Gift Giving & Autism: The One Golden Rule
With Christmas approaching with force, it’s time for us all to turn our minds to what we’ll be giving as gifts to the ones we love this year.
I know I personally find it very difficult to come up with the perfect gift solution for friends and family. Even if I feel I know the recipient well, it can be daunting trying to land on the perfect gift idea to show how much I care.
When autism is thrown into the mix, it can make it even harder to select the right gift for someone with intense, specific and sometimes very hard to buy for interests. To be honest, I struggle to even meet my son’s very detailed gift requirements, let alone other members of my wider family with autism.
However, all is not lost. There is one golden rule you should follow when considering gifts for a child with autism: ALWAYS ask their parent or caregiver for gift ideas before you buy.
Here are a few reasons why NOT asking for this information prior to giving the gift can be a very bad idea.
Gift Giving & Autism: Why you should ALWAYS ask for gift ideas first
Giving an age appropriate gift could be unwelcome
There are certain gifts in certain age brackets that seem always like a sure thing. For example, dolls for 3 – 7 year old girls and Lego for 6 – 12 year old boys are usually safe gift choices.
However, many kids on the autism spectrum don’t share the same age-appropriate interests as their peers. In fact, they often have intense and sometimes unusual preferences when it comes to gifts.
My son, for instance, has never been interested in toys. Ever. He has amassed quite the collection of unopened toys over the years. He is not interested in opening them to play with, yet will not let me give them to others who would enjoy them, as they were gifts given to him.
Depending on his mood, he may receive these gifts with seeming disinterest or become upset when he realises he has not received what he really wanted. Depending on the occasion, he may politely thank the gift giver despite his disappointment or become enraged they didn’t know what he really wanted. Because, in his mind, they should have known what he wanted.
If you are gift-giving to a child on the spectrum this year, take it from a parent who deals with this every year. Please, ALWAYS ask for gift ideas from a parent or caregiver before purchasing gifts, to avoid the chance of upset come Christmas Day.
Buying a gift for their special interest might cause them upset
I’m sure you are thinking you misread that heading. Surely purchasing a gift in line with a child’s special interest is what we SHOULD be doing?
Well, yes. Only if you ask for advice first.
You see, you may be thinking you are doing the right thing by buying them a Thomas the Tank Engine model train as Thomas has been their special interest for years. However, you may have inadvertently done one of the following things:
- bought a duplicate model they already own
- bought a model in the wrong range (this can be VERY important)
- bought a model they do not want to own/have dismissed previously
- bought a model that doesn’t match their existing collection
- bought a model in the wrong number order (thus upsetting their collection)
- bought a model online, thus not in it’s original packaging
See where I’m going here?
I learned this to my cost last year. My son wanted cricket DVDs so he could relive all the best moments of the matches he loved. The only problem? It’s impossible to purchase cricket DVDs of full matches – you can usually only buy DVDs of highlights of matches. I bought him a couple of DVDs that I thought he’d love, however he STILL hasn’t unwrapped the packaging nearly a year on because they are not the full matches he requested.
Make sure you find out EXACTLY what they would appreciate as a gift and coordinate with others to minimise the risk of duplication and/or upset.
A gift with lots of sounds, lights & movement may not be the best idea
There’s always a new toy each year with all the bells and whistles. They are pushed hard by toy companies who are desperate to attract kids of the internet generation. They typically make a lot of noise, have all sorts of lights and visuals, often move around in weird and wonderful ways and are almost always interactive.
These toys always set alarm bells off in my head as I know they are the recipe for sensory overwhelm for my kids.
When considering a gift for anyone on the spectrum, consider their sensory needs and preferences. If you don’t, you could overload their sensory system and unknowingly trigger a sensory meltdown.
My son cannot cope with toys that make any sort of sound. I still remember when he was a baby and we bought him an interactive Leap Frog learning bear. It had colours, lights and sounds, perfect for keeping a baby entertained and intrigued for hours.
He cried from the moment he saw it. In the end we had to give it away as he could not cope with it. Even now, he gets upset when we play music, videos or games without headphones. So the latest and greatest interactive toy would not be a good gift choice for him.
Always think twice about giving gifts that make noise, light up, move around or have a distinctive smell. If you are in doubt, talk to the parent or care giver to identify any triggers to avoid.
Gifts are often better than gift cards/vouchers/certificates
One thing I’ve learned about autism over the years, is the inability for many on the spectrum to understand abstract concepts.
My son, for instance, knows to expect presents on Christmas Day. Concrete, tangible presents which you can watch, play with or hold. Something that is missing from gift cards/vouchers/certificates.
Early on, after he received his first non-tangible gift card, we realised he didn’t understand that it was a real gift. He thought he had been “done over” by the gift giver. He was distraught as he could not initially grasp the concept that the gift card meant he could buy a gift of his own choosing.
Be very careful with gift cards/vouchers/certificates. It seems like a really logical way to give the hard-to-buy-for-person a gift they can truly appreciate. However, it can also bring on upset and disappointment if the recipient can’t get past the lack of immediate gift gratification that a present would normally provide.
Again, check first with their parent or care giver to make sure a gift card/voucher/certificate would be a welcome gift on Christmas Day.
Surprises are not always greeted with joy
My kids enjoy receiving presents and they don’t experience any trepidation or fear when given a surprise gift. However, that’s not the case for every child on the autism spectrum.
Many kids do not like surprises and will become upset and overwhelmed when given a wrapped present because they do not know what’s inside. They might not even want to go near the present and reject it completely because they are overcome with trepidation and worry at what it might contain.
Others feel anxious when opening presents in front of the gift giver due to the pressure to provide an appropriate response to them, even if the gift is unwelcome.
One way to get around both these issues is to give an unwrapped present, so the recipient can see exactly what it is, without the fear of an unwelcome surprise. You could also wrap the present in clear cellophane or place it unwrapped in a gift bag to achieve the same result.
In this way, the child will know exactly what they are receiving and will not experience unnecessary stress because of a possibly unwelcome surprise.
It’s another case of following the one golden rule – seek advice from the parent or care giver first to avoid unintentional upset and distress.
So that’s my golden rule when it comes to gift giving & autism – ALWAYS ask a parent or care giver for specific gift ideas before starting out on your Christmas gift shopping. It really is the best way to ensure a happy, festive and fun-filled Christmas Day.
If you’d like to find out more, feel free to check out my video below where I go through these points as part of my Challenge of the Week special needs parenting Facebook Live series:
This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs blog hop where myself and other special needs bloggers share our thoughts on a set theme each month. This month’s theme is “best gifts.” I’d love for you to check out all the other posts linked up for this month!
Nutcracker Themed Gift Ideas for Kids | Every Star is Different
Gift Giving & Autism: The One Golden Rule | My Home Truths
Self-Care Gifts for Special Needs Parents | Life Over C’s
Best Gifts for the Autism Mom | This Outnumbered Mama
115+ Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Kids with Hyperlexia | And Next Comes L
Great Gifts for Children with Anxiety | Raising Lifelong Learners
Fun Gifts For Sensory Seeking Kids | 3 Dinosaurs
Best Sensory Swings for Kids| Parenting Chaos