Christmas and the CNN-syndrom

Do you remember the first Gulf War? It changed the way TV channels covered war and other types of crises. It did so at least for those of us that were not yet familiar with CNN and other all-news channels that broadcasted via cable or satellite. NRK (our PBS) was still the main provider of televised news and they constantly showed those iconic CNN-images of Iraqi soldiers firing tracer bullets up in the air towards US planes that were out of reach.

For the first time in a long time something other than winter sports made Norwegians literally glued to the screen. We couldn’t change the channel or switch the set off because that could have made us miss vital information. This was a strategy that worked, but it may have made life harder for many people. The same thing has happened over and over again, every time there’s been a tense situation, in the years following the first Gulf War, whether it’s about war or natural disaster. It makes us feel and relate to victims in a way that overwhelms some people, although we as outsiders shouldn’t be as paralyzed as we sometimes are. This happened when Michael Jackson died as well, and it probably made many people feel worse than they otherwise would have. It isn’t necessarily a good thing to feel too intensely.

In a way it is somewhat similar with Christmas. Norwegian media always focus on Christmas as a tragedy. If you are single or a parent that can’t afford PS 4, iPhone or the most expensive brand of jeans for your children the next few days will be a living hell. That seems to be the impression media leaves us with at least. This is also a difficult time for autistic people because of all the sensations, family drama (and there seems to be a lot of it during Christmas) and the general focus on being social. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get through Christmas.

With a little preparation and less focus on the negative message in media I think many will be able to manage Christmas better than some people seem to think. Most of us aren’t perfect and most of us wouldn’t be able to live up to the perfect image anyway (there is a Clark Griswold is most of us men). You are actually not a loser if you are happy celebrating an “out of the box-Christmas.”

We are in a fortunate situation because I am Norwegian and my wife is American. We have a Norwegian celebration on the 24th with smoked and salted lamb ribs, cloud berry cream for dessert and we open about half the presents. Today we are having American celebration with turkey, dressing and sweet potato pie, and if someone is still standing there are sugar cookies, chocolate cake and ginger snaps. We also open the rest of the gifts and we watch some classic Christmas specials on TV both evenings. It turned out that this was probably a good autistic celebration as well because we don’t have to squeeze everything into one night. We don’t do big family parties either. Those are usually very chaotic.

Christmas can be a challenge because even family members have to think creatively when they try to communicate with an autistic child. Speaking isn’t the only way of talking. This Santa understood that:

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