Ho Ho Oh Boy – it’s Christmastime. Again.
For those in the greater FASD community who celebrate Christmas this time of year is challenging. Feeling more like Scrooge than we care to admit, we jump out of bed each morning with an eye toward Christmases Past, Present & Future.
We have suffered the defeat of Christmases past – when time and again expectations have been dashed by the hard realities of life for a child with FASD. Flashing lights. Sparkly tinsel. Spinning decorations. Dropping pine needles. Anticipation. Confusion. Disbelief. Unbearable excitement. Inevitable disappointment.
Ten Christmas truths as we have come to know them from Christmases Past:
- Not all kids can handle the idea of a big man dressed in red coming down imaginary chimneys.
- Some can handle even less the idea that it might not happen.
- Santa’s naughty or nice list can cause great anxiety for kids who have trouble controlling behaviour. In our house, kids know Santa gives points for trying.
- Schools have no clue how much toll those extra events can take on some kids. The lead up to The Day can be daily chaos for kids who need routine.
- It can matter greatly if a tree starts to shed its needles early. Last year our son panicked every day for a whole month. This year we have an artificial tree. (Still in its box along with all the other decorations, I might add.)
- Christmas light speed dials should be banned.
- That fact that it doesn’t snow in every town on Christmas Day can cause great distress for some kids who think Santa’s sleigh needs snow to land. This isn’t ‘cute’, this is a serious worry.
- Most toys have a half-life of joy measured in nano-seconds on Christmas Day.
- For some kids, sitting for that famed Christmas dinner is a mini-torture zone.
- The pressures on parents/carers to maintain calm for hours can suffocate the joy out of any lighted Christmas pudding.
There is probably not a parent/carer who celebrates Christmas with a child with special needs who does not put their head down on the pillow on Christmas night without a huge thankful thud that it is over for another year. Who among us has not sworn we will never do it that way again….
And yet, here we are, preparing for Christmas Present, ready to repeat/endure the same routine.
This year, please have a thought for families who may be struggling, those who need a change. Those who see a train wreck coming and are asking in ways big and small for your help.
The weight of Tradition is bearing down on us, suffocating us. We are already balancing as best as we can the demands in our own homes, let alone bringing our particular road show to others’ houses. We desperately want to feel festive. We want so much to have fun, to be reminded of what it is like to feel relaxed and joyful that it is Christmas. But we too often feel alone, stressed, isolated, and perhaps depressed. We are tired, even if we have plastered a happy smile on our face for the kids and for you.
Ten tips for helping a family with FASD through this holiday:
- Give them time to prepare – offer to take their kid(s) for a walk or out for hot chocolate, or for a sleepover one weekend before Christmas. They have some elving to do and really could use the time to feel the fun of it.
- Offer to help put up lights and decorations when the kids are out at school.
- Treat the parents/carers to a festive lunch one day while the kids are at school, before Christmas holiday madness happens.
- Plan to have a special activity with the kids during the holiday – plan ahead, let that be your present to the child. A movie, a trip to a soft play area, ice skating, a trip to a special pool – anything. Believe me, the parents will worship you for it.
- Keep celebrations short – holiday marathons are not made for kids who sprint.
- If you are worried about ornaments breaking – remove them before kids with FASD arrive, do not let the focus of the day be everyone telling the kid to stay away from shiny, sparkly, intriguing things they are never going to be able to ignore.
- Ask ahead what the kids might eat – it is nowhere written that mac and cheese is banned from a Christmas table.
- If you know adults with FASD – reach out to them before Christmas, ask how they are doing, see if they need help planning or shopping. Ask what’s on their minds. Some grapple with past traumas that would bring most of us to our knees. Invite them over if they have no where to go.
- If someone you know struggles with addictions, don’t serve alcohol if you have invited them to your home. Show respect. At the very least be sure you have some fun sodas and non-alcoholic treats.
- Give people the space they need – have somewhere quiet ready in case a person with FASD needs to have a break, and let them go there without making them feel bad, without any jokes. The pressures each feels are very individual, please be flexible and understanding and do not interpret their needs as a personal criticism.
And then, there are all those Christmases Future. As challenging as our past and presents may be we all have a wish for the future – to ensure other families can avoid having to face these challenges altogether. The most important gift in the world is the gift of health.
There is great pressure at this time of year to be ‘festive’ – to have another cocktail. To toast a new year coming. People make merry in lots of ways.
Statistics show that “December is the month when the highest number of babies are conceived and the month in which the highest amount of alcohol is consumed. (Office of National Statistics, 2015). It is crucial therefore that families are aware of guidelines about the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol and developmental risk for children so that they can enjoy the festive period more easily.” (See the excellent article by Carolyn Blackburn, “Did You Know More Babies Are Conceived at Christmas Than Any Other Time of Year?”)
If you think you might be pregnant, if you are trying to get pregnant, or if you are having sex without birth control, remember, remember, remember it’s not just about this year, but all those years ahead.
The UK Chief Medical Officer says “The safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.”
Here is a video by Lee Harvey-Heath, an adult with FASD who encourages people to see the world through his eyes via his Facebook Page (which we strongly encourage you to ‘like’) and other outreach.
And yet, for all the angst, there still is nothing better in the whole world than to see a child’s face light up in that first magical moment on Christmas morning.