A few weeks ago, our first Christmas card arrived. As soon as Biggest saw the brightly coloured image slide from the envelope, he was transfixed.
“What is it?” he asked me, stimming excitedly.
“It’s a Christmas card, Sweetheart.”
The card was an image of Father Christmas, good-naturedly placing his arm on a friendly snowman, sack of presents in tow. The curly script read ‘Merry Christmas’
“It has Santa! And Snow!”
“Yes, they usually have pictures of Christmassy things on them. Like snow, and Santa and stars and Christmas trees and sometimes the story of the birth of the baby Jesus.”
My son eyed the card quizzically.
“But what is a Christmas card? What is it for?”
“Well, at Christmas, it is a time for love and family and friends. We send cards at Christmas to tell the people we love that we hope they have a lovely Christmas and let them know that we are thinking of them. This card is from Daddy’s auntie and uncle.”
“We send cards to the people we love at Christmas?”
“Yes, and our friends.”
As the days sped on and December arrived, so did more cards. Snowy scenes and sparkly reindeer and jolly “Ho, ho, ho”s. Each time, Biggest would ask:
“Do we send cards to our friends and people we love at Christmas?”, and I would answer that we do. Over the last few days, Biggest has been delighted to receive little envelopes from the other boys and girls in his class. There is always limited interest in who has sent the card, but the images delight him. And, inevitably, the question comes again. It must be answered just the same, like a million other questions and a million other perfect answers that fill our day. All is predictable, all follows the rules.
Yes, we send cards to friends and loved ones at Christmas.
So, on Monday, I bought my son a pack of 30 Christmas cards. His motor skills are a fair bit behind his peers, and he cannot form letters on his own yet. But we have an ‘E’ stamp and I had thought he could help me write them and then give them to his classmates.
“I have a list of the names of the children in your class. We can write their names in and you can stamp and ‘E’ and then you can give them out to all the boys and girls at school next week!”
But the reaction was not what as I expected. There were screams – and sobs.
“But, Mummy, I cannot give them to all the boys and girls! I can only give them to the girls! The boys are not my friends. You cannot give cards to people who are not your friends at Christmas!”
You see, other little boys make mine, very very anxious. They are often loud – boisterous. They are unpredictable and like to run and jump and climb and play-fight. Once or twice, a few have got too close to him and not understood his low tolerance for such things. And he has not forgotten. He avoids the boys. Each morning, as we walk to school, the boys are listed as a reason why he cannot go to school:
“Please, Mummy, please do not make me go to school! It is not a good place! I do not like the boys! I want the boys to stay away!” I have tried to reason with him, tried to explain that not all little boys are the same, that if he gave them a chance he would make friends. But he is adamant. I feel his whole body tense as other little boys pass close to us in the playground. He is frightened of them.
So now, we are faced with a dilemma.
“Sweetheart, you cannot send cards to the girls and leave out the boys. That is not very kind. And Christmas is about kindness.”
“But you said we send cards to the people we like! I cannot send cards to the boys if I do not like them!”
His logic is built on the rules we have taught him and is, as ever, flawless.
“We are not sending cards to just the girls. We will send cards to everyone, or no one. That is the only way it can be. You must decide.”
Should I force him to give cards to everyone? Risk a meltdown and another source of anxiety and upset at school? Or should I put the cards away, hopeful that, perhaps, next year will be different? I do not want to exclude him further. Already, he has taken no part in the Christmas preparations. He would not go into the hall to even watch the nativity. He has been separated from his peers for hours at a time while they rehearse and laugh and sing and get oh so excited – together. Already, he comes and goes at different times, does different activities. Already, party invitations have been refused, differences noted.
My son has strong convictions. You send Christmas cards to friends and loved ones at this time of year. For him, that rule cannot be broken.
I want him to be a part of his class. I want those little girls and boys to be his friends. I want him to join in with some of the Christmas traditions. I do not want the list of things that he takes no part in to grow so long that others stop including him. Eventually, the cards will stop. Eventually, there will be no more invitations.
More than anything, though, I want him to be happy. I have spent today gently reminding him, asking if it will be cards for everyone – or no one.
But so far he will not be moved.
For more posts on this topic, have a look at our autism section.