How the Autism Changed Christmas


I took my Christmas tree down on December 10th.

Yes, you read that correctly.  On a day when the slowpokes haven’t even put theirs up yet, I was taking mine down.

I took down the glittery balls.

I took down the ribbons. I took down the lights.

I stuffed them all in a big tote and dragged it to the basement with hot tears in my eyes.

Autism has taken a lot from my family.  One of the biggest things it has taken from me personally, is certainty.

It took all of my “well, of course!”-es, and replaced them with big scary question marks.

“Will my son ever get a driver’s license?”

“Will he ever go on a date?”

“Will he ever move out of our home?”

Autism has taken a lot, and now it had taken Christmas.

A symptom of Autism that I had never truly known about, in spite of all the “awareness” there is now, is just how fixated a child with Autism can become on an object.

Sure, I knew they sometimes liked “strange” items and carried them around like toys, but no biggie right?


When my son gets fixated on something, nothing can stop him from having it.  He will move heaven and earth to touch, hold, lick, and cuddle with whatever object is the current apple of his eye.

Not such a big deal when he went through his rubber ducky phase…

A much bigger deal when he went through his picture-on-the-wall-in-a- glass-frame phase…

And a very big deal while he was going through his the-entire-Christmas-tree phase.

I said no.

I redirected him.

I said no some more.

I redirected some more.

I put up useless barricades.

I got firm.

I moved him to another room.

I got firmer.

I bordered on getting angry.

And then, while I was making peanut butter sandwiches in the next room, I heard it…

The sickening crash.

The screams.

The crying.

And the sound of my quickening heartbeat vibrating in my own ears.

I raced to the other room to see my barely-two-year-old pinned under the tree, surrounded by shattered shatter-proof ornaments, and a big brother skipping and jumping around giggling with glee.

“Uh-oh! *giggle giggle* Tree! *giggle giggle* Boom! *giggle giggle*”

Thank God little brother suffered nothing more than a good scare, and some marks from the scratchy faux tree branches.  He was fine.  I was not.

With everyone safely out of the room, I put everything away, cleaned up, and collapsed on couch in a state of sadness, fear, depleted adrenaline, anger, and not a small amount of self-pity.

“God, I know I can’t have a lot of things.” I moaned, “I can’t have a single breakable item on an entire floor of my house.

I can’t have an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

I can’t have a single moment of privacy when he is awake.

I can’t have normal play dates with my friend’s kids… and now I can’t have CHRISTMAS!?”

My two-year-old came and crawled up onto my lap, looked around the room, and with a teary catch in his voice said,

“Twee? Twee… ah gone?”

The last piece of my heart shattered.

Now was not the time for a break-down, so I took one final big breath and said,

“Yes Baby, the tree is all gone now, but Christmas is still here!”

I cuddled him.

I tickled him.

We sang the only Christmas carol he knows together.

We sat on the floor in front of our (very durable) Nativity scene, and played acted out the story of Christmas.

“See?” I said, “Baby Jesus is here.  Baby Jesus is still here every day.  He loves all the little children.  He loves you and he loves your brother too.  Christmas is here.”

Big Brother arrived and took over our moment.  He wrestled the Nativity pieces away and began to “play” with them the way an Autistic child does.

Little Brother didn’t mind.

Little Brother helped him line up the pieces from biggest to smallest.

Little Brother helped him count them all.

Little Brother jumped and clapped when Big Brother jumped and clapped.

Then, Little Brother helped Big Brother carry the shepherds, the wise men, and the baby in the manger to his room, so they could be tucked into the bed with Big Brother’s favourite ratty blanket.

I watched as long as I could, then excused myself so I wouldn’t interrupt.  I went to another room to ugly cry.  I cried harder than I had over putting the tree away.  This time, tears of joy.

I have never had to tell my youngest how to play with my oldest.

I have never had to tell him how to be patient and kind.

I have never had to tell him that even though his brother plays differently, they can still be best friends and play together.

He. Just. Knows.

As the hot tears rolled down my face, I became completely overcome by the answers to some of my very biggest questions:

“Will he ever have a friend?”

“Will he ever have someone who understands him?”

“Will there ever be anyone who loves him the way his Dad and I do?”

As I thanked God for this unexpected Christmas gift, I could feel a love bandage draw a couple pieces of my broken heart back together and hold them tight.

The tree is all gone now, but Christmas is still here.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?  It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” 
― Dr. Seuss

Written by, Ashley Lilley

Ashley is a mom of two from Saskatchewan, Canada.

This post originally appeared on on Dani.Mags.

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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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  1. Sarah on December 20, 2018 at 10:34 am

    I have been there. For a number of years we just put up a prelit tree… that was it. no decorations, just a tree. We would snuggle and look at the lights but it was the only “safe” way to enjoy it. remember the little wins, they keep us moving forward. My NT daughter is my son’s true first friend. I hope they stay close forever.

  2. Darlene on December 20, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    Maybe a big Christmas tree outdoor with lots of lights that they could see out the window might be a solution.

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