Autism Spectrum Australia

Tis the season to go crazy!

  • Posted: 18/12/2014
  • Author: Thomas Kuzma
  • Comments: Loading.. .

Tis’ the season everyone! We have reached that time of year where we sit around tables, celebrating who we are and what we believe, whether it’s a religion, a family tradition or if you truly believe you are going to get that last prawn!

As I do every month, I have asked someone from the autism community to join in on the blogging fun. Now, who is this month’s blogger? Well he was in the previous blog, talking about relationships. I felt that you guys may want to have an entrée before you tried the main course! So without further ado, I bring you Haydn Payne and…

 

AUTISM AND CHRISTMAS

 

Ah, Christmas, that wonderful time of year that most of us look back on with fond nostalgia; while we currently dread the cost, stress and lack of appreciation for the efforts we undertake; or at least that's me on occasion.

I'm pretty unique in that not only do I have autism, I also had the fortune (or in my view, misfortune), Of leaving my mother's womb several months early and sliding out into the world on December the 25th twenty six years ago. In all of those years since I can't think of a single year where a combination of my unfortunate date of birth and my autism came into effect in some way. As a kid I was very envious of my friends not being close to Christmas, I could always attend their parties but of course, all my friends were busy with their own families and celebrating Christmas so I often spent Christmas with my extended family.

Luckily my family was generous enough to give me two presents – one for Christmas and one for my birthday each year; Though being in my mid twenties the importance of the Christmas factor is understandably somewhat less now. My family is a gregarious and social lot; There are a ton of Paynes and we all like to party - family get togethers and social dos are common and quite normal for us. Our Christmas parties are often the biggest event of the year, (and the most stressful by far to plan and organise). I've always been somewhat of the black sheep of the Paynes; Most of my family are graphic artists or musicians and I'm the only writer. I'm more a fan of science and learning than sport and no one can really work out what makes a good gift for me, especially those members of my family I don't see often. Such as the tremendous number of random cousins, of which a new one I wasn't aware of materialises into existence and expects me to know who they are each and every year. 

While I'm a very social person nowadays I was not always so. In my teens I made a lot of social gaffes and became quite withdrawn and shy, even with a lot of my extended family. Not everyone in my family is aware of my autism. While I'm certainly not ashamed by it, and in fact I am quite proud of the benefits it grants me, I don't need to scream it from the roof tops. Autism is part of my life but it does not define my life or who I am as a person.

However it does have an effect on most of those social events I attend. Before I learned the skills to manage my symptoms I hated attending Christmas parties, Instead of twenty or so people, we'd have in excess of sixty, most of whom I didn't know well, and who didn't understand my quirks, so I would inevitably wind up gaffing up a social situation. Perhaps I'd fail to disguise the fact I hated a gift and offend someone, or wind up talking for someone for too bloody long not noticing the  'I am monumentally bored by this conversation’ look on their face, and would wind up angry and depressed at my inability to navigate the social environment. Nowadays thankfully things are different now that I understand my limits.

I'm like a candle exposed to heat. Light my wick and keep me cool, I'll burn for hours. Throw me into a furnace and I'll melt into a puddle of wax. The larger the crowd, the more people involved, determine how much of a party I can take before I need a breather or a break to recharge my emotional reserves. If I don't take the occasional break I lose the ability to process and filter out sounds, sights and tactile sensations. Sounds blend and blur into a headache producing mess and someone brushing past me can feel like I've just been slapped with itching powder. Keep me in a crowded room too long and I'll want to claw my way to an exit. 

Payne Christmas parties are a curious thing. Most of my family are talented in an instrument, more meat is consumed per person than Fred Flintstone could manage on an eating binge, and the trifle is not considered complete with at least several decent bottles of brandy. That's just for the person making the trifle.

In these meat, music and booze soaked environments, jam sessions with some discordant old guitar and dented drum kit is inevitable, at which point for me it's exit stage left. I can do parties, I play guitar, I can handle my drink. But those things simultaneously is a recipe for Aspersers Syndrome Chernobyl style meltdown. It's simply too much at once.

That being said there's something about a good party. It's like an unpredictable primordial soup out of which anything could bubble; a deep and meaningful conversation, a new friendship, an  epiphany or a new understanding of self. Understandably for a lot of spectrumites that's the exact opposite to what constitutes a good time! For many years, that was the same for as well. Now I enjoy the challenge the environment poses; some of my strongest friendships have been forged out that environment, along with some of my greatest insights into people and lessons on how to interact with them.

It's amazing what a great smile and a confident hello can do in boosting confidence and getting past that initial awkwardness between introduction, small talk, and really speaking to someone.

Even with all the family dramas and stress my family and I go through during Christmas time we do not forget the most important thing about Christmas. No it's not the presents, turkey, ham or any religious connotation for me or my folks; it's that family with all its ups and downs is something truly worth celebrating!

 

Thanks Haydn. See you guys next week for my summation of the year. Don’t miss it!

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Tis the season to go crazy!