I used to think that Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year. There were so many traditions I grew up with and that I couldn’t wait to share with my own children. We would visit my grandmother’s home every Advent Sunday to light candles and eat sweet treats. I would sing carols in the school choir, nailing the soprano part for ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ would be so rewarding every time. Then there was the baking, so much baking! Starting from stir-up Sunday through to baking biscuits to hang on the tree (half our tree decorations are edible). And of course the day itself, which is essentially a 24 hour free-for-all on loud music, opening gifts and stuffing our faces.
I love Christmas it’s magical, it’s different and that’s the problem. When you have a child with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), Christmas can become a nightmare. Everything that makes Christmas magical can cause your child distress, from the change of routine to the decorations, the food and all the people, it can be just too much. Our last few Christmases have been mainly preparing my oldest for the day itself and all that comes with it, and then dealing with what we like to call his ‘autistic hangover’ on Boxing Day.
Last Christmas was probably the worst one yet. He was in Reception year at school, and already having meltdowns after school on a daily basis. They had changed the daily routine in preparation for their Christmas assembly. He didn’t even make it out of the school gates before the screaming started. This year however, we will have been living in a Muslim country for nearly 5 months. While there are decorations in the shops and plenty of Christmas markets and activities (ice skating being one!) available, I have a unique opportunity when it comes to the day itself.
When we moved to Morocco, I decided to enroll my children into one of the private Moroccan schools. I wanted them to have the opportunity to learn more about the culture and languages in Morocco. It means that their school follows a Muslim academic year. In other words, they have school on Christmas Day. In the UK, non-Christian children will often take a day off school for religious events. I’m not opposed to this as we will have family visiting for the holiday period. HOWEVER, this is a unique opportunity to allow my ASD child to stick to his daily routine. We would do presents at breakfast and Christmas Dinner when the children return home.
I have 8 days to decide what I’m going to do. Take both children out of school for the day and cause him distress? Or, send them to school and lament the Christmases of my youth? What would you do in my position?