Only a few more hours until the Big Day, and still don't know what to give your neighbor/sister/colleague's child who has autism? You're not certain if they like Disney Princesses or Harry Potter legos. You've heard that the iPad is great for kids with autism, but it's a little out of your price range.
What to do?
Here are seven gift Ideas that I believe every family with autism will enjoy.
Offer to watch the child with autism so that the mom/dad can do some holiday shopping of their own, or so that the couple can have a quiet meal together and regroup. Holidays are stressful for everyone. Imagine having a child with extreme sensitivity to lights, sounds, people and places. It can be next to impossible to take the child to a crowded mall, especially during holiday times. Being available for the family is one of the best gifts you can offer.
If you are at the mall and see a mom or dad with a child who is having a difficult time, ask if you can help. Even if the parent declines your offer, just the mere gesture can help the parent feel less stressed and embarrassed. And we all know that when a parent is less stressed, the child will be more relaxed.
If you are in the front of a line and see a parent with a child with autism in the back of the line, offer them your place. Sure you are in a hurry, but it can be very challenging for a child to have to wait in line. Your generous offer can make the world of difference to that family.
Invite the family with autism over for your holiday dinner. Yes, you recall that Jason is prone to outbursts, that he eats with his fingers and he can't sit for very long. But you don't know how much your invitation could mean to a family. Before founding The Miracle Project, there were times when Neal and I had to spend holidays by ourselves. Holiday times can be very lonely. No one wants a whirling dervish at their home. But just once, take a risk. Even if the family declines, you are giving them the greatest gift of all by inviting them.
Bring a holiday meal to the family with autism. Or bring over a movie with popcorn to their house. This way, the family can enjoy being together without having to be out in the crowds. This year, Neal was going through some health challenges, and we were not able to attend any of our friends' or family's holiday dinners. My girlfriend Vida insisted that I come to her party and pick up "Chanukah-to-go" to take home to Jeff and Neal. She talked me into staying a few minutes to hear her 90-year-old dad recite the Hanukkah blessings. Her thoughtfulness will be remembered always.
Call and ask what the child is interested in. Sounds simple, yes? But it's not always understood. Sometimes our kids aren't that interested in what other kids are interested in. There was one year that Neal was passionate about Tupperware containers. A very thoughtful friend wrapped up 10 containers with lids. I still remember the excitement in his eyes as he unwrapped each piece!
Another idea is to rally a group of friends together and contribute toward a class the child would like to take and the parents can't afford. Families with autism are often strapped for funds, and programs can be costly.
The most important gift you can give to a family with autism is your unconditional love and support. This is the gift that will keep on giving.
Many blessings to everyone, and may your holidays be full of love, compassion and Joy.
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