One year ago I wrote a blog post called ‘Dear Santa’. It was a list of the gifts we had bought our son for Christmas last year. Not so much a product review as a product preview. It’s a good job B doesn’t read this blog. It would be the cyber equivalent of looking in your parent’s wardrobe for presents before Christmas. I decided to write a similar post this year, as a what-to-buy guide and also as a way of comparing and contrasting the last two years.
In many ways, nothing has changed since last year. My wife hinted that she had started buying presents sometime around August, but I know it was July really. We’ve spent a fortune already and seem, each year, to be trying to top the previous year (yesterday morning six advent calendars appeared. Six!). Also unchanged is the struggle other members of our family have in knowing what to buy him. At some point there was a collective realisation that here was a kid who it was very difficult to know what to get. We quickly fell into the pattern/cop-out where they would say to us, “You get him something and we’ll give you the money”. This was saddening, but understandable. This year, he’s easier to buy for but the same thing has happened. Hopefully by next year things will have changed. One good thing about it is that when we’re out Christmas shopping, we can casually spend other people’s money, and say, “This can be from Nanny”!
There are some big differences this year, though. Looking at the list compared to last year, it’s apparent how much more conventional the gifts are. Last year was all about meeting sensory needs, avoiding toys that required imaginative play and feeding his obsessions. The sensory needs are still very much with us, as are the obsessions, but the list reads much more like the sort of gifts his classmates will be asking for. He’s also much, much better at telling us what he’d like. In an average kids tv ad break he will scream, “I want that!” around five times. Not that this bothers me one bit; I remember desperately wishing he could ask for gifts. What a difference a year makes.
We find ourselves in the odd position whereby we can openly discuss what we’re buying him for Christmas whilst he’s in the room. He’s far too busy being in B Land to pay the slightest attention to what we’re saying! Of course, one day he’ll surprise us by catching and repeating a particular word or phrase. It will probably be a swear word. He will have heard this from his mum, ‘cos I never, ever swear (ahem).
So, the list. It can be summed up in three words: cars, cars and cars. This obsession shows no sign of abating, I’m delighted to say. Specifically, he likes car badges. His T.A. presented him with an actual Ford badge this week and he was overjoyed. As a result, I may be visiting local scrap yards for additional badges. Some parents go to Toys R Us for their kids’ Christmas presents.
Apart from scrap metal, B will be getting various toy garages, car books and model cars. But of course, B being B, it’s never quite straightforward. The die-cast cars he likes have to have a car badge on the front, but must not have a registration plate. If they have a registration plate on the front, he will be upset and demand a different one. And we will give in and get him one. Newcomers to the blog might think they are reading about the world’s most mollycoddled child- the ultimate spoilt brat with weak, indulgent parents. These people do not have an autistic child. Readers who do will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Almost as important as cars are the olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville. Luckily for us, since September retailers have virtually been giving away olympic toys and memorabilia. We have cleaned up, at very little expense. The passing of the games has made no impact on our son’s deep love for the mascots. In particular, he is inseparable from one toy he calls Baby Mandeville. It goes with him everywhere, including school. I live in fear of the day Baby Mandeville gets lost, torn or just decomposes through age. We’re in real trouble then. Of course, we have bought several Baby Mandevilles as backup, but worryingly, the first time he was given an identical one, he recognised the difference in their firmness, and rejected it. Oh shit (as my wife would say).
Also on the list are:
- Drum machine: B’s weekly music lessons are money well spent and we’ve recently acquired a good keyboard for both the boys. A drum machine will go down a treat and, best of all, you can plug in headphones!
- Nerf guns: because what boy doesn’t like to shoot things?
- Giggling teddy bear: he has loads of these, but this one farts too. What’s the world coming to?
- Lego. Especially Lego with cars involved.
- Various games designed to encourage social interaction, turn-taking and other skills.
- Leapfrog Tag system books and games. B has little interest in fiction but loves books about the solar system and how the body works, which are available in this range.
- Various books, including ‘Angelica Sprockets Pockets’, Dr Seuss, ‘Superworm’ and ‘What Pet to Get’. This last one has me worried.
There are probably loads more that I’ve forgotten about. We currently have presents stashed away in the wardrobe, spare room, my mum’s house and the neighbour’s house two doors down. When three houses are required, I think it’s time to acknowledge you’ve bought enough. We’re ready for Christmas. Bring it on. Or at least close the shops so my wife can stop spending!
I also wrote a blog, one year ago, called ‘Low Key Christmas’. It describes how we could not face the traditional family get-together on Christmas day. Reading it again, twelve months on, its apparent how far we’ve come as a family in coping with B’s condition. More importantly, it shows how far B has come and the development he has made. At the end of the blog post I wrote, “I’m pretty sure that, given time, the way we feel about and deal with things will change. It has to.” Well, it has. This year everyone will be gathering at our house for the usual Christmas chaos. It’s a measure of how far we’ve come as a family, and I am looking forward to us all spending time together.
I imagine that many parents of autistic children find Christmas time difficult. Looking back, I hated that Christmas was mostly lost on B, at the time when it should have meant the most. This loss took a number of forms: the indifference when he met Santa, the lack of toys, the general lack of engagement in the whole thing. T’was not the season to be jolly. But don’t give up hope. I know it’s different for everyone, but if our experience counts for anything, then it does get better.
In the last year, the weight of carrying the burden of our son’s diagnosis has not been lifted, but we have broader shoulders and the strength to manage it better. The only thing on my Christmas list this year is that we have a happy time spent with the people we love. Obviously an iPad, DSLR camera and a new guitar would be nice, but I’ll settle for the smiles on my boys’ faces! That’s all I really need.