The holidays are here, complete with lights, music, cheer, and gifts. Santa’s busy checking his lists, but you might find yourself befuddled about what to buy for your favorite kid with Asperger’s. Is your brain saying something like, “GAH! What in the world am I going to buy this year for that amazing kid who’s an Aspie*?!?!”
I’m glad you asked.
I decided to work with a true expert so I called my close buddy and asked, “What was Cameron’s favorite gift he ever got?” (Cameron is my friend’s awesome Aspie son.)
She immediately replied, “Do you know how hard it is to buy for that kid?”
To which I said, “Yes, I totally know how hard it is to buy for that kid. That’s why I’m calling. Seriously, what was his favorite gift he ever received?”
She listed a few things he has loved over the years, which mostly include his new game systems. I’d like to share that it can be incredibly easy to buy for our Aspie friends, or it can seem like the most difficult thing in the world.
How it’s easy to buy a gift for an Aspie
If you know this Aspie friend you’re buying a gift for, you hopefully know their main interest right now. For example, I know without a shadow of a doubt that Cameron currently loves Yo-kai Watch.
With this helpful knowledge, I’ll head to the local GameStop and get a fun Yo-kai gadget along with five packs of Yo-kai cards. This will light him up for about an hour and that will be a win to me! Done and done.
A few years ago, my son, who is an amazing Aspie, was totally into office supplies. It was SUPER easy to get him a gift that year—binder clips galore! Post-it notes! Pens! Wow, all the pens. And he absolutely loved it! He loved each and every stapler, three-hole punch, binder, and notebook-refill pack.
Please note that I believe gift giving is about delighting the recipient with absolute joy . . . And no, I don’t think it matters what they’ll do with their loot later so long as it’s delightful for them in the present moment.
How it’s difficult to buy a gift for an Aspie
As Dr. Stephen Shore says, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Just like “neurotypical” people, our friends with autism are unique and their interests are incredibly varied.
If you’re not familiar with the person with autism who you’re buying a gift for, you’re gonna have to do some digging (or simply defer to #2 below).
Many kids on the spectrum don’t want wasteful gifts and you’ll often hear, “But I have everything I want!”
And you’re all, “I hear that you have everything you want, but what can I get you for Christmas?”
And they repeat to you, because clearly you didn’t hear them for real, “But I have everything that I want. I don’t need anything.”
And there you are . . . with no ideas and a desire to give a gift.
Welcome to my Ultimate Gift Guide for choosing a present for someone with Asperger’s syndrome.
First, I’d like to say that a gift doesn’t have to be something you buy. It can be something you make, or something you create together, or anything that sparks joy, feels good, tastes delicious, smells awesome, looks pretty, or stirs interest!
And now, without further ado . . .
I’ve whittled my lists down to some awesome ideas you can delight your Aspie friend with this holiday season.
1. Live show tickets
This might seem like a stretch, and it might not be in your budget, but my son’s favorite gifts in the past few years were for tickets to live performances. We were fortunate enough to see Neil deGrasse Tyson and we also got to see Bill Maher. I totally scored Mom of the Year for both of those gifts! ;)
If you know who (or what) your Aspie friend is really into (Minecraft, WWF, Disney, musicians, a band, a specific person, a sports team, etc.), you can check the appropriate website to see if they’ll be near you soon.
2. Gift cards
I know, I know, “Gift cards don’t show that you care,” some people say. Well, I really think that when we’re gift giving, the thought should be focused on the joy of the recipient. You are fully invited to wash away any guilt you might have about gift cards and just go for it! Plus, it fits any budget, and you can hopefully purchase a gift card for a store close to their home. And you can order gift cards online if there’s no store near you.
Here are a few favorites of the kids with Asperger’s in my life:
- ThinkGeek (online—fab!)
- Best Buy
- Barnes & Noble
3. Something from their current
obsession special interest
Obsessions might include, but are definitely not limited to:
- Legos: This is a huge part of our Aspie world, and if the recipient is obsessed with Legos and has all the Legos possible in the world already, you can go with other very cool ideas, like light-up Legos, new Lego kits, clear or rare colored pieces, or special Lego parts.
- Politics: I know quite a few Aspies who are very politically minded, and there are some great political books or online subscriptions that are interesting, appropriate, and enjoyable.
- Science: Kits, books, online classes, tools.
