Christmas Special blog part 2: Christmas Traditions

Here it is – an unpublished would-have-been feature on Christmas and autism. If my increasingly frequent blog posts are getting annoying a) blame my lecturers and b) I’m not making a habit of blogging twice in as many days, so don’t worry. Meanwhile, enjoy!

What are Christmas traditions these days? Well, what do they involve for you? For me, Christmas will typically include church, cake decorating, minimal coursework and pulling one of our cats out of the Christmas tree. My family and I make quite a big thing of Christmas; some of you may be with me on this one, others not so much. One thing’s for sure: your way of celebrating an occasion is as unique as you are.

I know that for some people with disabilities, Christmas is a bit of a challenge. This is the first special needs article where I’m not writing from recent experience. According to my Mum, she could buy presents for me as a child while I was with her and I would be none the wiser. If anything, though, I think that must have been an advantage.

Having said that, I did have trouble expressing gratitude for presents, no matter how much I liked them. It still doesn’t come naturally to show a lot of emotion, but my parents taught me the drill at an early age: look at the giver of the present with a pleased expression and say thank you. Might sound simple, but it doesn’t pay to forget it!

I was also told that I would ask for the same sort of presents each year. Usually a soft toy, chocolate, plasticine and a book about whichever subject I currently had an autistic obsession with. I was never interested in whichever children’s toys were popular at the time, a common issue with autistic people and Christmas.

For some, these things go on into adulthood. This isn’t necessarily a problem – I mean, why would popular trends be any more interesting at Christmas than at any other time of year? Another thing is that an aversion to change means that a season of lots of people, excitement and surprises can be too much to handle. This can be more stressful. For the more introverted among us, having, or attending, a houseful of people, or remembering who to keep in touch with while you have the time is exhausting enough without being overloaded by the sudden disruption to routine.

So how do people on the spectrum deal with this? By keeping surprises to a minimum, maybe. Some autistic people prefer to be told in advance what they are getting for Christmas, some may simply want the same things each year. Or by getting used to each change one by one – getting the tree out, then gradually adding decorations over time, for example. Keeping track of presents you have bought? Make a list. Making sure to have a break from people? Now this is where I speak with experience. Full of food, in your own room and surrounded by presents – it doesn’t get much better than that.

I think the point I am trying to make here is that we all have our own ways of making the most of an occasion, and autistic ways are no exception. Hoping to enjoy Christmas? Spend time with your family and friends. Eat, drink and be merry. If, like me, you are a Christian, go to church. Enjoy and appreciate your presents, no matter how different they may be to your peers’. And don’t be afraid to retreat from it all. Whichever way you choose to celebrate, or not, each to their own, I say.

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Christmas Special blog part 1: You know you’re in a Christmas Special when…

1) It’s probably snowing.

2) No matter how significant recent events have been, they will have little to no impact on Christmas…

3)…but chances are if anything significant does happen, this episode may only be available once a year at best, so people will probably miss it anyway.

4) You may get visited by three ghosts – you probably aren’t alone in this, don’t worry.

5) Maybe another profound/cheesy event will happen instead that will make you realise the true meaning of Christmas.

6) You’re really not doing anything that different to normal – you’re just doing it with a festive twist.

7) If your story goes on YouTube, you can be sure the comments thread will be in a state of war over religion, most loved and hated characters and internet trolls.

8) But hey, in the words of Cliff Richard, Christmas is a time for forgiving and for forgetting!

I know I haven’t stuck to this month’s theme of poetry for this “Christmas Special” blog. I’m basically adhering to my second point. In my last Creative Writing lecture, we were given the end-of-term festive activity of writing our own Christmas-themed Buzzfeed article. See the above points.

People say that the first month living away from home are the hardest. If anything, it’s been harder more recently. Until I came home, I was snowed under by coursework, catching more colds than I usually catch in a year and annoying Hannah by worrying that I annoy her. Not fun.

But hey ho, advent in the flat has had its good points. We danced (and ate) the night away at the Leicester City Vineyard Church Winter Ball. On a Navigators trip to Lazer Quest I did the group proud by coming second to last in the first game and last in the second. I even sang in the church choir at the LCV Carol Service. Or rather, I exhausted my vocal chords and stood out like a sore thumb because no-one told me I had to wear black. Fun and festive times!

Overall I’ve really needed a fun and relaxing Christmas, and I definitely got one. I put up and decorated two Christmas trees, decorated three cakes, made marzipan fruits and made tomato soup for our Christmas lunch starter. Every time I’ve come home this term, our house somehow feels abundant with food compared with the flat. I’d also missed the cats, Tango and Bouncer. They made up for lost time by sharing my bed and walking all over me at night.

Christmas would be better if I wasn’t fighting this virus my sister has, but hopefully it’s just a sore throat. Although that is what I kept saying when Hannah was sure I was catching something from her… That aside, I am now loaded with presents, food, chocolate and my parents’ “special” jokes. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way really. But sshhh, don’t tell them. Perhaps, most importantly, now is a good time to put what I wrote about faith into practice. As good a time as any, indeed.

