Ho Ho Ho: An Autistic Christmas

by J

This is S’s 3rd Christmas. At his first, he was only 6 months old… so, Christmas went pretty much as we had expected. Family came by, we helped S open his presents under the tree. We took photos and enjoyed our first Christmas together as a family of 3. The next day, we found wrapping paper in S’s diaper, and as we chuckled, we talked about how much fun the following Christmas would be. S would be 18 months old for his second Christmas, and we imagined he would be excited to tear into presents and play with his new toys.

However, when next Christmas came, S had been ‘disappearing’ at an alarming rate. He cried when he came down the steps and saw the gifts under the tree and he was pretty much only interested in the shoes that Santa had brought him. Shocking. Again, we enjoyed our time with him and talked excitedly about our anticipations for next Christmas, when at two and a half, S would really understand Santa and wake up eager to tear through his gifts.

Enter Christmas 2012. I had spent weeks ‘preparing’ S for Christmas. We talked about Santa and how gifts would be left under the tree. We watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, read books and went to see Santa. Again, Christmas morning came and S was completely overwhelmed by the whole thing. Santa brought him two new pairs of shoes and a tent. It took almost 2 hours to open gifts (with me just opening many of them for him) and S spent most of the time changing his shoes, hiding in the tent and playing with his trusty skateboard.

Santa had brought him so many cool things… a new skateboard bedding set, art supplies, puzzles, games and a train set. All of which S barely even noticed. If anything, he seemed disappointed that there were no ‘skateboard T-shirts’ inside each box. It was all about his shoes, his tent and his skateboard… well, until we got to the final present under the tree. Strategically saved for last, and hidden under the back of the tree, was a mini Tech Deck skateboard ramp.

We lost him for the rest of the day.

Once again, we were left mildly disappointed with S’s mostly indifferent, and almost negative, reaction to Christmas. When was our child going to become excited about Santa and gifts and new toys? Did he even notice all of that cool stuff that Santa brought?

It wasn’t until nap-time came, when I asked him what blanket he wanted (he choses a different one almost daily) that I realized that S pays closer attention that we realize. He immediately asked for his “skateboard blanken”- which Santa had brought with his new bedding set. I was shocked. He HAD noticed the cool things Santa had brought for him and he did want them… just in his own time.

Over the next few days, S initiated play with many of his new toys and we have had many hours of fun playing together.

While Christmas with autism may not quite be what we expected, it was still a joy. And, for next year, I will place no expectations on how things will go. Santa will come and we will enjoy our time with S, regardless if it takes 10 mins or 2 hours to open gifts.