Christmas should be a time of joy, especially for children.
But for families with children on the autism spectrum, the festive season brings challenges that most of us never face - and barriers we never even consider.
Sarah and Michael are parents to three young boys - Rylan, 12, Eamon, 6, and Darcy, 5. All three are on the autism spectrum, and Sarah tells me Christmas is one of the hardest times of year for her family.
Why is Christmas not an inclusive time for people on the autism spectrum?
Bright lights, chaotic shopping centres and noisy gatherings with lots of people can be totally overwhelming – causing internal anguish that can be hard for someone who isn't on the spectrum to understand.
Before receiving autism-specific support, the boys were overwhelmed, frustrated and isolated. Sometimes even banging their heads against the wall or floor to get sensory relief when things got too much.
With all three boys prone to sensory overload, Sarah and Michael didn‘t feel confident taking them to public places and family gatherings.
“I would love to take the kids to things like Carols in the Domain. We could if they could have a small area we could take our kids to near an exit, so if they get overwhelmed, we can leave. Venues having quiet areas would be a big thing for us."
How Aspect was able to support Rylan, Eamon and Darcy
Luckily, Sarah and Michael were referred to Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect). Since then - things have changed drastically for the boys and for the whole family.
They discovered our satellite classes (autism-specific classes based in mainstream schools), which offer personalised, individualised support that suits each of their individual challenges, strengths and interests.
Sarah said she couldn’t believe the transformation that took place in each of her boys since receiving support from Aspect:
“Rylan would tell me all about his day, rather than sitting in silence all the way home. Once he was so busy chatting he didn’t even notice me standing at the gate to pick him up. As we were leaving, he looked at me and said ‘Mum, I have a friend.’ I hugged him tight and cried."
“Eamon would often not talk as he struggled with a stutter. But the teachers would encourage and praise him, and his confidence came along in leaps and bounds.
He was dropped home from school one day, as usual I was waiting on the step for him. He ran up to me and said, ‘I lost my bumpy words, Mum!’”
“One day Darcy was building up to a meltdown. In a tiny voice, he said, ‘Cuddle me’. I held him tight and rocked him, and the motion seemed to regulate him.
I was floored he recognised exactly what he needed. This is now a regular practice in our home.”
We know that the supportive environment provided by our Schools and satellite classes break down the barriers that can make life isolating for someone on the autism spectrum. We know Rylan, Eamon and Darcy are developing academically, socially and emotionally, and that Aspect is preparing them for the future.
Doesn’t every child on the autism spectrum deserve that kind of support?
Please give a generous gift this Christmas to help give children the support they need – and make sure no one on the autism spectrum is left out, or left behind.