by Lori Warner, Ph.D., Director, HOPE Center, Center for Human Development
This time of year, many of us give gifts to share our appreciation and love for the important people in our lives. It can often be challenging to know what to buy, especially when a child has special needs. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, and kids with autism are kids first and foremost, there is no one gift that will do the trick for all kids with autism.
Years ago, I heard Elaine Hall, founder of The Miracle Project, speak about this very topic, and as I was writing this, I found that she has a recent article you can read in full here. I’ll share some highlights from Elaine’s article with ideas from us at the Beaumont Children’s Hospital HOPE Center on our Facebook page as well.
It can be difficult for families to receive gifts that they know their children are not yet able to play with, or are not yet motivated to engage in. The most important thing you can do is ASK! Ask the family what their child finds most exciting. If it’s appropriate to buy it, go ahead. Even if it’s not what all the other 5-year-olds are into this year, it may be exactly what that child loves and will truly enjoy.
You can also ask about what would be great “next step” gifts – something that would be interesting but a little challenging. Many families of kids with autism must work hard to expand the range of toys their children enjoy. Find out what might be something similar to the best-loved toys, but just new or varied enough so it will promote growth and learning.
For families in which one child has special needs and others do not, try to be sensitive to this. A gift everyone can enjoy in his or her own way is fantastic. One family found that a karaoke game was the best gift, because all the kids joined in together.
Most importantly, you can give gifts of your time and your help. Yes, it’s busy this time of year, but you’ll be saving shopping time plus finding time to connect, so it’s win/win! Offer to run errands or be an extra pair of hands and eyes on a holiday outing. It can be challenging for some families to get everyone out of the house for activities, but if you offer an activity and then join the family, you get time together seeing your gift in action.
The bottom line is that taking time to connect with the people who matter means the most. Whether your gift is tangible or intangible, big or small, if you’ve taken the time to find out what fits the family best right now, it will be a hit!