Image of backpack, necklace and flashcards

Shopping for someone on the autism spectrum can be a challenge. To make your holiday shopping a little less stressful, we’ve complied a list of gifts that anyone on the autism spectrum, from younger kids to adults, might love to receive. Of course, to truly know what someone could use this year — ask them! Surprises are fun, but don’t feel guilty if you’d rather ensure the person you love will enjoy what you buy them.

Photo of a sensory theraplay box

1. Sensory Theraplay Subscription

Feeling extra generous? Give a gift that keeps on giving all year long. Sensory Theraplay subscription boxes were designed by a pediatric occupational therapist, and feature sensory-friendly toys designed to help develop sensory motor skills. Boxes are meant for kids between the ages of 4 and 8, and feature toys meant for therapeutic play such as putty, textured tactile toys, fidgets, light up toys and craft activities.

Our pick: A Sensory Theraplay monthly subscription ($39.95/month or $113.85 for three months) Boxes ship throughout the U.S. and Canada. 

 

Photos of a nesel bag

2. A Nesel Pack

Some of the best holiday gifts are the more practical ones. The Nesel Pack is a sensory-friendly backpack which functions like a weighted vest. In addition to being autism-approved, the backpack has lots of handy features such as a clear ID card pocket, clips for sensory tools and multiple chest straps provide extra security and comfort. It’s a functional gift that’s sure to be appreciated.

Our pick: The Nesel Pack ($99.00). Nesel Packs ship throughout the U.S. and to limited countries internationally.

The Emotions Bundle, Children's Color & Shape Wallet Cards, Children's Public Transit Wallet Cards

3. SO Awesome Wallet Cards

Looking for a gift that’s sensory-friendly and educational? Try SO Awesome. Mom Marie-Claire Camp created SO Awesome, a line of chewable wallet-sized cards similar to flashcards, to help her sons with their sensory overload. Each card is made from is made from a non-toxic plastic manufactured in the U.S., making them safe for children of all ages. Plus, 10 percent of proceeds are donated to literacy-based nonprofit organizations.

Our picks: The Emotions Bundle ($25.00), Children’s Color & Shape Wallet Cards ($10.00), Children’s Public Transit Wallet Cards ($8.00) All items ship internationally.

Learning Resources Gears Building Set and Magna Tiles

4. A Gift From Spectrum Toy Store

Spectrum Toy Store is the first sensory-friendly toy store in Illinois, and one of only a handful in the U.S., designed for children with developmental disabilities. The store is owned and operated by Jamilah Rahim, a behavioral therapist, who makes sure every toy is appropriate for children on the spectrum. Spectrum Toy Store also offers Care Boxes, a monthly subscription box of sensory toys, products and educational activities. Plus, each subscription gives back to the autism community, with a portion of the proceeds providing scholarships for out-of-school programming.

Our picks: Care Box subscription ($25.95 per month), Learning Resources Gears Building Set ($28.00), Magna Tiles ($40.00). All items ship nationwide throughout the U.S. 

Images of Seenseez Pillows

5. A Senseez Pillow

A fun and functional gift, Senseez Pillows were created by Stephanie Mitelman, as a way for her son – who has sensory issues – to travel around with his favorite vibrating mat. Each pillow is designed to be lightweight, portable and visually appealing for children and teens. In addition to vibration-only pillows, Senseez Pillows has a line of “3-in-1 Adaptables,” pillows that include a weighted pad, hot and cold pack and a vibration device.

Our picks: Plushy Jelly ($29.99), Flannel ($39.99), Flowers ($59.99)  Pillows ship throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as internationally.

Starry Night Spinner Ring, Chewable Frosted Donut Pendant Necklace Weighted Bunny Lap Pad

6. Stimtastic Jewelry or Toys

Knowing that most products for people on the autism spectrum are geared towards children or their parents, Cynthia Kim, who was diagnosed with autism when she was 42, created Stimtastic – an affordable line of jewelry and toys for autistic adults and teens. Stimtastic offers stim toys, chewable jewelry and fidgets. And, to make your purchase more meaningful, Stimtastic donates 10 percent of all proceeds back to the greater autism community.

Our picks: Starry Night Spinner Ring ($9.50), Chewable Frosted Donut Pendant Necklace ($8.50), Weighted Bunny Lap Pad ($17.50).  All orders ship throughout the U.S. and to most countries internationally. 

Members of Aspergers Are Us dressed in costumes walking along a railroad track

7. A Copy of “Aspergers Are Us”

Spread some holiday cheer with a copy of “Aspergers Are Us,” a documentary about a comedy troupe comprised entirely of men on the autism spectrum. The film follows comedians and friends Jack Hanke, New Michael Ingemi, Ethan Finlan and Noah Britton as they prepare for their last comedy show.

Our pick: A digital download of “Aspergers Are Us” on iTunes or Amazon ($9.99).