- Computers: Bitsbox would be fabulous, depending on the age of the child.
- Sports: Statistics guides/books, player biographies, team paraphernalia. The sky’s the limit if they love a specific team or sport.
- Specific video games: Minecraft, Yo-kai Watch, Mario, Kirby, Pokémon, Terraria, there are so many to name! GameStop will often have jewelry, gadgets, cups, and collectible items for very popular games.
- Animals: Zoo tickets if they’ll go to the zoo, along with a specific date to go on the calendar.
4. Magazine subscriptions focused on their special interest
Have you got a kid who loves technology? Popular Science is fabulous! Or do they love mazes and puzzles? Puzzlemania has a great package of mazes and even an age-appropriate subscription magazine.
5. New game systems or replacements of ones that are broken
You may not love the whole game system craze we’re in right now, but it’s a thing, and they’re going to want the latest and greatest systems out there. From PlayStations to Xboxes to the “new” 3DS to virtual reality headsets, they’ll always love a fresh game system. And then, of course, they’ll need new games for the new system, so there are more great ideas from just one big purchase!
6. Donations to their favorite causes and/or charities
I have met an impressive number of Aspies who have a strong focus on a cause that really moves them. One of my favorite kids is on a strong mission to help with breast cancer. Another young Aspie is passionate about women’s rights. Yet another volunteers every week at an animal shelter.
If philanthropy is their thing and you really want to give them something they’ll appreciate, donate your time or money to their favorite organization. Buy them something in honor of their favorite charity, or get a signature from someone they admire doing the work they want to be doing.
7. Totally cool and fun sensory gifts they’ll love
There are so many amazing sensory toys available now. If you search for “sensory toys for autism,” you might find the exact thing you’d like to give to your Aspie friend.
Here are a few that we love:
- Kinetic Sand is an absolute winner in my opinion! My son Michael received it with a plastic container three years ago and we’re still using it! It’s been one of those gifts that keeps on giving and everyone in the family enjoys it.
- What about one of those totally awesome board scooters you see in almost every occupational therapy office you’ve ever visited, or use with the kids you work with?
- There are always the very cool light toys! These radically awesome light-up sensory meteor balls could be just the new thing they’ll use each night or when they need to soothe themselves.
- Buckyballs: These excellent magnetic toys (that we have lots and lots of) come with very serious warnings and labels, and for good reason! Buckyballs are definitely not for younger kids or anyone who could possibly swallow these tiny magnet balls or cubes, but we use them as meditative fidgets when we’re doing our Miracle Mornings together.
One last important note I want to share …
I would like to cordially invite you to honor the recipient’s wishes, which might not be considered “normal” or “traditional.”
For example, for the past six years, my son has not wanted his presents wrapped. He wants to see them as soon as anyone has them. He described it as “real physical pain” when we worked to learn more about the distress he experienced with gifts that were wrapped for him.
We unanimously chose to honor his wish of unwrapped gifts ever since we learned how important it was. Not to mention that all of the crying and emotional pain he went through (and thus, we went through) didn’t match the fact that we were trying to give him something he would really love. We made the process happier and more in-line with his wants and our family.
I am super proud that we made the choice to not wrap gifts for him, because who seriously wants to scream or hear screaming as you’re receiving or giving a gift you’re excited about? (Answer: nobody).
Ask yourself how important it is that you “follow tradition” versus honor the child’s wishes and needs. It took us a few years to get the message to every member of the family, but we eventually succeeded, and now it’s part of our new normal. Tradition is important, yes, but traditions can be changed and updated to honor the flow of the world we’re living in today.
“You have permission to honor a child’s wishes to create a happier world,” said Mica Gadhia to you.
What does your Aspie child or friend love to receive? Please share gift ideas that I missed in the comments below!
Thanks for being awesome and loving our Aspie friends!
* Editor’s note:
CPI advocates person-centered, strength-based language that avoids labels and promotes respect. While the word Aspie can be viewed as a label, we’ve retained the author’s use of the term, based on her message of love and acceptance for her son and every individual on the autism spectrum.
About the author
Mica Gadhia is a mother of two kids, one who is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Her greatest hope as a parent of a child on the spectrum is that we all feel belonging, safety, and acceptance. That’s because we’re in this together, through thick and thin. Love and acceptance, hoo-rah! Chocolate as medication, totally! Peace and patience, within each day!