Realistic Gift Giving for the Holidays

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By Dan Coulter

Are your family holidays the joyous celebrations you see in greeting cards, or stressful sessions that fray nerves? For many families dealing with Asperger Syndrome or autism, they’re a bit of both.

One way to help ensure opening presents will be a positive experience is creating wish lists. Each family member makes and shares a list of things he or she would like. Others can choose from the list, or use it as a guideline to pick items that will be appreciated. Seeing a wish list also gives you an opportunity to manage expectations of children who ask for items beyond the giver’s price range.

It’s a good idea to have one-on-one discussions with children about appropriate ways to act when receiving gifts. In an article a few years ago, I suggested having younger children practice opening pretend presents with toys or socks inside and expressing appropriate thanks. I still think that’s a good idea. We sometimes need to help children understand how what they say when opening presents affects others, and that even the most disappointing gift deserves a “Thank You.” Such practice sets your children up for success by teaching them expected behaviors before they’re required to use them.

Wish lists and pre-present counseling may take some of the surprise and spontaneity out of opening gifts, but they can help make gift exchanges a happier experience for all involved. Especially for a child who wants to give the right gift, but doesn’t know how to select one. One of the challenges people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder can face is difficulty asking for help.

As family members learn each others’ likes and preferences, you may no longer need wish lists.

Given guidance, many of us on the autism spectrum can acquire good gift-giving skills. My son, Drew, who also has Asperger Syndrome, learned to seek counsel from his mom when buying gifts for his sister, Jessie. Drew is close to Jessie and always wants to delight her. Some years ago, he called and said, “I want to get Jessie something for Christmas that is a perfect expression of Jessie-ness.” Mom suggested an organic cookbook that was right on target.

On another occasion, Drew got Jessie a sock puppet of the wisecracking spokes-puppet, which they both liked at the time. While Drew checked the selection with his mom, the puppet was all his idea.

Jessie loved it.

When you’re dealing with autism, creating your family’s greeting card moments may require extra planning and preparation. But if those moments wouldn’t exist without your effort, doesn’t that kind of make you an artist?

Hold that image in your head as you compose your next family holiday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of ten DVDs about Asperger Syndrome, including, “Understanding Brothers and Sisters on the Autism Spectrum. You can read more articles and offer comments on them at the article blog on his website:

Copyright 2011 Dan Coulter Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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