Related: The 2014 Top 10 Best Gifts for Kids With Autism 

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When I was a kid, I would spend hours on my homework. I wanted everything to be right. I wanted it to be my best work. After all, people always told me to do my best. Basically, I wanted it to be perfect. But it wasn’t just about my homework. My parents would tell me to look both ways before crossing the street. I remember standing at the side of the road one day, looking one way, then the other. Then I looked again. How many times was enough? What if a car came after I had stopped looking?

This may seem like perfectionism. And perhaps it started out that way. But as I grew older, I still found myself putting all of my time and energy into doing things well. And I didn’t want it to be perfect anymore. I just wanted it to be done well enough.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I can have very “black and white” thinking. I have a difficult time seeing the “gray” area. So most of the time, all I know how to do things is either “perfect” or “fail.” Until someone else says to me, “That’s good enough,” I’m stuck. I personally try to do these things so I am not failing. (Although, there have been times when I get so overwhelmed, I freeze up and don’t even try or don’t know where to start.) But I don’t see the middle ground.

I want to do well. But I’m tired of being a perfectionist. However, it’s really hard for me not to be one. I need limits. I need a task with a clear beginning and end. I need specific instructions on what to do and what not to do. Otherwise, I’m going to struggle. Not because I want to do things perfectly, but because I don’t know how to see that gray area.

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In recent years, more and more films have been released that focus on those on the autism spectrum and with other special needs. This rings true for the recently released movie “Po,” which looks at the story of a widowed engineer struggling to raise his 10-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum.

Last year, I did a Q&A with the director of this film, John Asher, and more recently we had the opportunity to watch a screening of it in its entirety. The film, simple enough to say, did not disappoint.

While watching the film, the father (played by actor Christopher Gorham) seemed to resonate with me the most. Growing up on the autism spectrum, it took an entire village to help me when it came to providing me with supports. Most of the time, this was a financial challenge for my family at a time when services were not provided for children on the spectrum due to a lack of awareness and legislation.

To watch this father fight tooth and nail for those supports made me come to an even deeper appreciation of what my parents have been able to do for me in my life. This dad needed to find a village, and that’s something all parents have to find for themselves regardless of having a child with special needs or not. It also taught me the importance of providing supports for single parents so they never feel alone in our communities.

I’d like to commend Asher’s team for making this film a reality. As someone who has consulted on several films now to bring a realistic portrayal of autism and other special needs to the big screen, I’d also like to commend Julian Feder, who played Po, the boy with autism spectrum disorder in the film. I know several children on the autism spectrum today who remind me of the character Julian portrayed. It was wonderful to see him embrace the role as he did with such a beautiful authenticity.

In addition, I’d like to give big kudos to Kaitlin Doubleday (one of my favorite actresses on television today in her role on FOX’s hit show “Empire”) who played Po’s therapist in the film. Many times, therapists don’t receive the praise they deserve in our community for going above and beyond for their kids. I feel Kaitlin’s understanding of autism really shined. Her interactions and relationship with Po reminded me of my earliest days of receiving early intervention at a children’s hospital near my home. There, I built a relationship with my therapist, who helped me build on my social skills to have my first few conversations with my peers and family. I was reminded a lot about that therapist through her character. Thank you, Kaitlin, for taking the time to be part of this film.

If you are looking to learn more about building your own village out there in your own life, then I believe this film is a must-see. Entertaining, resonating and educational. We need more of these films out there today.

Image via Contributor.

A version of this post originally appeared on KerryMagro.com.

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I watched the Rockefeller tree lighting with my kids this week. As you would expect there were Christmas songs and dancing, interspersed with commercials about the holidays and what to buy.

“Christmas is here!” Al Roker announced.

On cue my 15-year-old daughter, who’s on the autism spectrum, sat up and asked when we were leaving for Grandma’s house. “Not for a few weeks,” I said, as my 9-year-old wondered how it could be snowing in the city when it was 50 degrees and raining at our house 20 miles away.

Watching white flakes fall around a sparkling Sarah McLachlan, I explained that for some people snow means Christmas, but that snow was not real. As I tried to prevent Erin from having a full-fledged meltdown because we were not immediately packing up to go over the river and through the woods, it felt as if the accelerated commercialization of Christmas and global warming had conspired to turn this short homework break into a panel discussion on climate change and the subjectivity of time.

I tried to play the role of wisdom-filled parent but understood their confusion. This time of year can feel like a fun house where nothing is at seems, and retailers (and Facebook) will have you believe everyone is rushing to a fabulous party and time is moving at lightning speed. Act now, buy now, do not wait! As the weather remains temperate, the gradual climate shift only seems to compound the uncertainty. In our
northeastern suburb it seems incongruous to haul gifts and evergreens over a doorstep full of fallen leaves. It’s hard to usher in a new season when another refuses to leave.

This can be a bewildering time for anyone, let alone someone with cognitive disabilities, who might have trouble conceptualizing the length of a day, a week or a month or understanding that however high those Rockettes kick we are not going to Grandma’s now but instead four weeks from now. It’s no easy lesson.

