Saturday, 22 December 2018

Happy Autistic Christmas.

Tree with red heart ornaments hanging on the branches.  It is winter. There is a church tower in the background, against a blue sky.
It is a special time of year, in our household.  Like many where all are autistic and adults, ours is an autistic way of celebrating Christmas.  One that honours not only the birth of Jesus, but also the communication and culture of our autistic family.

I read a lot of 'how to survive Christmas with an autistic child' stuff.  As if that is all there is - a distressed autistic child, allegedly not caring about anyone else.  The majority of autistic people are not children.  And we not only survive, but thrive, if allowed to. Most autistic people are very thoughtful about others, but have a different culture and communication style.  It can lead to misunderstandings between autistic, and non-autistic people.  Let's look at how it works in our all-autistic home.

Each of us knows the brain tolerances of the others in the household, after many years together.  So, a time of peace and joy involves being sensitive to those, as a way of honouring and loving one another.

Presents are chosen collaboratively, so that each person gets something which is copeable-with.  A favourite passionate interest, perhaps.  For me, that's maps, for example.  We know the pattern of the day, and try to keep to it.  Each of us ensuring that we have the right space, the right togetherness-time and quiet time.

For me, usually a visit to church, to celebrate Christmas with fellow Christians, in a service style that helps me rather than hinders.  A gentle routine, in safety and in shared fellowship.

At home, the shared tasks of preparing the meal, watched over by the family animals.  One of them is a self-trained 'alarm clock' for me, who reminds me when something need taking out of the oven.  Collaborative preparations take into consideration what each person can manage.  Who is good with sharp knives?  Who has the strength to handle heavy pans?  Who can cope with the noise around the cooker, and who need to retreat whilst it's on?

Conversation is without eye contact, kept to useful and straightforward subjects, in tones of voice that might sound bored or pedantic to others - but are preserving energy for us.  Quite often, no conversation at all, just enjoying sharing a space together for a while.

The meal is simple, doable, and allows for people to depart for a while at any point where their brain needs to rest.  Clearing up is done collaborately, again with thought to who can handle heavy and sharp things, and who can cope with the clattering and scraping sounds involved.  Noise cancelling headphones at the ready.  Sunglasses for any low sunlight through the windows.

Presents, wrapped to the best of our ability (variously excellent, fair, passable and yikes, depending on which person's wrapping we're discussing...), are opened together but with little fuss and bother.  A simple heartfelt thank you, or hug, according to the preference of the person. If we don't like it, we don't have to pretend that we do. No-one is insulted by this.

Then time to depart to four corners of the house, to spent equally blissful time with a new gift.  Perhaps a shared time watching the Queen's Speech, or in different rooms on different social media.  Sharing joy and life in general with people over social media is very much part of my life.

Perhaps a walk with the family pet(s), or - until fairly recently - a foray to the stables to look after the rescued horse we called a member of the family for many years. He lived to a grand age.   There was something glorious about being in real live stables at Christmas (and of course every day), in the straw, making sure that all was well and all were fed and watered.  Whether through snow or driving rain, whether damp drizzle, dazzling sun or sharp frost, animals need looking after, and sharing time with as companions.

Meltdowns?  No.  Shutdowns?  No.  Is everyone happy all day long?  Of course not.  We're a real family and of course we all have moments of grr, now and again. One or two of them very memorable... But we can stay in 'brain safety limits' together 99% of the time.  

What's Christmas about?  Is it about glitz and glamour, expense and brand names?  Parties and noise and clamour and karaoke, a game of charades, a 10 mile hike?

Maybe for some.  Each family has its own traditions, its own right way.

For us, the important things are just family, friendship and the birth of our saviour.  <and maybe maps...> 

Each year we're all still alive is its own blessing.

So, wishing each and every one of you peace and love in the days ahead, whether it is your tradition to celebrate Christmas, or to just enjoy time with those you care about.