The holiday giving season is here! Unofficial poll: Are you an early shopper with everything bought, wrapped, and under the tree already? A late shopper who still has plenty of time yet? Or somewhere in the middle? Let me know in the comments. 🙂
Regardless of your usual gift-buying habits, there may be one name still on your list that I can help with today: The autistic child in your life.
If you’re feeling a little lost on this one, you are not alone. Giving to an autistic child can be tricky. They don’t necessarily like things that other kids their age do, preventing you from using other kids you know as a reference. They don’t care about the latest fads, rendering Amazon and Toys R Us’ gift-guides useless. They may have sensory sensitivities that take noisy and light-up toys off the list. They may even be non-verbal making it harder to use the classic, “So what did you ask Santa for this year?” line. So today I’m offering some tips that may help you make your final decision.
1. Forget About the Price
Autistic children are rarely impressed with the amount of money you spend. (Actually, a LOT of kids don’t care about cost. They care about whether the gift matches their interests.) A simple, inexpensive gift that shows you know them and understand them will be remembered and cherished more than a big-ticket item that they feel no connection to.
One year, my son’s grandparents gave him the one thing he loved most in the world: a case of Kraft Dinner macaroni and cheese. It was a hit!
If you are giving to several children this year, and try to make an effort to keep things “even,” consider slipping some cash to Mom & Dad to make up the difference in cost compared to your other gifts. They can use it towards something their child needs, or towards a respite worker so they can go on a date.
2. Consider Special Interests
My son is a writer. (He takes after his mama!) One thing he loves to do is create his own little books by writing down things he has learned, drawing his own illustrations, and stapling the pages together into books to give to the people he loves. Many of his friends have been gifted booklets on topics like the solar system, or how ice cream is made.
Before my son’s last birthday, a friend texted me, asking if he was still into book-making. She said she was thinking of giving him paper or notepads for his birthday, but wasn’t sure if that would be a “lame gift.” I assured her that he would love it! It was a very thoughtful idea, catered perfectly to him.
This year, my son has developed two new interests. The first is calendars. He sat down and memorized a 2022 calendar earlier this year, and can now answer correctly any date you want to quiz him on. (ie. What day of the week is November 5th? He knows it’s a Saturday!) The second new interest is foxes. He found a cute fox stuffy at a gift shop during our summer holiday, and decided that is what he wanted with his souvenir money. Since then he has been learning all he can about foxes. He draws pictures of them, and brings home a new fox book each week from the library.
Guess what my husband just bought him for Christmas? A 2023 calendar with 12 monthly photos of baby foxes that he can hang in his room. We are so excited to give it to him!
3. Use an Inside Source
It’s ok to “cheat”! Parents/caregivers will be more than happy to point you in the right direction. They have the inside scoop on special interests, current fears, and sensory aversions. They truly are experts on their child, and will be honored (even relieved) that you ask. Showing consideration and foresight to get their help or approval on a gift is a gift in itself to the parent. Special-needs parenting can be lonely sometimes. Showing that your understand that they are facing challenges, and partnering with them to get a gift that will help or be appreciated instead of scare or overwhelm, is huge! You have just made them feel seen, heard, and valued.
4. Give the Gift of Time
Many children on the autism spectrum crave connection and relationship. However, connecting with someone on the spectrum sometimes looks different, and can take more time than it does with others. Gifting time along with your present can take it from good to incredible.
For example: Give a book or documentary film about their favorite subject, AND sit down with them to read it or watch it together. Get excited when they get excited. Talk about what you have just learned, and allow them to teach you what they know on the subject. Enter their world and bond over something that they love for an afternoon.
Maybe your gift can be no “gift” at all. Maybe it can be just time. Put some playdates on the calendar with their caregiver’s help. These do not have to be elaborate playdates. You don’t even have to leave the house. Simply set aside an hour to sit beside them on the floor while they play with blocks or trains. Or push them on the swing in the backyard. Your presence, attention, and smile are life-giving. Don’t underestimate their impact.
5. Go Big-Ticket
Yes, the opposite of what I said in Tip 1. I still stand by what I said, that monetary value is not as important as the connection it makes, however some of the things that can be really beneficial can cost a lot!
Anything with the word “therapy” on it can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. And there is also no end to the red tape and hoops when it comes to getting insurance or a charity grant to cover something. It’s a discouraging reality that haunts every special-needs caregiver. Maybe this year you can ask Mom or Dad if there is a big-ticket therapeutic item they are saving for, and make a contribution towards it. Perhaps you can rally other family members and pool your resources to make a big dream come true.
Your combined cash gifts could go towards a light table, a therapy swing, a recumbent bicycle, etc… that will really bring joy to the day-to-day life of the child and their whole family.
6. Be Non-Traditional
It’s ok to do things a little differently if it will be better for the child you are gifting to.
Sometimes autistic children become overwhelmed by all the new locations, sights, smells, sounds, and people that the holidays can bring. Maybe the big family Christmas party isn’t the right place to spring a new gift on them. Other autistic children become very anxious about the unknown and dislike surprises. In this case, it’s ok to skip the wrapping paper. It’s even ok to tell them what the gift is before you show it to them, to help them emotionally or mentally prepare themselves. Once again, parents are a great resource here. Get their input, or observe them and follow their lead when they give gifts.
There you have it! Six tips that will hopefully give you confidence as you choose the right gift for your loved one. If you have tips of your own, I would love to hear them in the comments.
Happy Holidays, Everyone!
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