This blog post is by 17-year-old Seana Wheeler. Seana's 15-year-old brother Ethan is on the autism spectrum.
The Sound of Jingle Bells… In September
Christmas time in the wheeler household usually begins at the start of September. For Ethan, my brother who has autism, the start of Christmas is associated with the return to school after the summer holidays.
For my family, Christmas can be a difficult time. It is called ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ yet I often wonder what it truly means for Ethan. Christmas can be a time for sensory overload, all five senses driven into overload by the change of decorations in the house, the glowing lights upon our trees and fireplaces, and the overwhelming array of colours.
The change in routine is difficult for my brother to handle. The change in decor, the additional lights and even the festive tint on his lessons being taught at school.
When my brother was younger, he would struggle with the overbearing sensory overload inside his head. The sound of the tree being pushed over and glass baubles shattering became a familiar sound.
From the ages of 7-12 this was a regular occurence.
As his sister i became used to the sound of our christmas tree being brought smashing to the ground whenever we would leave the room or take our eyes off him. The decorations we had hung up on its branches smashed into pieces. Multiple times we would haul it back up, clear up the wreckage of our home looking as if it were a burglary scene in a movie.
Five years later and Ethan and I are, two siblings celebrating the holidays together. We are both older, as they say with age comes new wisdom. Ethan no longer pulls down our tree. Decorations smashing is safely behind us.
Christmas is a time i realise how far my brother has come in his development as a person. Out of all the gifts under the christmas tree he is the greatest one.
Yes Ethan still struggles from sensory overload. From September to New Years Day I am bombarded at least 4 times a day with the question "Christmas Seany?" every day. The repetitive speech, as a sibling can sometimes drive me borderline insane, yet I would rather be asked a thousand times when Christmas is, from september through halloween all the way to Christmas day itself than see my brother hurt by his sensory issues so deeply that he had to attempt to break our christmas tree. When i think of it in this perspective I feel guilty for my younger self being angry with him. It must have been so overwhelming for Ethan to justify him taking such actions.
We may have to deal with repetitive speech and ‘flapping’ (- a coping mechanism my brother uses to relieve stress.) High pitched screaming on tow, yet I always thinks his screaming makes a unique addition to the christmas carols playing from my radio.
Unique twists such as his screaming, which could be compared to yodelling always makes Michael Buble’s Christmas album a one of a kind auditory experience.
When the joyous day arrives, Ethan being an early riser means the tradition of waking between the hours of 4:30-8 A.M. has become a strong christmas tradition upheld by the Wheeler family.
I watch him open his christmas presents as the lights on our tree flash assortments of colour, the lights changing within his blue eyes, lighting his face up as if it were a christmas decoration itself. I dont think ive ever seen such a beautiful sight as the sight of him in this moment on this special day.
Christmas day is probably the most overwhelming day of them all for Ethan, the day entails a stream of events that are completely out of his everyday routine. Family arrive, dinner is served at 3pm, his usual privilege of watching DVDs in peace is corrupted by the sounds of festive crackers being pulled and the rustle of wrapping paper being torn off presents. The noise of knifes and forks clattering against the plates, something so simple no one would think it would overwhelm him.
The future of Christmas for me and Ethan is an exciting prospect. One day, if I am lucky enough to have a family of my own, Ethan will always be included.
I have often worried about finding a partner who will accept him. Yet I know he is out there and one day the three of us will be together. Sharing the holiday cheer and working through any challenges that the future Christmases may bring. My future partner will accept and love Ethan as I do. This is the most important thing to me. I want someone else to see and cheris the beauty I see in him everyday.
To me, regardless of how Ethan develops, regardless of sensory issues, christmas lights and jingle bells during halloween. Ethan to me shines brighter than any star on the Christmas tree. To me, Ethan embodies everything that Christmas is about. His innocence, his happiness at the simplest things such as a mince pie and a musical snowglobe mean more to me than any present or measure of money I would find in my Christmas stocking.
Wherever we find ourselves in Christmas future, whether it be 2018 or 2035, as long as I am on this Earth Christmas will be made a beautiful and calming experience for him.
A season we will always share together.