Paul and Oliver at Southampton FC

We are a football mad family.

We're Southampton FC season ticket holders and I’m a football coach, so we always have to be on the go. Oliver is our eldest, he is eight and has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and ADHD. He plays for Whiteley Wanderers Youth FC in the U9s, which is a year above his normal school year, but he relishes the challenge. 

What is Christmas like at your house?

Christmas can be hit or miss. At times you can enjoy all the regular festivities such as the ‘Coca Cola’ truck, turning on the lights, the fun games and music. At other times, Oliver’s anxiety can reach very high levels. Then he can struggle in the crowds and noise. This can lead to defiance, aggression, make simple tasks very difficult and make them take much longer.

How has your Christmas changed over time?

Over time, we have learned to read Oliver’s mood and plan things accordingly. For example, avoiding regular Christmas shopping by shopping online or going shopping before the Christmas period. One thing we have found is that the more effort we put into creating the Christmas magic, the more distracted he is and we can have a very fun Christmas.

Do you have to make changes to a ‘traditional’ Christmas? 

We tend to keep things planned, with as few surprises as possible to keep his anxiety levels down. Any trips are planned in advance. Keeping things related to his specific interests often helps, he was introduced to cars when we collected the Disney Cars for him to have at Christmas and lined them up leading from his bedroom to his presents in the living room as a surprise on Christmas morning. This has led to his obsession with lining up cars himself, but it’s a warm reminder of Christmas.  The ‘Elf on a shelf’ tradition is a must. It really brings the magic to Christmas, both our boys absolutely love it and having the elves play about and cause mischief gets them to focus on the positives of Christmas and not the daily struggles.

How do the challenges you face at Christmas make you and Oliver feel?

For us, it is exhausting. Having to be ten steps ahead of your child is tiring at the best of times, but with the added stimulus at Christmas it leaves us with no down time.  

How do you envision a perfect Christmas?

Christmas is a fun time of year, of course we have issues and meltdowns but at the end of the day we have two healthy boys who love the magic of Christmas. Every Christmas gets better and better as they are older and we get to have more fun with that. For that reason, we wouldn’t say any Christmas isn’t perfect.

Do you have any Christmas tips for families or autistic people?

Try to stay a few steps ahead and give your child directed choices. It will prevent 50% of standoffs… on a good week.

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A donation to the National Autistic Society this Christmas will help transform the lives of more autistic people and their families.