Monday, 19 December 2016

My autistic son and the Christmas Tree upset

A real Christmas Tree

It's a fine line between enabling our autistic kids to enjoy different things and not making a change that causes stress and anxiety. This year we didn't put up the fake tree we've had since we first had the kids over nine years ago.  Instead I had a heart-breaking and the heart-warming experience that came with getting our first real Christmas Tree.

We've pretty much had the same Christmas decorations since we got married. We got our beloved Beagle (who passed away this summer) that year and I had my first of three Christmas' since then pregnant. With a dog and little kids the fake tree seemed an obvious choice.

As time past, the boys were diagnosed with autism and keeping things the same was important. Anthony, our eldest really didn't cope well with change. So each year we put up the same tree and I went and got a few very similar or replacement decorations and that was it.

This year, as every year, we've been working on dealing with change and new things. We thought about whether the kids could cope and went for it - we'd get a new tree, a real one, together.

Anthony was mostly concerned about the timing of the tree going up and once convinced that the day was OK, was fine with things being different.

David is nearly six. As his communication is limited to single syllables and Makaton sign language for simple requests, the most we could do was say and sign 'Christmas Tree' and see how he got on.

We all piled into the car and went to our local park where Pines & Needles were selling Christmas Trees on the weekends before Christmas. We picked the tree and my husband watched in awe as it was 'socked'. We had originally thought about getting it delivered. But now it was in our hands, we figured it would fit in the car with a bit a juggling. It would also link the activity for the kids.


And that's when everything fell apart.

As we re-arranged the seats and started putting the tree in the car, David started signing 'no', then started furiously jumping and crying. 'Nah nah' he screamed through a tear ridden face.  Let me assure you this is no ordinary tantrum. It was a meltdown.  He was petrified by something and couldn't cope with it.

While I desperately tried to keep him safe in a very crowded car park we tried to figure out what was up setting him.

Sometimes David's not sure about us taking things home. Toys at playgroups and school stay at playgroups and school. We have great difficulty in toy shopping because David thinks the toys should be left.

"Maybe he doesn't think it should come home?" I said, to my other half.

I tried to help him calm down. My husband picked him up and turned him away from the scene and squeezed him firmly, to give him feedback and try and help him release his stiff screaming body.

I signed and spoke to him, 'Christmas Tree, our house', but every time I did it sent him into another cycle of kicking and screaming. It's so hard to see your child like this.  We thought my husband might have to take the tree home with two of the kids and come back for us.

Just when we were thinking we could go back and try the delivery service, David seemed to calm down enough to strap onto his car seat. He was still crying and saying 'nah nah' repeatedly, as I crawled over him into the tiny middle seat where I was slightly squashed by the tree.

Then David calmed. It's always strange to see him like this, post meltdown. His face goes blank but there is always a tear or two stuck to his cheek like little reminders of what's just happened.

We pulled away and then my husband said, "Maybe it's because we had to put your seat down."

He'd hit the nail on the head. David had thought I was go by to be left. It wasn't that he didn't want the tree, it was that he thought taking the tree, meant leaving me. Now I was going home as part of the family, now we were all together again, everything was OK again.

The tree went up with mostly joy and little trauma. We even got new baubles and decorations, many in Anthony's favourite colour - red. I prepared Anthony and Jane for the idea that David might want to inspect the new decorations. Which he did. They were taken off the tree, inspected and gently returned.

It's a busy time of year, but I think we've learned not to assume that it's something Christmas related that's causing all the stress. Christmas is more likely to heighten the stress levels in our kids, but it's the basic things that they've always been concerned about that we need to remember too.

We now have a beautiful real tree. And looking back if the only thing that upset David was not being sure if his family was together, then what could be more Christmasy than that.

26 comments:

  1. Such a compelling account to read. I am so pleased that you managed to get the tree home and that all settled. How beautiful that the feeling was to all stay together, very moving.
    Thank you very much for sharing with the christmas linky #mainyloveschristmas I'm really glad that you have been part of it.
    Mainy x

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    1. There are so many things that could upset a child with autism when getting a Christmas tree, the lights, the smell, it being different, not understanding. It's always being a bit of detective, especially as we have two on the spectrum. But every time we figure something out, it helps us next time. I do love them all to pieces.

