I love Christmas. I love the preparation, the carols & cheesy songs, the parties, the socialising, the decorations - in fact I guess I'm a bit like Buddy from the film Elf when it comes to Christmas.
The problem is that everything I love about this time of year is completely alien to my differently wired eldest son. The change in routine, the lights, the noise , the smells - all guaranteed to cause sensory overload. Then add in the constant references to the latest gizmo's and gadgets triggering obsessive behaviour and non-stop thoughts about the latest game release/console/gadget which he has to have to the exclusion of any other thought.
When Theo was little and undiagnosed, Christmas involved Andy and I having to wait until the very early hours of the morning to put out presents from Santa as he bounced off the walls with excitement, unable to sleep. When he was older and no longer believed in Santa he would become overwhelmed to the point that he threw up on Christmas morning.
Now he is a lot older he tries to cope with the whole Christmas thing, tolerating my over-enthusiasm, often locking himself away in his room to get away from it all. But add into this the pressures of school work, life, hormones and total sensory overload and inevitably there are meltdowns. We have been trying to anticipate and prepare for things this year, we were willing to forgo a traditional Christmas family meal ( cue: recipe for disaster) and instead have a help yourself buffet with everyones favourites including the ubiquitous Doritos and Veggie Hot dogs. But end of term school pressures added into the mix were just too much for Theo and he just was unable to function, floored by one of his migraines, his brain as he describes it "like a hive of cats".
In desperation I turned to other parents with teenage sons with an asperger diagnosis. Tania Tiraoro, one of the founders of the very successful & informative Special Needs Jungle website and a parent of two teenage boys on the spectrum herself advised me that with Aspie teens you just have to think laterally.
So once again we had to stand in Theo's shoes and look at what would work for him which in turn would work for us so that we all have the Christmas we want and can enjoy.
So the outcome is that Theo is going to Grandma's on Monday. Grandma, my mum Julie, has a very special bond with Theo, her first grandchild. Theo loves going to her house in South Wales and his visits there are respite away from the hustle and bustle and unpredictability of our lives here. When I mentioned the idea, his body language changed, Grandma's quiet, predictable house with it's fast Internet (optimised by Theo) was where he wanted to spend his Christmas. On one condition - we have to make sure we skype when Daisy is opening her presents so that he can see her. It's black and white for him, use the technology to be with the family but be away from us so that he can enjoy a nice peaceful Christmas doing what he wants.
As a mum, I guess I have already made the transition to thinking differently where Theo is concerned. When you are wired differently the rules that we take for granted do not apply, so thinking laterally this is the solution for us to have a happy Christmas. I'm not as upset about not having my family together for Christmas as people think I might be. It will be the first time since Daisy was born that we will not all be together on Christmas morning, but this is for very different reasons and one that everyone is happy about. We choose to be apart for Christmas because that works for us, in fact it was not too big a leap to make because after years of ruined New Year's Eves Theo has been spending 31st December at Grandmas since he was old enough to travel to Wales by train on his own. Xanthe will even be joining them this year.
So as we explain to friends why our family is fragmented for Christmas we tell them that it's a good thing, it is going to work for us and by choosing to be apart we will all be happy - and as Theo says, there's always skype.