Whole Life Magazine

December 2019 / January 2020

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12 wholelifetimes.com inspiration P arents and other loved ones who provide holiday gifts for children with autism spectrum disorders and other intellectual and developmental challenges may or may not know that there is special care that can be taken when making gift choices. Those with children or relatives on the spectrum will be happy to know there are some relatively easy guidelines to follow when shopping for little ones and teens. The first and simplest tip is to check with the child's parents. They know the child best and can tell you what they like and what they may have an aversion to — or what makes them uncomfortable. Beyond that, children with autism often have very distinct interests in certain topics, like trains or boats or music. If this is the case, books and toys that relate to their interests may be a hit, as long as they don't interfere with a child's individual fears or triggers — which could include surprises, loud noises, or overly bright colors. As with all children, individualization is key in gift-giving, and knowing about preferences is the best path to successful gift selection. Some children, and even teens with autism, may have difficulty with unexpected events and some sensory experiences. It is not unusual for them to have significant communication challenges that might limit or prevent them from expressing dislikes, so you may need to ask others about what they like best. Items that are calming, like machines with lights with tranquil sounds and images, can be enjoyable for some children. Similarly, some individuals with autism like items with weight, like heavy blankets and weighted vests, or even a weighted lap dog stuffed animal. Other gifts that might be helpful are those that build social skills while engaging in a fun activity. Simple games like Connect 4, memory card games, blocks, and LEGOS can be used to teach turn-taking skills. In addition, some board games can be excellent at building attention and stamina for social games. Some board games aim to teach or reinforce social skills directly. Examples of these are the Hidden Rules Game, What Should I Do Now? and the Socially Speaking Game. There's even something called Social Skills Bingo, which individuals who like bingo might enjoy. Another consideration hinges on whether or not the child has siblings. Loved ones ask if they should buy the same gift for the siblings, or something completely different. The answer is somewhere in between. In order to not make either child feel different, try to find items that are similar. For instance, if you're buying a word game for the child on the spectrum, try to find word games for the other children, so they fall into the same category. Remember that most kids do not want to be treated differently than their siblings. Some sibling pairs might enjoy getting identical gifts. In general, it is important to individualize this decision, as all families are different. There is a lot of individuality, so it is important to ask the parents/ teachers about interests and preferences. With planning, great gifts can bring much joy and new skills to children. Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is a professor at Endicott College and directs the Department of ABA, including the Master's and Ph.D. programs in ABA and Autism. Dr. Weiss also conducts research and training and has worked in the field of ABA and Autism for more than 35 years. By Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D. MAKING THE HOLIDAYS HAPPY Gifts for Children with Autism Illustration: Kurkalukas/Sumkinn/Ruttan

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