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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What My Son with Autism Is Getting for Christmas (And Why!)

With only two weeks to go until Christmas, the UPS man is making daily visits to our home (we have the nicest UPS man, by the way). When choosing gifts for a child with ASD, there are a few extra considerations to keep in mind. This is what our son with autism is getting for Christmas this year - and why*:

Toys That Are "Too Old" for Him: Unless there is a safety concern, don't be too worried about matching the suggested age on the box to the actual age of the child. Autistic children are known for having uneven development, so shop for where they are, not the manufacturer's recommendations. That is why our 6 year son is getting building sets intended for 8 year olds like Air-Stream Machines - he loves toys like Snap Circuits and complicated Lego sets. And if he needs help at first, that means more fun for us, because then we get to build with him.

Shop for the child's developmental age, not their calendar age.

Toys That Are "Too Young" for Him: Speaking of uneven development, our master builder has also requested that Santa bring him some Calico Critters this year. Although they are geared towards preschoolers, our son was not engaging in that type of pretend play when he was the suggested age for these toys. It was actually a revelation for me - I just thought that he skipped that developmental stage; it hadn't occurred to me that it would one day come. So if he wants a couple of cute cats to tell stories with, who cares what the age on the box says?

Who could say no to this face?

Games That Build Skills: We got some great suggestions for games from our OT. Don't Break the Ice is a fun game that helps develop motor grading skills. Motor grading is what helps us fine tune how much pressure or force to use when touching things. If your child never met a door they didn't slam, they might need some practice developing that "just right" amount of pressure. Also on the list this year is the eeBoo Obstacles game: collaborative play, flexible thinking, silly? Sign us up! Best of all, we know from OT that our son already loves these games, so they will be instant hits.

By the way, if your child has trouble joining in with other kids at the playground, add a Stomp Rocket to your shopping list. The Stomp Rocket was one of the best gifts my son ever received  - not only does he love stomping on the thing to launch the foam rockets (hello sensory input!), but it is a huge draw for other kids when we take it to the park. He gets to meet other kids without having to approach a group (not such a problem for him now, but that used to be a challenge), there is sharing, turn taking, shared laughter, and the whole thing is incredibly fun.

Legos + vehicles + a cat in the tree = the perfect gift.

Legos, Vehicles, and Legos That Build Vehicles: Because he is a 6 year old boy. Not everything is about autism, after all.

An Appreciation for the Joys of Giving: This is not a gift that comes on Santa's sleigh, but it is the most important one on this list. Our son tends to be a hoarder collector, and wants to accumulate more, more, more. It is not about greed (well, mostly not), it is about living with what one therapist called "a feeling of scarcity". He feels like there could never be enough - toys, parental attention, favorite foods, even his favorite color - so he feels compelled to gather it all and hold on tightly.

Jumping right in to help pack shipping cartons at the Operation Christmas Child shoebox drop off.

Because of this, it is all the more important to us to teach and model the joys of giving to others. This year, our son got to help pack a box for Operation Christmas Child and he helped me pick a gift to sponsor for a family in a developing country (we chose chicks!). I witnessed how these lessons are sinking in when he asked me if we could donate toys to a children's hospital for the kids who have to stay there during Christmas. You can imagine the tears in my eyes at that moment. As a recent study shows, kids with autism are absolutely capable of empathy.

And if you are a friend, grandparent, or other relative shopping for an autistic child this holiday season, please ask the child and/or his parents what he would like. Many of our kids have very specific interests, but may have little enthusiasm for the "hot toy" of the year. And doesn't every child deserve to have his dreams come true on Christmas morning?

* My son doesn't read our blog or follow CHART on Facebook, so Santa's secret plans are safe!

Happy holidays!

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