Center Parcs Christmas So whilst mindlessly scrolling through Facebook this morning (after Toby’s 2:46am wake up call…) I noticed several posts about Christmas. People talking about presents, Santa experiences, preparations and even one from someone saying that they had already finished their Christmas Shopping! Did you know there are only 78 days (or 11 weeks and 2 days) until Christmas Day 2015?! A lot of people see Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year…but actually it can be quite difficult if you have autism. Personally I love Christmas, I love the excitement, the decorations, the nativity plays, the present buying and to be honest I don’t even mind the wrapping either. And what’s not to love? I know it’s wrapped up in commercialism but ultimately we’re celebrating Jesus’ birthday which in my eyes is most definitely worth celebrating! However last Christmas for us wasn’t that great. Toby found it very challenging, which then resulted in us all finding it very challenging. I think it was a combination of Toby’s first two-week school holiday and him struggling with that, bad weather and lack of sleep! Anyone who knows Toby knows that he’s a very lively boy and as he doesn’t play with toys and gets bored very easily in the house. He needs to be out and about and busy which is much easier in the summer when the weather is warmer as there are loads of places and playgrounds to visit. However finding Toby-friendly days out in the winter is more of a challenge (most indoor places become too loud and busy for him to cope with). I remember googling every single soft play centre that I could think of in the North East during early hours of Boxing Day morning last year. We were desperate to find somewhere that was open that day where he could run some energy off; the only one I could find was at the Metro Centre which is a large shopping centre near Newcastle. We ended up getting there for opening time and having the whole soft play area to ourselves for a while (which was perfect for Toby). Most other people seemed to have better things to be do than soft play on Boxing Day morning! However it did allow Ted and I to wander off and somehow end up at the Next Boxing Day sale – every cloud has a silver lining right?! I also remember one day between Christmas and new year last year taking the boys up to Wallington in Northumberland which is a National Trust property. We have National Trust membership as they have some great play areas and lots of space to explore. The aim that day was to try and let Toby run some energy off and tire him out; sleep is a challenge for us! But it was literally freezing that day and Toby cried pretty much the whole way around; we think it was because his hands were cold as he wouldn’t wear gloves. The only thing I can remember buying for Toby as a Christmas present last year was a box of jelly babies – he doesn’t really do presents as he doesn’t really like anything ‘new’ and being a child that doesn’t play with toys or speak means he’s completely unaware of the latest toys, gadgets or trends. I come from a big family and when we were growing up, we were always awake at stupidly early times on Christmas morning ready to go downstairs to see our presents and enjoy the day’s festivities. Last year Toby was awake stupidly early however he had no idea it was Christmas Day and he kept standing at the door crying. He wanted his taxi to pick him up and take him to school. I don’t know many other children who would want to be at school on Christmas morning! I remember sitting in tears on Christmas morning whilst Toby was having a meltdown thinking of everyone else who would be enjoying Christmas morning and seeing their children enjoying Christmas too. And so Joel and I sat down and booked a holiday for this Christmas so that we didn't have to go through the same thing that happened last year. So this year we’re off to Center Parcs! Toby finds school holidays easier when he is away from home as he’s distracted and so it’s a ‘good different’ rather than everything being ‘wrong’ as he’s very set on routine and in his head Monday-Friday are school days. The pool and facilities are open as normal at Center Parcs over Christmas and although there will be Christmas festivities going on we are free just to do our own thing. Toby loves swimming and there’s something about being in the forest that he loves – maybe it’s the trees making it feel dark and enclosed but whatever it is, a happy Toby = happy everyone else! So no present buying, Christmas dinner prep or wrapping to worry about this year and the best thing about it all has been that Joel and I are actually looking forward to Christmas this year rather than worrying about how we will keep Toby entertained! We’ll be celebrating Jesus coming in to the world in our own way (in our little log cabin in front of the fire!) We’ll be celebrating with the two little boys God has given us with some good quality family time. We’ll be celebrating the joy and peace that we have despite the challenges of everyday life and although it may look different to how we’ve done it every other year up until now or how everyone else does it, there’s something pretty liberating about doing life differently and remembering what it’s all about.