It’s day eight of our Christmas campaign and today we are sharing a special account of a Christmas from one of our great friends, Michelle Rose.

Owner of marketing business Custard and Bear, mentor, wife and mum… if there’s anyone who will make Christmas ‘one of a kind’ it’s Michelle. 

This is her kind of Christmas. 

Doing Christmas OUR WAY

Now that my kids are 10, nine and six I’m starting to love Christmas more. That’s not to say that I didn’t love it ever before, but it is fair to say that it has been stressful - and all a bit much - for some years.

In fact, if you have an autistic child in your family, who struggles with the excitement of their birthday (even when you don’t have a party or visitors and try to keep it really low key) then you know Christmas is going to be like that, only multiplied!


Let me introduce you to my family 

Quinn is 10 and he is autistic; Albie is nine and, like me, is neurodivergent, Livvy is six and is also autistic. My husband Kieran - the kids’ dad - is also autistic. 

So we have a right mix of autistic / non autistic / neurodivergent relationships in our family. 

It’s also worth pointing out that I’m a 41-year-old only child who struggles with things like family board games and the general hysteria the Game of Life brings. Thankfully Kieran is the youngest of three so he gets siblings much better than me!

All about the kids?

I know us adults say that Christmas is “all about the kids” but really, it’s not.

It’s about us.

It’s about how special we want to make our kids feel. 

It’s about us spoiling them and us demonstrating how much we love them and how proud we are of them by a display of gifts, toys, chocolates and all manner of random stocking-fillers (thanks Santa!).

It’s also about us showing off our kids to relatives who visit but once a year or worse, us trudging to shrivelled up great aunts for our annual, obligatory, dutiful visit which invariably means dragging the kids with us.

To be honest as an adult looking back to my childhood I can’t say I enjoyed the enforced jolliness of the day or the hugs and kisses off people I didn’t know.


Christmas perhaps wasn’t the dream day after all

So over the years I realised that Christmas was a struggle for Quinn. Albie and Livvy were generally okay, but Quinn not so much.

During their early years I did Christmas the way I thought I should, as a mum with a young family.  And then I’d sit on Christmas Night, exhausted, often in tears, after calming down a meltdown (or three), and wondering what I’d done wrong?

All I had wanted was to make it perfect for the boys and Livvy, and yet it seemed to do the complete opposite.


Do we expect more at Christmas?

Looking back I think we expect our children to conform on Christmas maybe more than any other time. 

There are so many hidden rules and expectations, and the routine of the everyday is thrown out and replaced with the hustle and bustle of new people, noises, smells, sounds, lights, foods, clothes, journeys, places…. 

We don’t do church so thankfully I don’t have to worry about Quinn squirming across and through the pews and annoying old ladies (#truestory)!


Let’s talk 

As Quinn got older we talked to him about what he liked and disliked about Christmas; we said it was his house, his Christmas Day and we wanted it to be as calm for him as possible. 

We realised that doing Christmas for the kids actually meant asking the kids what they wanted!


Oh the presents…

He loved his gifts but there were too many – he now opens a few and then often opens one a day. 

He’s not ungrateful, he just can’t appreciate so many all at once. Giving him time, allows him to experience the joy of his presents.

He loved the idea of spending the day with us – but after a hyper hour of present opening with his little brother and sister he’d had enough, but yet wanted to be with us. So by 10am he’s often to be found on his chair, under a duvet with his headphones and sunglasses on. He’s with us, just on his terms.


Christmas dinner 

He can’t be doing with Christmas Lunch because it’s served at 3pm and lunch is served at 1pm – so him and Albie decided they would like pizza for Christmas and pizza is what they have. A frozen one, nothing different to the usual. They have it about 1pm, sitting wherever they like (Livvy will probably have a Babybel, a yoghurt and a packet of Quavers – Christmas Day is the day you simply accept a restricted diet and absolutely do not force anyone to try sprouts. No matter how delicious your Christmas Lunch is, no autistic kids with a restricted diet need to hear that they should be trying this or that. You enjoy your food and let them enjoy theirs).

He absolutely does not want to sit at the table with us for Lunch (and I have to say this broke my heart because well… crackers, silly hats and sillier jokes…) – so we have Lunch, let him know it is being served and make sure his place is set. 

Albie and Livvy both also have a place set but as they’ve already eaten they just tend do come and go. The result; the kids are fed and happy and not grumpily waiting for food they don’t even want until 3pm and even grumpier because they have to sit at the table we only ever usually use for homework).


What about visitors

He didn’t want people visiting; he didn’t want the noise, the other kids, the cuddles and kisses, the anticipation of relatives wanting to watch him open his presents – so no one visits. It is strictly us five only (Oh, and Grandma is allowed too).

Wearing ‘good clothes’ is out. Christmas is a PJ and dressing gown day – forcing him into new and itchy-scratchy clothes just to sit and eat a dinner he doesn’t want when he’s emotionally and sensory overloaded as it is…. – yup, PJs it is (and not new ones Grandma always brings on Christmas Eve, because they haven’t been washed and don’t feel right yet).

Doctor Who. Come on, that’s a given, surely?!


Anxiety building 

He is anxious before Christmas even starts because school has been so topsy-turvy with practices for plays and carol concerts and time out to perform them in new places – so we started to look at his pre-Christmas timetable and if he needed to stay at home he stayed at home, it didn’t hurt his education and made him so much more likely to feel Christmassy come the Christmas holidays!

Not knowing what gifts he will or won’t get does cause some anxiety; but clearly we don’t actually know ourselves what Santa will leave so we just keep talking that one out.


My top tips?

Stop assuming; talk to them.

Stop worrying about what friends and family might think; it’s your Christmas not theirs.

If you think Christmas is all about the kids then make it all about the kids – truly.

You might be reading this and be horrified or shocked at some of my suggestions, much of what we do may only work for our family. THAT’S OKAY. 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ way to do Christmas in a neurodivergent family – you have to figure out your way over the years and build your own traditions, flexing them as kids grow and understand themselves more.

This is just my story of our Christmas and I wish you a very Merry Christmas whether you spend it in PJs eating pizza on the couch or in your best clothes eating sprouts at the table.

The highlights of Michelle’s day can be found on our downloadable checklist...

Click here to download it

Don’t forget to visit to make a donation to our festive campaign. Every penny helps create environments for autistic teenagers to flourish, express themselves and find a safe space.