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How to choose the perfect gift for your autistic child

Gifts for kids with autism: How to choose the perfect gift

Updated: August 11, 2023 · 4 Minute Read

Jeryn Cambrah

Written by:

Jeryn Cambrah

Highlights

  • It can be overwhelming for some autistic people to receive presents. It’s ok to create a low pressure environment for your child so that they feel safe.
  • To avoid any tantrums or meltdowns, prepare presents in advance so that you don’t need to scramble for batteries or read through complicated instructions. Test the toy or gaming console yourself first.
  • Consider skipping the wrapping paper this year in favor of more kid-friendly options like reusable gift bags or boxes. It’s great for the environment too!

Here are 7 tips that can make receiving gifts a little less overwhelming and more enjoyable for your child with autism.

 

1. Connect your child’s gift to their special interests or sensory diet

 

If you’re not sure what to get your child this year, try connecting their gift to their special interests or their sensory needs. A gift that is clearly tied to something they already love is a sure-fire hit. For example, if your child loves trains, a train kit would be a no-brainer. Some kids on the spectrum have tastes and interests that change often, so if that’s the case with your child, you may want to tie your child’s gift in with their sensory-seeking preferences instead. Kids who are vestibular (motion) seekers might like a swing, a trampoline, or a climbing toy. Kids who love squishy things would probably love Play-Doh, slime, kinetic sand, or water beads. 

 

2. Don’t worry too much about what’s “age-appropriate”

 

Instead, focus on what’s developmentally appropriate and safe for your child. If your 8-year-old would rather have a stacking toy than the newest Xbox game, that’s okay. If someone gives your 5-year-old an age-appropriate gift that you don’t feel they’re ready for yet, it’s okay to tuck it away until they are ready. It’s very common for autistic kids to be uninterested in toys that other kids their age are into. It’s also totally normal for some autistic kids to be unready for certain toys that are safe for other children their age. Don’t worry about what others might think or say; it’s about what’s fun and safe for your individual child.



3. Distribute gifts across the holiday season or take breaks

 

While some children are okay with receiving all their gifts at once, other autistic children may be overwhelmed by opening so many presents at one time. Toys making noises, lights flashing, surrounded by decor already in the home, other siblings opening presents…it’s a lot! Try spacing out your child’s gifts across the holiday season so it doesn’t feel like too much at one time. For example, if you plan to give your child 5 presents, you can give them one or two presents each week and their final gift on Christmas (or whichever day you exchange gifts). You can also take breaks on Christmas Day (or whenever you exchange gifts) as needed to help your child stay regulated and avoid meltdowns.

 

4. Prep presents so they’re ready to go

 

This parenting hack is a total lifesaver! Avoid tantrums and meltdowns on Christmas morning by having all your child’s toys prepped and ready to use. Take them out of the packaging, install the batteries, set them up, or whatever else needs to be done, and test them to be sure they work. After that, you can put the item back in its packaging, or opt to give it without packaging. This way, your child’s toy will be ready to use right away. You can also use this tip for non-toy gifts, too. Unless your child likes to set things up themselves, you can set up sensory swings, playsets, gaming consoles, and more in advance. Save your child (and yourself) the frustration of last-minute scrambling for double-A batteries or complicated set-up instructions!

 

5. Don’t wrap presents

 

We know what you’re thinking – not wrapping presents just seems wrong! But we swear it could make a big difference for your child, especially if they have texture sensitivities or difficulty with fine motor skills. There are some autistic children that love ripping paper, but there are others who may be sensitive or averse to the noise, the feeling, or both. It’s okay to skip the wrapping paper this year in favor of more kid-friendly options like reusable gift bags or boxes. (Better for the environment, too!) For kiddos who struggle with motor skills, skipping the wrapping paper eliminates a frustrating extra step between them and that magic gift-opening moment.

 

6. Let your child pick out their own gifts, or shop from their list

 

Some kids on the spectrum (especially teens!) are finicky about gifts. If your child doesn’t like surprises, or if they’re seeking greater independence, try letting them pick out their own gifts. You can make it a special date with your kiddo to go to the store together and pick out what they want. Some children may even choose an experience (e.g. going to the botanical gardens) over tangible items. 

 

If your child still wants the gift-opening experience, but is picky or has frequently changing interests, help them make a list of gifts they’d love. Then shop from your child’s list according to your family’s budget and what is most appropriate for your child. Easier for you, and your child gets exactly what they want. Win win!

 

7. Keep it no-pressure

 

For some people with autism, receiving gifts is a stressful experience. They may have specific items they like, and may not respond how you’d like when they’re given a gift they aren’t prepared for. They may feel pressured to respond a certain way, or maybe they’re just not sure what to do with this new thing they’ve been given. Perhaps it’s a new texture or color or object they’re not used to. It can also be overwhelming to open presents with cameras clicking, siblings or cousins opening presents, wrapping paper flying, etc. So keep it low key. If your autistic child seems overwhelmed or disinterested, try giving them some down time in a quiet, non-stimulating environment. Then let them explore their new stuff when it feels safe for them.