Text and main image by Sarita Rajiv, Product images courtesy Amazon
I'm constantly amazed by the grace and courage with which people handle their lives. A former colleague of my husband recently discovered that her four-year old son is autistic. She shared this development with her family, friends and acquaintances through a heartfelt, personal message on Facebook. One of the most touching things she wrote was, "I need to help him as much as I can to come to terms with a world he sometimes sees differently. He will be fine. I and a lot of others around me will make sure of that. If you meet us, please say hi to him. He is still awesome." What a wonderful way to acknowledge, accept and share her child's uniqueness!
I've been reading up on autism and realised that April is Autism Awareness Month. For those of you who don't know much about autism, it is a mental, lifelong condition that affects the way a person communicates and relates to the people around him or her. Most autistic people find it rather difficult to talk to other people. They are sensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours. Autism also affects how they make sense of the world around them. But I prefer how MOM- Not Otherwise Specified, a blogger with a fourth-grade son who has autism, explained her son’s autism to his classmates. Here’s what she said.
"Autism is something that people are born with – you either have autism or you don’t have it. Having autism means that your brain is put together differently. Your brain still works perfectly well. It just does things differently from other people’s brains. Imagine that your brain is a machine. Let's pretend that most people in the world are toaster brains. People with autism have hair dryer brains. Both toasters and hair dryers are wonderful and important, but hair dryers have a difficult time making toast!"
Choosing and giving gifts for children and adults with autism
Through all my reading, I realised that there seems to be a fair amount of general information on autism. I thought I'd touch upon an aspect that hasn't been covered as much; something that can help the family and friends of autistic people. I've put together a special gift guide for autistic children and adults. I don’t have any personal experience with autism and can’t claim to be an expert on the topic. But I do believe that these tips will help you have a good gifting experience and find the perfect gift. So here goes.
Tried and tested gift ideas: Some of the tried and tested gifts recommended by parents of children with autism are wooden puzzles, Legos, Play-Doh, Teen Talk (a set of 50 questions to get teens talking). If you are gifting toys that need batteries, make sure they are already included. Not being able to play immediately with the toys can be unsettling. Soothing and relaxing gifts like the Tranquil Turtle Sleep Machine are also popular for both children and adults with autism. It projects soothing images on the ceiling, creating an underwater effect with sounds like ocean waves. It is a perfect night-time friend.
There are also several autism apps that would make for very useful gifts for those who use iPads and tablets. Another blogger, Shannon of Squidalicious has done an awesome job of rounding several of them here. These autism apps cover a range of topics like art, language, math, stories, communication, social skills, navigation and games. It’s a veritable treasure trove of information.
Another recommendation is the I Love Being My Own Autistic Self: A thAutoons Book . It is a fantastic gift for autistic people, their families and friends. It tackles the concept of neurodiversity in a fun way using cartoon characters.
But more than things the best thing they recommend is 'experiences'. Autistic children and adults need to go out in the real world and have beautiful, inspiring experiences that help them make sense of the world around them and find their place in it.
Know their interests: You know how knowing a person's interests and hobbies is always useful in choosing a gift? Well, it's doubly true in case of people with autism. Both children and adults tend to have very specific interests or hobbies. Find out what they are. For instance, if they are interested in dinosaurs, you could get them a book about dinosaurs or get them tickets to a museum that has a dinosaur exhibition. When you focus on what they like, it’s hard to go wrong with the gift you choose.
Indulge the obsession: My daughter is currently obsessed with the animated movie Frozen. She’s always singing songs from the movie and takes turns pretending to be Anna, Elsa and Olaf! Like most kids, children with autism also go through phases where they are obsessed with something. It's okay to indulge their obsession and gift them something similar to what already have. For instance, if the child likes the Angry Birds game get them an Angry Bird T-shirt or an Angry Birds backpack.
Kill the surprise: Contrary to most of us, autistic people don't like surprises. Surprises unsettle them. It is always best to let them know in advance what gift they are going to get. It’s best to talk to them and introduce the topic of the gift slowly and gradually.
Two is too many: Getting too many gifts at the same time can be overwhelming for children, teens and adults. This doesn’t mean you have to hold back and give just one gift when you would really like to give two or three. What you should do, however, is phase it out. If for instance, you've got them more than one birthday gift, set up a routine for the week leading up to the birthday. You could give them one gift at the same time every day. Autistic people thrive on routine and schedules. It helps them make sense of the chaos around them. Knowing what is going to happen at a certain time each day helps them be prepared.
Wrap it plain & simple: People with autism are sensitive to sounds, touch and colours. When you're wrapping a gift for autistic children or adults, avoid paper that is too noisy, too shiny or too bright. Keep the wrapping simple – avoid multiple elements and make sure it is easy to open.
Above all, the best gift you can give is love, understanding, respect and support. It beats everything else. I hope you find this gift guide useful. Do you have anyone with autism in your family? I’d love to hear what are your favourite gifts for them are.
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