Christmas can be a chaotic time of year for many families and their children, however particularly so for children with speech, language and communication needs. In those early years when we were beginning to recognise all the challenges our son Alexander faced each day, Christmas was particularly difficult. Alexander was unable to recognise the changes that took place in our surroundings; the lights, the tree, the gifts beneath it, this all had very little impact and he struggled to engage with any of it. Unable to communicate and process his surroundings, Alexander could not begin to tell us what he wanted or understand that this was a time for celebration and for sharing gifts. This was a struggle for the whole family as we wanted to give Alexander something he would enjoy, something to stimulate him, something that he wanted.
We would take Alexander to see the Christmas lights and decorations and look through department store windows at all the wonderful displays, but it meant nothing. Gifts would arrive, family would visit, but Alexander was unable to embrace this special time of the year.
On Christmas morning our eldest child would wake up buzzing with excitement and for him it was a truly magical experience. We desperately wanted the same for Alexander but each Christmas was the same, we would open the presents and hope that once opened Alexander would begin to share in some of the joys of Christmas. As a family, we could never have anticipated what Christmas would look like for Alexander and whether it would ever change but we always hoped for something better.
Thanks to I CAN's Meath School Alexander now speaks; he can express his thoughts and ask questions about his surroundings and develop a better understanding of the festive period. Christmas can be a stimulating but overwhelming time of the year for a child with speech, language and communication needs. Charities like I CAN offer tips and advice for supporting these children through the festive period. It is worthwhile thinking ahead and planning for any changes in routine. Not knowing what is going to happen can be unsettling for children in the best of times, and especially so for a child with communication needs. The lights, decorations, advent calendars, Christmas cards, a list for Father Christmas and school productions all signal something special, something different. Now that Alexander is able to verbalise his thoughts and ask questions, he can process all these changes and make sense of what is happening.
As a Christian family, church and the Christian community are an important part of our life. Now when I take Alexander to church he takes immediate notice of the changes he sees and understands that these changes signify the preparation for a special event. The priest wears purple and each Sunday we light a candle on the Advent wreath, bringing us closer to the day we remember the birth of Christ.
Now Alexander gives me a list of ideas for gifts, he rushes to open each door on the advent calendar and watches as the advent candle burns through another day. On Christmas morning Alexander bursts from his room with the same excitement shared by so many other children around the world and we feel blessed that he too can participate in the magic of Christmas.