Dash – January 2018
WE DID IT!
That’s what I’d normally shout, with joy, after surviving another Christmas holidays. Dash went back to school yesterday, happy as usual to go to Super School, excited to see his teachers (you’d expect kids to be excited to see their friends, but with Dash it’s the staff (#becauseautism), and eager to get into his school and therapy routines.
But this time, I can’t say that Dad and I won the holidays, because actually, Dash did.
For the first time, probably ever, he coped. He coped, incredibly well.
We’ve experienced some pretty grim Christmas holidays. The worst being back in 2014. I won’t go into massive detail; Dash was eight years old. Small but mighty, none of us present sitting around the dinner table in our home that Christmas day, could have imagined the strength and ultimate devastation that such a small boy could produce. We were all shocked, traumatised even, but mostly heartbroken for Dash. We had failed him that day. Failed to recognise the sensory overload, failed to see him getting that little bit more hyper as each hour rolled along, failed to reduce the demands made of him to be present or socialise… so when he finally popped it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. But boy, did we know immediately, that the next Christmas was going to be different!
We figured that if things were starting to get a bit ropey, at least if we were at somebody else’s house, we could just leave. If Dash indicated that he’d had enough, off we’d go. So that’s exactly what we did for the next two years, we went to the Grandparents for Christmas. And it worked.
So of course, we changed it!
This year Dad and I decided to brave Christmas at home. Like with anything, there was lots of prep. Seriously, we probably started chatting to Dash about Christmas back in the summer. Despite its difficulties and dodgy history, Dash really does love Christmas.
For a lot of kids on the autism spectrum, Christmas can be a very difficult time of year. Probably the worst, and Dash is no exception. The nights start drawing in, the days are shorter. Weekdays he has to leave so early due to the drive to Super School, and comes home in the dark. Towards the holidays, come all of the lights, everywhere, constant streams of information to process. Then there’s the shift in weather. Thanks to his sensory processing disorder we have difficulties getting Dash to dress appropriately during the winter. Sometimes he can be absolutely adamant that he doesn’t require a coat. We’ll have a little battle in the hallway before going out every time, but I’ve learnt now to just let him do his thing. We’ll leave, Dash just with a single layer top, me with his coat under my arm “just in case”. A few streets later, with pale face and blue lips, he’ll concede that a coat is a good idea. There’s the constant chatter about Christmas itself. It’s everywhere. This super important day that everyone is talking about and planning, all for one day? Then of course, there’s the house. Wait, what? A tree in the lounge? It is a bit weird. And when it’s all starting to get a bit much, let’s throw in a school holiday and remove all routine. That’s the real cherry on the cake!
There’s lots to process, it’s no wonder emotions tend to run high. And I’m not just talking about Dash!
One way of combatting this Christmas was by creating a truly collaborative approach. Dash knew exactly what was happening and when, with who and how long everything would last for. We had a few jam-packed days with trips and visitors and thinking back, I can’t actually recall any major dramas.
The biggest difference this year has been Dash recognising when he’s had enough. This may sound like a really simple thing, but trust me, this uses a lot of executive function skills. Realising when he’s tired, or his patience is wearing thin, knowing when to request quiet time or walk away, this is HUGE. But obviously he’s not been left entirely to it. Dad and I are aware that sometimes Dash will still require a nudge, a prompt, a suggestion asking him if he’s ok. For example, if we can hear his tone of voice shift when communicating with Red (his sister), we might step in and assist the pair of them before their conversation descends into an argument or fall out. It’s often the smallest of distractions that can prevent the biggest meltdowns.
Did we have the perfect Christmas then?
For an autism house, yes. We’re never going to have the Hallmark neuro-typical idea of the perfect Christmas. In this house we do it our way.
On Christmas Eve we had some friends and their little girl come over late afternoon. Dash had already had his best friend visit for a couple of hours earlier on, so really, he’d maxed out his socialisation quota for the day. Our friends little girl is five, two years younger than Red, and two little girls together are loud. After 10-15 minutes of interaction, he was done. He was clever enough to find me to ask if he could seek solace in my room and watch TV. In that tiny moment I was so proud of him.
We got him set up, in my bed, watching YouTube videos of Dan TDM, and munching on his own little cooked buffet dinner. This was Dash’s Christmas Eve, and I swear I’ve never seen him happier.
The girls ate their evening meal downstairs, in the main lounge watching something terribly girly whilst us adults had a little Christmas tipple and enjoyed our meal.
Was it a bit bizarre that one of our children managed to avoid the visitors for almost two entire hours? Yes.
In previous years would we have made Dash try and join in? Yes.
Would it have ultimately ended in disaster? YES!
And here, I make my point. On Christmas Eve, then Christmas Day and Boxing Day, we let Dash be himself. He joined in when he wanted to join in. He withdrew himself when he needed space. We just let him be.
Dad and I helped, but our most successful holidays ever, was all down to one eleven year old boy.
Dash definitely won Christmas.
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