To wrap up, I thought I’d do a part 2 to this blog tomorrow and post an unpublished Demon article I wrote about Christmas and autism. Happy reading! Meanwhile, for those who have never seen one before, here is an advent calendar made of cake:

What faith means to me

An excuse to justify

Irrationality

An invisible man in the sky

Or just stupidity?

A delusion of the people

Based on legends of the past

In an uncertain present

That’s what faith is said to be.

A turning point in life

For sufferers to see

A comfort and a guide

If belief feels easy

Set apart from the rest

Who are easy to reproach

In a crowded church with no regrets

That’s what faith seems to be.

Endless time in reflection

To learn how to feel free

A tendency to question

The things I cannot see

A chance to learn to live and love

Not just to love to live

A far off answer I’ve yet to learn

That’s what faith means to me.

It’s nearly Christmas. An occasion famous for putting aside our differences and just sharing peace and goodwill all round. And yet, when I came across this article on Facebook http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandan-robertson/4-teachings-of-jesus-that_b_6343320.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051, I immediately groaned inwardly. Did I think the article was the stupidest thing ever written? No. Was I anticipating what the comments section was going to look like?

Sadly yes. You know you’re living in the Digital Age when you feel surrounded by online media. And you know you’re surrounded by online media when there is a religion/politics/latest trends/goodness-knows-what based argument wherever you look. Atheists assuming that all Christians are prejudiced, self-righteous bigots? From what I’ve noticed, the more passionately atheists project this label, the less they appear to look at their own words before inflicting them on others. A minority of loud voiced Christians who do nothing to prove this label wrong? Unfortunately, and I’m not proud of this, that is one of the things that causes me to struggle with faith.

I know I’m not perfect, and especially not when it comes to being a Christian. I can be analytical and introspective to my heart’s content, but one of my principles that I struggle to take to heart is that whatever we believe in, we will never know everything. Another moral I try to go by is that being a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t question and think rationally, and being an atheist doesn’t mean you don’t treat others with respect and compassion.

I was struggling to think of a topic this week, and I realise that I haven’t managed to blog on the same day each week like I was intending. See, I told you I’m not perfect! In my defence, I spent most of Monday being patient with Marks and Spencers regarding the presents I had ordered, packing and arriving home to a piece of cake and two adoring cats. I’ve been fairly idle in the coursework department, but have put up and decorated two Christmas trees and played my violin in Carillon Court with my now-distant desk partner Katy*.

Whilst remembering to show both rationality and compassion…let the festivities begin!

*distant in that we both now live close to our respective universities

Objectivist poem: G Major, 3 octaves

For my first theme, this month I will be posting poems I have written on here. I may do the odd Christmas themed post at some point, with or without poetry. For now, I will post my recent attempt at an objectivist poem. An objectivist poem involves writing about something very simple and focusing on the structure of the poem so that it represents something to do with the subject. For example:

I take

My violin

In my left hand.

With my right

I take

The bow

And place it down

On my violin.

 

One

Finger at

A time

Going higher

And higher

Now moving

Into third

Position, stretch

That fourth

Finger, keep

Going higher

To high

G.

As the poem suggests, I wrote about playing my violin. Having mentioned to the lecturer teaching us about objectivist poetry that I play the violin, he and I simultaneously had the idea that that should be the subject for my poem.

To explain, the poem is divided by the different actions and objects. The first verse in particular starts a new line every time the action changes, or an object is mentioned. Then when the scale itself starts, so does the second verse. The second verse, by the way, is based purely on the notation of the first half of a 3 octave G major scale. I chose G simply because of it being my first initial – any note would have worked. One long note at the beginning and end, two notes per bow in between. And some unnecessarily complicated hand movements…and I am digressing.

I’ll be honest – I chose poetry for this month’s theme mainly because I’d planned to blog weekly as part of my course and was still stumped for a theme a week after the last one. In the meantime, if anyone has any constructive feedback on how weird/interesting/profoundly emotional (only joking) this poem is, fire away!

Items published: http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/DERBY-tourist-guide/story-25163651-detail/story.html

A few key changes

Hello readers, it’s been a while. You can thank any lecturer who has given me coursework for that. I’m not really doing a proper blog post here, I’m just explaining how I will be doing things from now on.

I’ve just got back from a Practical Journalism workshop in which we started planning how we are going to blog as part of our course. Having kept this blog for a year and three quarters now (!!!) my Practical Journalism lecturer has said I can continue with this blog, with just a few improvements. At least, I hope they will be improvements!

So I thought I’d try coming up with a particular theme for each month and blogging weekly on a related topic. At this point, can I add that if anyone has an idea for a theme they would particularly like me to cover, could they please speak up? Much appreciated. In the meantime, if anything irrelevant to the theme but still significant to me happens, then I will either save it for a theme it would be suited to, or blog about it outside my weekly blogging day.

One last thing. To save bombarding my Facebook friends with a link to everything I write online that ever gets published, I am going to include said links in my blog posts from now on. Not only do I continue to write at the Derby Telegraph when I have time, I now write regular online articles for Demon Media (DMU news) about Asperger’s/special needs based topics. Starting here: http://www.demon-media.co.uk/features/an-asperger-guide-to-starting-university/

Happy advent! 10647144_10152858789693814_7103841215039414110_n