Here’s the thing about Christmas with Emma – she has never shown any interest in it. The whole Santa thing never held any appeal. Fantasy is typically a difficult concept for autistic children to grasp. Add to that her disinterest in most toys or anything which could be wrapped in paper with a bow and you have a huge part of what most children feel excitement for lost on Emma. Since she loves to ski, we plan to spend tomorrow skiing with her. We have a number of Christmas presents wrapped and under the tree, a Christmas stocking jammed with little gifts she may well reject or if she continues as she has in the past, will never even open.
Two Christmases ago we joked, after all her presents remained under the tree unwrapped, we would just save them and put them back under the tree the following year. Our son, Nic, was justifiably horrified by both our jokes and the fact she couldn’t have cared less.
“Can I have them?” he asked.
“Nic, I guarantee you will not want the presents we’ve chosen for her,” we said.
“Well can I just open them at least,” Nic replied, unconvinced.
The following year we unpacked our suitcases and stored them in a little room upstairs where the children have stuffed animals and books. There, in a pile, were Emma’s unopened gifts. I felt sad, seeing them there, not because I want my children to be attached to things, but because it represents a lack of neuro-typical development.
Just as we always have a place setting at the dinner table for Emma, despite the fact she has not and will not, eat anything we prepare, unless it’s cupcakes or pudding for the past five years, we continue to have some presents for her under the tree every Christmas, just in case one day, one year, she decides it’s worth her time to see what’s under the wrapping paper.
Christmas is obviously representative of much more than giving and receiving gifts. For Emma we must find other ways to express our love and appreciation, ways she can understand and recognize. Perhaps the best way, is to do the things she loves with her – skiing, silly games, singing nonsense songs and just being with her. Sometimes it takes a little girl with no interest in material possessions to remind us of what Christmas is really about.