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  2. I can only imagine how hard it must be to see your child so genuinely terrified and to not be able to immediately understand why or be able to reassure him. You are obviously very tuned into his needs though and I found it so moving that his fear was that you were going to be left behind. I'm so pleased you have been able to enjoy your real tree together this year. Thank you for sharing with #DreamTeam x

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    1. Helping him improve his communication is an aim we are always working towards - it makes such a difference when he can tell you what the problem is. Love him to pieces.

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  3. Oh that's actually quite sweet, the thought that he was sad about the family being split up! It's so difficult though isn't it, when they can't really express what's wrong. And you can't be expected to predict everything that may upset them. Glad to hear it worked out fine in the end x

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    1. He's usually the last out of the house, if not he goes back to check everyone is out or he has said goodbye to them so he knows they are staying. We taught him a series of phrases that we say so he knows when people are going to do something and when they will be back. That way he feels safe that things will return as and when they should.

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  4. It's so hard putting your finger on what the actual upset is sometimes. I'm glad that David was happy in the end. We have had some transition from our girl with Dad becoming the driver of the car instead of mum, she's had so much trouble accepting it, she seems a little calmer now though. But so far she hasn't been in the car without me, that will be the next hurdle! Merry Christmas Ann, to you and all your family, I hope it's peaceful and happy xx

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    1. It's being a constant detective, isn't it. Thanks for commenting!

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  5. So pleased that David was OK in the end, it must be so hard trying to guess what's causing him stress and pain like that. There's nothing more Christmassy than family being together, the trees, decs and gifts are simply icing on that cake x Thanks for sharing with #WotW

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    1. Agreed, family is very much the key with us. We spend time on facetime too with anyone out of country.

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  6. I agree. There's nothing more Christmassy than wanting the whole family to be together. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. #WotW

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

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    1. You too. thanks for commenting.

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  7. This is such a bitter sweet story. Watching your any become so upset and rigid with fear must just be awful for you and Hubby to watch and go thru with him. But his concern and love for you and his family unit was so strong, your heart can't help but melt at that!
    That really is about the true spirit of Christmas.
    I hope you all managed to have a wonderful day.

    Merry Christmas xx xx

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    1. So much of our life is bittersweet. Usually ending on sweet - so that's good! Thanks for commenting

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  8. Ah bless his heart he was clearly beside himself yet couldn't tell you why, I am so glad you got to the bottom of it. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas x

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  9. Oh bless him. That love for his Mummy is so strong. I hope that you had a lovely Christmas together. Thanks you for sharing your story. Visiting from #ABloggingGoodTime

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  10. Hope you all had a good Christmas and that getting rid of the tree hasn't caused too much upset. best wishes for 2017 #ablogginggoodtime

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    1. Will find out - the droopy tree comes down at the weekend. I'm more worried about it sitting outside waiting to be collected by the council for a week!

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  11. Glad that you worked out what the upset was all about and that putting the tree up was fun for all of you. Hope you had a lovely Xmas and New Year #eatsleepblogrt

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  12. Oh gosh so hard. Something so simple and yet was monumental in the situation. I am glad you worked out what the problem was and that in the end putting up the tree was fun.
    Thanks for linking to #ablogginggoodtime

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  13. It's so frustrating when you're trying to work out the reason for anxiety and meltdowns! And even more so for them, especially if they can't tell you. It's so sweet that he was upset at the thought of leaving you behind. @rainbowsaretoo #SpectrumSunday

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  14. I often find myself planning lots of ways of trying to make certain changes easier and then there is the tiniest of other things that catch me off guard that I wouldn't think affect Joseph. We looked for a new car yesterday and he was having none of it initially...! #spectrumsunday

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  15. Oh my, my heart just about broke when I was reading David's meltdown was due to his love for you! Christmas is a very hectic year for everyone, cant imagine what it would be like to be a family, or person, who is on the spectrum and facing all these changes.
    A beautiful post, and thanks for having me on your gorgeous Lindy Xxx #SpectrumSunday

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  16. It's so hard to figure out which knock-on effect is causing a meltdown sometimes! And sometimes it seems so obvious once you realise.

    How adorable he was worried you would be left behind. I'm so glad it was all okay in the end and I hope you all had a lovely Christmas.

    #SpectrumSunday

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