Thank god it’s over.

I know I sound a bit ‘bah humbug’ but I really do mean it.

This Christmas saw every inch of my maternal instincts tested. Every ounce of patience pushed to the limit. In fact, I almost gave up, locked myself in a dark room and hit the wine on more than one occasion.

Autism came like the Grinch and stole our Christmas.

I should have realised that it was going to be challenging when Alfie (my 6 year old) told me after a particularly stressful day that he didn’t like me, and requested a new mum from Santa for Christmas????… yes, he actually wrote a special letter (in very lovely hand writing) to the man in red asking for a new mummy and asked me to take him to post it – which of course I did.

For a second (ok at least an hour… or 4) I hoped Santa got the letter and obliged. Mum-Swap felt very appealing. Now don’t get me wrong – I love my child – but this came after a few weeks of ‘fun’ Christmas activities at school and the hellish aftermath each day at home.

You see, like many children on the spectrum, Alfie is quite well behaved at school and that takes every ounce of his energy while he is there.

He is aware of being different and wants to be included in everything even if it’s hard for him, so uses everything he has to contain his meltdowns and practise his social skills. He has a 1-2-1 key worker to help, but it is still draining for him and he can’t fully relax and be himself until he is home.

Then he is a (beautiful) beast.

I have learned to adapt to the switch between home and school and work with his visuals and routine at home to even this out – but the extra stimulation and excitement of the build up to Christmas at school has pushed him over his tipping point faster and harder each day.

All his usual calming methods; quiet time with an iPad in a room alone; watching his favourite trains go around the tracks and colouring, were futile. Nothing was enough to keep him settled and calm for more than a few minutes.

Christmas day was the crescendo.

I thought I was a bit of a veteran at the ‘autism friendly’ Christmas thing – but boy was I mistaken.

The usual routine of separating the gifts into smaller amounts to open through the day just seemed to add fuel to an already raging furnace.

Lack of sleep, hunger (he refused to eat all day) and excitement all played its part in the most challenging Christmas with Alfie to date.

To add to continuous sensory overload, meltdowns and sleepless nights – my clever son also learned to climb over our higher than average baby gates. Part of me was proud of his achievement (it’s an autism mum thing) – but the other part of me died a little right there.

Now I had to figure out how to keep him secure and safe.

The solution (and my present to myself); Two 1m, extra high gates that have managed to save my sanity by giving me a few precious moments to take a deep breath before considering my next move when he is in full meltdown mode.

Sometimes he just needs to scream and throw his bedding or squeeze his stress toys but often I have to calmly restrain him to stop him hurting himself or smashing his room up.

That’s the stark reality of raising a child with autism. Sometimes it gets real ugly real quick.

Things can go from a slight breeze to a full blown hurricane in a few minutes. Thankfully though, just like a tempest, it passes, and the calm descends. Things relax, and Alfie begins to breathe slower and quieten down. Peace resumes for a while and he rests, exhausted. We all do.

That’s what happens when Alfie’s senses get overloaded and he can’t process the information coming at him.

Many times, we can reduce his triggers or remove them totally by avoiding them, but at Christmas it’s really hard. Every year is different, and each carries its own challenges.

Never before have I been so happy to see the back of December and get the tree and decorations down.

I’m not perfect and I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. My eye was off the ball and I worked right up to the wire and that didn’t help things with Alfie in hindsight.

But I have decided to forgive myself. It’s ok that sometimes everything is not ok.

I now sit in the aftermath of the festivities writing notes in case I forget next year what triggered him in 2018. I’ll use these notes to try to tweak our routine and prepare things much further in advance and to make things less stressful for Alfie.

What positives have come out of the festive season?

Alfie is back in his routine and calmer. Despite of my fears and perspective, he tells me he had a great Christmas ????

As for me? I’m feeling pretty battered (I have definitely aged about a decade) but I made it through to the other side and actually feel shamelessly invincible now 2019 is here.

I’m ready to roll with the punches at work and in life this year and have discovered a raw strength deep within my core that I didn’t realise I had.

This has given me the boost I need to really push the launch of my new special needs business ((That Beautiful Mind)to help other parents that are going through similar struggles.

If you read this and can relate – then I just want to take a few seconds to say keep going… You are doing an amazing job. ????

There are highs and lows on this journey like no other I have ever experienced, but it’s made me the person that I would never have become if I wasn’t Alfie’s mum and I’m so grateful for that.