyone can do, especially someone with autism! Miracles happen every day.

Shepherds were guarding their sheep.
Great occupation for anyone on the spectrum! Simple routine day in and day out, solitary job and with the calming sensation of the noise of sheep, who are by nature very predictable and calm animals. They were right where they always were that night. The predictability is so reassuring for people with autism.

Angels appears to the shepherds.
After introducing a sudden sensory experience and change the first thing the angel did was lessen the shepherds anxiety. They immediately calmed them by saying it was good news they were bringing. Then they outlined a very straightforward sequence of events with enough detail to help the shepherd find the special baby. Perfect example of how to help someone with autism. Calm, reassurance and knowledge of what is ahead.

Shepherds pass on what the Angels had said.
Even after a length of time the shepherds remembered word for word what had been said to them. Exactly like so many people on the spectrum who can relay with confidence exact words from DVD’s, stories or conversations. Perhaps the shepherds even had echolalia, a very common speech issue for lots of people with autism.

Mary kept thinking.
Some people on the spectrum take longer to process things and can think things over for many months or years. Mary remembered what had happened in great detail and, although overwhelmed, could recall details in incredible accuracy, similar to many people with ASD.

The wise men see a new star.
Clearly these men were experts in their field, almost it would seem, obsessional. They knew everything there was to know about astrology in order to notice one different star and understand what it meant. Obsessional behaviour like this is very common with people diagnosed with autism.

The wise men went straight to king Herod.
Well that is protocol and one must always do exactly as the rules state! There was no thought that the king could be anything different. People with autism struggle with social imagination and just like the wise men can often continue doing things the same way they have always been done because they can not ‘imagine’ how they could be done any different.

The wise men give gifts.
Once again they did thing as protocol and rules stated. They could not imagine coming empty-handed. The gifts were given in an orderly and controlled manner even though they were presented to a young child. It was all ‘just so’ as you would expect for someone on the spectrum.

Mary and Joseph did everything God commanded.
They were very obliging, non confrontational and obedient even when asked to do things that made them uncomfortable. So much like my own daughter who is so eager to please and afraid of upsetting anyone.

Throughout the story God is the perfect example of a therapist. He has it all planned and lays out those plans to each person as he feels they need. He gives them daily schedules, sensory breaks (the shepherds travelled through the night in the dark after having seen a bright angel, Mary and Joseph get the comfort and peace of a manger after the difficult journey), and he keeps it all in order.

This may be written for fun but it does make you think. People on the autism spectrum are just ‘normal’ people like you and I, or the shepherds, or wise men. They are all important and they should all be valued by society.

As you hear the Christmas story this coming week please think about the fact that just like Mary and Joseph had a long and difficult journey to Bethlehem, some children and adults with autism will have had a long and difficult December with all the changes and stresses of Christmas. And let’s believe for some wonderful Christmas miracles of love, acceptance and support for everyone with autism, learning delays and disabilities.

Wishing you all a peaceful and blessed Christmas.

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I just wiped a tear away…

You’re not meant to cry when your kid sees Santa right? It shouldn’t be emotional when he asks them a question and they actually answer him, especially when your child is 5.

But Naomi has met Santa this year. Every other year she has cried. She has huge anxiety and finds speaking in public, especially to strangers, incredibly traumatic. She doesn’t always answer you when you speak to her, and when she does it isn’t always an appropriate answer. I was therefore very surprised as we walked past a Santa’s grotto in late Novemeber and she asked if she could see him. While her brother sat in his buggy screaming at his parents having the cheek to bring his buggy to a standstill, Naomi and I went in.

Hello Naomi, good to see you today. And what would you like for Christmas this year?”

A toothbrush please!”

He gave her a plastic toy pizza but she was happy at that. I’m not sure if it was relief, a touch of embarrassment at her answer or pride that she spoke to a stranger and went into a dark grotto…but I just wiped a tear away.

santa¬†She has met Santa a few time now. This was at a party for children with autism at a local soft play centre. She was asking Santa this time for a second selection box ‘because my brother had to leave and he can’t speak.’

She might have autism but the love and care she has for her brother melts me.

There was no way in the world Santa wasn’t going to give that sweet girl a second selection box.

She got off his knee and said ‘mummy this one is for Isaac. I know he will love it. But he would not love Santa so I got one for him.’

I think I actually saw Santa wipe a tear away too.

But it is ok to cry at your child’s nativity play, right? Well I did anyway. At both. Naomi was the most beautiful angel I have ever seen in my life. Even though we were sat right at the front row where she could see us clearly, the anxiety was written all over her face. As the room became more and more crowded and noisy I could see she was struggling. But she held it together. Her mouth opened along with the songs but no noise came out. Not even a whisper. Too many people. Too much anxiety. All too overwhelming. When the angels went up for thier little part she needed support to negotiate through the younger seated children. And support to return to her seat again. The tears were ready to fall when one of the other angels sat on the seat she was previously sat on. That lost look on her face and feeling of so much stress. Thankfully I was close enough to show her the empty seat right in front of me that in her panic she hadn’t been able to see. She had been upset that she didn’t have a speaking part, even though she doesn’t speak in nursery. Nursery knew she wouldn’t manage it. And so did I. I was proud she had got this far. Proud to see her with so many others. Proud she was dressed up and trying to sing along even if her voice could not quite bring the words out she so desperately wanted it too. So I watched my little angel…and I just wiped a tear away.

angel

Isaac was in a nativity play for his first time ever. This time last year he was too ill to be part of anything. The year before that he wasn’t even walking. His only part in this years show was to be part of the choir. That did tickle my humour when he is non verbal and not even signing. But he was included and that means everything. He required a memeber of staff on either side of him and a ball of scrunched up tissue paper to distract him and keep him seated but he was there. And what better outfit for him than to get to wear his beloved red school jumper. What a truly humbling experience to see children confined to wheelchairs, coping with daily medical and developmental struggles, many of them non verbal, taking part in a school show to celebrate the birth of a special baby. Isaac saw us and smiled. He saw his twin and pointed. That to me was incredible. And once more I just wiped a tear away..

santa hat

At his school party he actually allowed the staff to change him into his party clothes and take off his school jumper. And today I got to watch him request his snack using photos. For all his sleepless nights, screaming, loss of the only word he had, annoying habits like tipping boxes of toys on the floor then walking away…for all that and more, he is forgiven instantly because I am so incredibly proud of this boy.

His picture is proudly presented on the walls of the school. But he, of course, could never tell me that. The school didn’t allow cameras in to the school show today but I was allowed to photgraph this on the wall. A celebration of achievement. A Head Teachers award no less:

award

Christmas time always makes me that little bit more emotional. Children’s faces when they see they have presents they only ever dreamed of (in Isaac’s case a new unchewed jumper of course!), little voices singing classics like away in a manger, recieving unexpected gifts that show that someone cares, time with family that we never seem to see as often as we should, and food bought and cooked with others in mind. The season of giving and celebration.

It is so easy to get caught up in the pressure of buying and cooking and wanting to please everyone. The desire for it all to be special. But in it all just enjoy those moments of seeing a child smile, hearing a little voice sing and in celebrating what has been achieved this last year.

In the year that saw my baby boy start school, my daughter diagnosed with autism, my son diagnosed as vision impaired and endless form filling and meetings I am choosing to remember those special moments of achievement. While wiping a tear away with pride.