It seems Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. This year I noticed decorations on sale in August... We are one of the 'lucky ones' as despite the fact that Christmas is such a hard time, Stanley does like our Christmas tree and all the pretty lights. 

Before our youngest, Buddy was born we would try to play down the arrival of Christmas. We didn't do the 'leave a cookie for Santa' thing or write letters. We would try to keep the big event a secret for as long as possible. Obviously this is easier said than done especially now we have Buddy, but over time it has become more manageable for Stanley, who struggles with the concept of time, gratification and change. 

Everything changes at Christmas.

Routine goes out the window at both home and school; everyone talks between themselves and Stanley (who is non-verbal) listens to it all, taking it all in his literal thinking mind. "Where are you eating Christmas dinner?", "Where are you spending Christmas" and so on... All these questions and uncertainly make it a worrying, scary time for him. In Stanley’s eyes literally EVERYTHING changes - from the CBeebies icon in the corner of the TV screen, the endless Christmas TV adverts and the Christmas design on a packet of crisps. Who would have thought adding a few festive snowflakes to 'jazz up' the packaging for Crimbo would cause such a fuss and result in refusal to eat? Of course we know that this isn't Stanley being fussy it’s just that the tiniest of changes are huge in the eyes of someone on the autistic spectrum. 

Christmas is a time for family gatherings, meals out and other social events, all of which are so stressful for Stanley - and us. We try to manage by providing Stanley with his favourite things. Home comforts. Prawn cocktail crisps and Fruit Shoots by the bucket load. An iPad can be a life saver if we are out and about. Not ideal but at least he can remain relatively calm and we get to stay longer at things. In the last few years we have started telling family that we may not attend or stay long for gatherings and asking people to let us know if they are popping round - just so we can prepare and add to Stanley's schedule if needs be. 

Christmas Day is a huge worry I'm not going to lie. Presents don't excite Stanley and he gets so overwhelmed he often has some sitting around a few days after Christmas. We never know what to buy him... same on birthdays. I have to accept that Stanley's expectations aren't the same as ours or his little brother’s. We normally end up buying things he needs. Clothes, bedsheets and light up toys and DVDs. Filling his stocking with apples, crisps and things is also a good start. I read online that tinfoil can make excellent wrapping paper - easy to unwrap and sensory so I will try that this year. I've even considered wrapping up some of his old toys that he is familiar with and sneaking the odd new one in his toy box here and there during the Christmas period. 

Sometimes the best gifts are the ones you don't need to open. We went to Thomas Land last weekend and had a magical time. Despite it being all decorated (there's even fake snow!) Stanley really enjoyed himself AND even tolerated a visit to Santa (even if he did start to play with his beard!). We stayed for three whole hours, (if any of you have read my previous blogs will know this is a first for us!) 

For Christmas dinner we no longer go to family’s or have family over. It's way too much for Stanley and as a family we can't relax so we now have it at home. Just the four of us. Depending on Stanley's mood we may venture out to see family in the evening but this is on Stanley's terms and we leave when he wants to. Christmas dinner last year was a milestone. We sat at the table - all four of us. Stanley with a plate of chicken nuggets, ketchup and toast and an apple for dessert and the rest of had a massive roast dinner with all the trimmings. I felt so bad at first enjoying my pigs in blankets, but then it dawned on me - we are sitting together as a family. He's eating a hot meal and tolerating the fact that we're eating a roast dinner. He is content, he's happy, Jamie and I aren't stressed, oh and it's Christmas Day! 

One could call it a Christmas miracle! 

To read more about Stan head to Marijka's Blog