Over the years Erin has learned to use the traditional markers of time to give order to her days. The sun rises in the morning. Morning means raisin toast and the yellow bus. She thrives on routine, so we break her days into small increments. Every evening we write the next day and date on a white board and list the order of activities, including any and all minutiae, “Wake up, brush teeth, eat breakfast…” If she’s going to do it, it’s on there. She finds this an intensely grounding and joyful activity.

Through the repetition of this routine she has learned what certain days signify.  Mondays: music, Tuesday: cooking class, Wednesday: fit club. Similarly she understands what to expect on holidays: Valentine’s Day: hearts and chocolate (good), Fourth of July: barbecues and fireworks (loud), and Christmas: Grandma’s House (bliss).

We celebrate Christmas at my parents’ house, and aside from her birthday it’s Erin’s favorite day of the year. My mom creates an evening that plays to all of Erin’s strengths. There are stockings bulging with gifts, music, dancing, Christmas books and stories read aloud. A Santa’s helper even arrives with a sack full of toys. Each of my kids revel in every detail but Erin more than most – because Erin believes.

She delights in the magic of Christmas. She takes the holiday and much of life at face value and does not question out loud the how or why of its traditions. Rotund man dressed in red, up and down the chimney. No problem. Let’s just be sure to leave him cookies and wish him well along the way.

What Erin does question is if Christmas is “here” and “now,” why are we not “there”? Distraught by the reality, she spent the rest of that evening sitting on the stairs – her signature protest move.

I empathize with her frustration. I too find the season overwhelming and swing daily between denial and panic. It can’t be December; I don’t even need a jacket. Oh my God, did that woman just say she’s finished with all her holiday shopping? What’s wrong with people? What’s wrong with me? I fully understand Erin’s inclination to plant herself on the staircase until she can wrap her head around the situation.

Sometimes I join her, and we just sit and listen to each other breathe — until we remember what helps get us moving again: the schedule. We pull out the white board and review what activities comprise tomorrow: dance class, a field trip to Target, a visit to our neighbors and slowly a smile emerges. We’ve learned when you’re caught in a tidal wave of a day or a week, sometimes the only way out is to live moment to moment and to focus on the routine – on the small things.

Erin’s hyper focus on tasks allows an intense recognition and appreciation of each and every minute. An uncanny focus on the present is what brings her joy – and every day brings its own set of magic and miracles. Erin has taught us to slow down and take the moments as they come, understanding that not unlike stepping stones, if we get too far ahead we may slip and lose track of ourselves and time itself.

So until it’s time to leave for Grandma’s house, we are going to keep TV watching to a minimum, keep the white board close at hand and hold fast to the most essential details of our days: wake up, brush teeth, have breakfast, breathe.

God Bless Us Everyone.

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Thinkstock photo by Artfolio photo


When my son was around 8 years old, he seemed to become aware that he was “different” from the other kids his age. The kids who had, up until then, enjoyed playing with toy cars and building blocks seemed to have outgrown those activities and moved on to more active forms of play. They tried to get my son to join them, but he would have difficulty keeping up with them. Eventually, both he and the other kids gave up trying. I would catch him sitting on the sidelines, watching the other kids play as if it were a mystery to him, and it broke my heart.

As time passed, my son became more and more distant from the other kids. I could feel his need to connect with them and witnessed his inability to do so. He began to withdraw from everyone. He was no longer the happy-go-lucky kid I’d always known him to be. He became quiet and diffident. I knew I needed to do something to make things better, but I wasn’t exactly sure what. Then, one day, my son came up to me and asked me what was wrong with him: Why wasn’t he like the other kids? Why couldn’t he make friends like the other kids? Why couldn’t he do the things the other kids could do so easily?

I knew then that I needed to tell my son about his autism. I was apprehensive about how he would react to the information, but I was also certain he needed to know about it. So, I sat my son down and told him about his autism, and his response soothed my heart and calmed my mind.

At the start, my son seemed confused about what I was trying to tell him, but as I explained to him what autism was and what it meant to have it, I saw him begin to understand. I found the books “Can I tell you about Asperger Syndrome?” and “Can I tell you about Autism?” very helpful in explaining autism to him in simple terms he could easily understand.

By the end of our talk, my son’s face lit up with relief and joy. It was like a weight had lifted off his shoulders. He hugged me tight and said he was so glad I told him about his autism. He said now he knew why he is the way he is and why he does things the way he does, and he didn’t feel bad about it anymore. He said he understood it wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t that he was not strong enough or not trying hard enough. There was a genuine reason why he found some things difficult to do, and he said he didn’t feel ashamed about it anymore.

My son blossomed from that point onward, and I was so glad I decided to tell him about his autism.

Image via Thinkstock.

A version of this post originally appeared on Rainbow in the Clouds.

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