By Christine Denise
Autism Mom and Contributing Writer for As You Are, a virtual clinic dramatically increasing access to early autism diagnostic services through the use of exclusively telehealth appointments
We are very fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family who very much want to get something for our son Louie this holiday season.
Unlike our neurotypical children, however, he can’t tell us what he wants. Ever. He is nonverbal, and is still working very hard at communicating basic wants on his Assisted Communication Device. It’s an iPad with an app that has icons he can press to show us what he wants.
Writing out a Christmas list is not among his skills at this point.
Our son does not grasp the concept of what it means to get a gift from someone. He doesn’t value material things like my neurotypical children do — who would naturally act like their world was coming to an end if Santa didn’t bring them gifts this year.
There is a simplicity to our son who has autism that is truly something to behold. He lives in a world without materialism.
If he didn’t have a present to open on Christmas, his world would not change.
That said, we are grateful for those we have around us who want to make sure he does have something to open.
Given how similar Louie’s habits are to some of his fellow children with autism, I’m hoping that sharing Louie’s list can help anyone searching for that perfect gift find what works for them this holiday season.
Sometimes, the best gifts for children like Louie are experiences and not objects at all.
- Gift certificates to trampoline parks. In our community, trampoline parks have specific times when toddlers are welcome. It’s much safer for my son, who is 9, to run around trampolines with toddlers rather than sometimes grown men who can get a little zealous with their jumping. Our son is barely 50 pounds, so the trampoline parks have allowed us to bring him during those quieter times so far.
- Gift certificates to sensory friendly gyms. Where we live, there is a franchise called We Rock the Spectrum that has been absolutely fantastic for our son. They have just about every type of swing you can imagine in a gym, along with many occupational therapy types of obstacle courses. He loves it there, and our neurotypical children can play with him there as well.
- Tickets to the aquarium. We are fortunate to have an aquarium in our city, and our son absolutely loves to go there and stare inside the tanks for hours. He also enjoys the interactive displays where he can get his hands wet.
- Passes to swimming pools. I have yet to meet a family with a child who has autism who doesn’t love water. Passes or tickets to indoor and outdoor swimming pools are a great gift.
- A childcare coupon. Along with any gift you might give to the special child in your life’s parents, offer to either provide childcare yourself or pay for it. For us, getting tickets to a concert or an event as a present always comes with the thought of having to find and pay for childcare in order for us to use it. We have let so many restaurant gift cards expire because we don’t make it a priority like we should due to the childcare barrier. Having that thought out ahead of time would make a gift for a child’s parents much more meaningful – especially if you volunteer to do it yourself. Knowing my son is enjoying time with their loved one in whatever special way they can also helps me feel better knowing his loved ones aren’t afraid of caring for him.
- Anything that lights up or makes noise. This past Halloween, our son could not get enough of the DJ lights at a costume party we went to, or the loud music pumping from a light-up stereo speaker. So, you guessed it, we are going to turn his room into a party scene this Christmas, putting up LED lights around his ceiling and buying the light bar and speaker we saw at the party.
- Light up toys for the bathtub. Combining water play with LED lights that can go into the water make bath time one of my son’s favorite parts of the day. There are a lot of lights that go in water now because many people use them to light up their swimming pools. We’ve found they work great in a bathtub too!
- Chewies. My son is very orally sensory seeking. He has chewed the collars off of so many shirts, it’s hard to count. That’s why constantly finding new chewies, as they’re called, always makes a great gift. These are necklaces he can wear and they are made for chewing.
- Clothes. See previous listing. Children with autism are usually very hard on their clothes. Our son is a messy eater, tends to chew the collars on his shirts, still has accidents and often wears through the knees on his pants because he loves to spin on his knees. So clothes are always a great get.
- Be picky with fidget gift sets or sensory friendly gift sets. My sister sent our son a gift that had been advertised as a perfect gift for a child with autism. It was a plastic bin filled with sand, small objects for him to find in the sand and other fidget toys. As soon as I saw it, I gasped internally. The way my son explores new things is by putting them in his mouth. She meant well, of course, but didn’t know that about her nephew as she’s not often around him. Before you go for any of those kits, check with the parents first to see if it would be the right gift for that child. And remember, the best present of all, is just being present in their lives.
Do you have questions about your child’s development? The team at As You Are provides diagnostic evaluations for kids 16 months to 10 years old via telehealth appointments.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This is a sponsored blog post, but all opinions are my own.