A mum turned her family home into a Christmas wonderland for an entire weekend to earn a rare smile from her daughter.
Emily Orchard, 15, was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder this August.
Her mum Karen Orchard, 42, says Emily’s condition means it is rare for her to show she is enjoying herself. So she pulled out all the stops to make her smile on her birthday – by tapping into Emily’s love of all things festive.
“I got goose bumps when I saw a picture of her smiling on her birthday,” said Orchard.
“It was great to see her really enjoying herself. It’s quite rare that she’ll physically show that she’s having a good time.”
Emily is so captivated by the magic of Christmas that she celebrates it ‘five days a week’ by wearing her Christmas jumpers while enjoying festive-themed movies and music.
“I think it’s also a way of coping,” explained Orchard, from Chinley, Derbyshire. “It makes her happy and keeps her spirits up, but she’ll get nostalgic when it’s over.
“She’s been counting down the days until Christmas day. She got excited when it got down to double figures.
“I think it’s the magic of it all and the spirit of Christmas that she likes, she just loves it. I think she also likes the family element of it.”
So for Emily’s birthday on Friday 16 September, Orchard got the whole family involved, with grandparents round for a full Christmas dinner, a tree, decorations, lights, presents and crackers, as well as an ice skating session in their Christmas jumpers.
The festive extravaganza, which they named ‘Birthmas’ saw the family celebrate throughout the weekend.
“She was smiling and having fun on her birthday, it was really nice to see,” said Orchard.
“She was so happy and relaxed, it was an incredible achievement.”
It was Emily’s 13-year-old brother, Elliot, who came up with the idea of bringing Christmas a few months early to celebrate it on Emily’s birthday.
On the eve of the big day, Orchard put up the Christmas tree with presents underneath for the birthday girl and covered the room with decorations.
Over the weekend the family-of-three were joined by grandparents, Gary, 64, Christine, 64, as well as Karen’s friend Kim and three of Emily’s friends.
The group of nine enjoyed watching ‘The Grinch’, ‘Nativity’ and ‘Nativity 3’ over the ‘Birthmas’ celebration.
They had a ‘Birthmas dinner’ of turkey, roast potatoes, carrots, cauliflower cheese, pigs in blankets, sprouts and Yorkshire puddings.
They also enjoyed a Christmas pudding and festive chocolates along with a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ birthday cake, followed by ice skating.
“I can’t afford to get many presents but I think it’s more the excitement of it all that she enjoys,” added Orchard.
“There’s not much that does excite her and that she looks forward to. But she did really enjoy her birthday. What child wouldn’t want two Christmases?
“She was very giddy and excited, her friend even screamed ‘this is the best party ever’.
“I think it’s also to do with her autism. When she gets obsessed with something, she gets really obsessed.”
Emily became home-schooled in October 2015 after she had several ‘meltdowns’ in the morning, which would often involve screaming and locking herself in her room.
“I decided that school wasn’t worth the mental health problems,” said Orchard.
“She has real social problems, and she finds it hard to look people in the eye.
“She’s not shy, it’s crippling anxiety.”
Orchard added that Emily’s diagonsis came as a relief for her daughter.
“I always knew something was wrong, she’s had meltdowns since she was born but they got worse when she was at school,” she said.
“Since her diagnosis she’s started being more open about how she feels. She’s had years of hiding it and having internal fights with herself.
“She told me, ‘I just thought I was mad before. I always wondered why nobody else was screaming, that’s all I wanted to do’.”