THE BLOG
10/17/2014 12:45 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

This Thanksgiving, Give Back to the Angels on the Labyrinthine Streets of Autism

razihusin via Getty Images

"We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives."
- John F. Kennedy

Taking time to recognize the impact others have had in our lives and express our gratitude for them is good for everyone -- us, them and the overall culture. It seems like civility and the general level of gratitude is diminishing throughout society. With Thanksgiving and the season of giving upon us, it's time to start recognizing those who matter in your life -- and it's easier than you think.

Providing care and support for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families is a deed that should be recognized. Whether you employ Direct Service Providers, or are a client of one, there are several ways to show your gratitude for their work. These special professionals sit knee-to-knee with children and teach them in sometimes challenging circumstances due to the nature of ASD. They help children and their families better navigate through the labyrinthine streets of autism.

Here are ideas to consider when you want to let your "angel" know just what they've done for you.

However, before you select a gift or special something for the "angels" in your life, be sure you understand what they can and cannot accept. Direct service providers all have their own ethical guidelines and professional boundaries. Some may not be able to accept meals, gifts or other rewards. When in doubt, just ask.

Send a Telegram

Yes -- you read that right, and it is possible. Several companies specialize in sending old fashion telegrams. I personally enjoy doing this because something that was once quotidian is now a novelty. We get hundreds of emails every day, so when a message of gratitude takes a unique form it's even more special.

I recommend Telegramstop.com. Once the information is completed for the service, you can have an actual telegram sent to a person; or you can also opt to send an electronic copy. I personally -- (Stop) -- Enjoy sending an old world telegram -- (Stop) -- just to let people know how much I appreciate them -- (Stop). We do this at Pacific Child & Family Associates when someone passes certification exams and they always love the "retro" attention.

Animate a "Thank You"

With GoAnimate.com, I have a lot of fun creating customized and animated comic strips. You can do the same to let your "angel" know you care. The website allows you to create a comic scenario, import your own picture and even record your voice narrating the action. People generally enjoy seeing a comic in which they are the main subject -- so it's a great way to recognize someone special.

Recently, I created one for a patient named Michael who is very interested in garbage trucks. In the comic, I had him star in a story where garbage men visited him from outer space. He loved it and shared it with everyone in his family.

Create a Video Montage

Pictures are wonderful, but pictures with music and narration are even better. Taking the time to assemble a video montage for a person and present it to them can be enormously validating and rewarding. With tools available on most computers (PCs and Macs), you can collect digital photos, set them to music and add your own words of thanks.

Send a Real Card

An actual card stands in contrast to electronic communication -- which is commonplace and hardly memorable. Turn off your electronics, shut the door to your room (office or otherwise), take a pen in hand, and write an actual card to another person. And if you want to make it a real gem, put a wax seal on the back of the envelope.

You can also have multiple people make their own contribution so many people rather than one person writes the card. So, write a message in a card. Then mail it. I found tiny glass lady bugs in a local store and I like to insert them in every card I send as a signature gift.

If you don't trust your own handwriting, you can get a similar effect by using SendOutCards, which has hundreds of card options available. You select one, craft a personalized message and the card arrives to recipient within a few days. Or you can try the Lettrs App which lets you create and send handwritten electronic notes. Neither of which can include the tiny ladybugs though, so I stick to the old fashioned method.

The Gift of Learning

As an academic, I have an affinity for investing in a person's ongoing education; therefore, I love to send gift cards that allows a person to: (a) read an article about the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and (b) receive Continuing Education Units for reading (and taking a test) on an important topic. My favorite site to use for sending gift cards is Foxy Learning. I liked their work so much, I specially requested gift cards which they now offer to the public.

Give Them a Sparkling Chariot

Take a look at the car your angel drives, and you'll notice that they do not have time to have it cleaned. I really enjoy sending a mobile car wash company to do the job for them. Our team at Pacific Child & Family Associates is always on the road, making for a weathered car. Such companies are easy to find it will clean your angel's car at a location that is convenient for them. It's a time saver and much appreciated.

Put Some Fuel in Their Tank

Speaking of cars, the angels in our lives are sometimes stringing dimes together in order to fill their car with gas. Fuel cards can help them cover their gas costs and show that you appreciate the time -- and miles -- they put into their work.

Contribute to Their Collection

It's always interesting to learn something about the people in your life -- even those that work with you professionally. Hobbies, special interests and collections can sneak into professional conversations and let you know a little bit about people.

For example, after hearing that one of my staff members at Pacific Child & Family Associates loves old Dragnet radio episodes, so, I downloaded a dozen episodes and sent them to him in recognition of his work. Keep your ears perked for something that your angel would appreciate and then try to find a gift that fits.

Dine Together

The feasibility of this idea will depend entirely on your angel's professional guidelines, but if possible invite an angel and their spouse/partner to lunch or dinner. It's a great way to recognize their efforts, and it gives you an opportunity to tell their significant other how important their work is to you.

Write a Letter to Their Family

This is another idea that may require advanced permission, but if approved this can be a really touching gesture. I love sending a letter to a person's spouse, partner, children, mom and dad to let them know how their loved one is impacting the lives of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Angels make the path brighter for individuals on the ASD spectrum and their families. Don't let civility and gratitude fade away! Recognize the impact that these professionals have in your life, and make sure they know how much you appreciate them.