My son was so terrified of Christmas he ripped the tree down and couldn't even look at wrapped presents

In fact, it was his worst nightmare.

He dreaded the decorations and bright lights that lit up the streets and shops, couldn’t bear the sound of festive music blaring out from the radio – and the thought of sitting on Santa’s lap would send him running for the nearest exit.

It meant that for years his mum Janet had to “hide” Christmas from her son and make sure her other children Damon, now 22, James, 17, Alizee, 16, and Franny, 11, did the same.

The 40-year-old said: “We couldn’t have a tree as that would have freaked Keiran out.

“Decorations were a no-no too as he would just pull them down or run away in fear.

“Even with presents I’d have to make sure his weren’t wrapped, and put the others’ gifts somewhere he couldn’t see them as he couldn’t stand looking at the wrapping paper.”

Keiran’s phobia started when he was a baby and Janet would take him along to Christmas plays his older siblings were in or grottoes they wanted to go to.

“He would start crying loudly every time we took him past a church hall in his pram or anywhere near a grotto,” Janet recalled. “I couldn’t understand it.”

By the age of two Keiran also refused to let her put up a Christmas tree, pushing it over or refusing to enter the room if she tried.

“He would get so upset and anxious I couldn’t stand seeing him like that, so, eventually, I gave each of the other kids tiny trees to put in their bedrooms instead and stopped bothering with decorations.

“I knew it wasn’t fair on them but Keiran would be in tears otherwise. He seemed genuinely afraid which broke my heart.”

When Keiran was almost three, Janet tried persuading him to visit Santa in the hope that it might help him beat his phobia.

“We’d all travelled down to London and his cousin was with us too,” she explained.

“As he was a bit older and liked his cousin, I thought he might not be so bad.

“But when we arrived at the grotto she sat on Santa’s knee smiling and chatting while Keiran just stood next to them completely still.

"He forced himself to stay but I could see the terror in his eyes.”

Keiran had started displaying other signs that all was not well too.

If things were placed on a shelf he would push them off, or if the table was set for dinner, he would get anxious and sweep the plates away.

Janet said: “I noticed that he liked things in a certain order too and would only eat foods that were beige."

She took him to the doctors who referred him to a specialist for tests.

The specialist confirmed he had autism and gave Janet some information on the condition.

He explained that it was a developmental disorder characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviour, and that parents usually noticed signs during the first two or three years of their child’s life.

“It did make sense,” said Janet. “But it still didn’t really explain the Christmas thing.”

After seeking advice from the National Autistic Society, Janet was able to manage Keiran’s condition better and started gradually exposing him to the things he feared to get him more used to them.

She said: “I started by giving him a toy reindeer one year and then a little Santa figurine the next and gradually he started paying with them."

By the age of six, Keiran was even able to go and visit Santa in person, although he still wasn’t comfortable sitting on his lap.

Janet said: “I don’t think he trusted Santa because he’d asked for a football kit for Christmas and got a small toy car at the grotto which made him dubious!”

Last year, the family had their first proper Christmas tree with all their presents wrapped nicely, including Keiran’s, and scattered around it.

"Keiran loved it,” said Janet. “This time, he was so excited about Christmas Day he didn’t sleep the night before and wouldn’t stop chatting about presents and Santa.

“Before, he’d be up all night with anxiety. It was wonderful seeing him so animated because he was happy instead.”

The Liptrots are now looking forward to December 25 this year and already have their decorations up.

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an incurable, lifelong developmental condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.

It affects around one in 100 people in the UK and is three to four times more common in boys than in girls.

Many people with ASD find it hard to understand other people's feelings and emotions, and they may have difficulty holding conversations.

When they are young, their language development may take longer and they can struggle to use facial expressions, using gestures to communicate instead.

They may also find it hard to connect with other people and to hold eye contact with unfamiliar individuals.

Many children with ASD like to follow a routine, and changes to this can cause distress.

High functioning autism is an informal term some people use to describe those on the autism spectrum disorder.

“It’s so nice not to hide Christmas away anymore and to see Keiran enjoying the day with the family.

"It took a long time to get him over his phobia, but we got there in the end.”

A spokesperson for the National Autistic Society said: “Christmas can be a wonderful time but the changes to routine, sensory overload from new smells, lights and different food can make it a challenge for autistic people.

“Parents know how to adapt Christmas celebrations so it’s right for their child and Janet did the right thing by gradually introducing Kieran to Christmas at his own pace.

“It’s great to hear that Kieran, Janet and the rest of their family will be enjoying the festive season, instead of worrying about it.”

Sun writer Natasha Harding previously told how she can't take her autistic daughter to the cinema or even on the train because watching people judge them is too much to bear.

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