Chanukah is a time to spend with friends and family lighting candles, eating delicious foods and exchanging gifts. When buying gifts for children and adolescents with autism always ask parents for gift suggestions. They can tell you about the child’s dietary restrictions, interests, and strengths and weaknesses. If you do not feel comfortable asking parents for holiday shopping advice, observe what toys, games, books, electronic appliances the child seems to enjoy. Parents will always appreciate having another one of their child’s favorite item readily available in case it is damaged.
1. Dietary Restrictions: Be careful of the child’s dietary restrictions. If you are not already familiar with the child’s eating habits, make sure to first ask parents before presenting them with any food, and always be knowledgeable about the included ingredients.
2. Interests: Children and teenagers with autism have specific interests. Try to find a gift compatible with them. For example, if he or she enjoys a particular television show or movie, you may want to purchase items that have characters from the show or movie, like towels, bedsheets, clothing, books and games. Other children may enjoy books focusing on their interests in areas such as trains, animals, or sports. Some adolescents may be beginning to show special talents such as art, music, or computers. Buying supplies to help the child expand on these special skills may also help build the teenager’s self-esteem. Individuals with autism have very little desire for items outside their interest areas. Trying to introduce any new interests may cause the child or teenager much anxiety.
3. Strengths/Weaknesses: Do not focus on finding a gift for the appropriate age level. Instead focus on what is the child or teenager’s strengths and areas that he or she may need to improve. Many children with autism have sensory issues. It would be best to avoid toys that made loud noises and flashed bright lights. Other kids may benefit from fun toys that can help them with their sensory difficulties such as weighted blankets, chew toys or sensory brushes. Consult with the child’s physical, occupational or speech therapist for suggestions on items that would help the child’s sensory needs. Here are some websites that focus on different educational toys for children with autism:
4. Electronics: The Wii is a great tool to try and help children become more active. Families can also spend time coming together to play the different games. Other boys and girls may already enjoy using their Ipads and would appreciate an iTunes gift card. Cards can be bought online, at the apple store or most drug stores.
Happy Chanukah, everyone!
Dr. Frances Victory received her PhD in Developmental Psychology at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Her thesis was titled, "Exploring the Role of Perceived Religiosity on Daily Life, Coping, and Parenting for Jewish Parents of Children with Autism." You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org