How to Celebrate a Major Holiday With a Person With Autism


Some gifts can be given freely, and some have prerequisites. That’s not to say a gift will be rejected, but it may not turn out too well.

One of the most difficult gifts for a person with autism to receive is a sudden “surprise” outing. With autism, more often than not, routine cannot be overvalued. It gives dependable structure to the day so a person knows they can navigate it successfully. A surprise outing causes upheaval to their carefully outlined schedule, and it may even interrupt previously made plans.

If you want to surprise someone with autism, tell them in advance that you are planning an outing with them, giving them the date and time of the outing. Then surprise them with what the outing is at the celebration. This method can prevent multiple people from scheduling different events at the same time.

Giving gifts can be tricky, but more often than not, a person with autism will have a large wish list; they just may have trouble communicating it. Get them to write down a list, send a group e-mail, post it on social media, or some other form of list that can be viewed by a group. Don’t limit the length of the list — but you can get them to categorize the list by category, expectation, and/or preference. You can also get them to color-code it to see which ones they might get themselves, which ones can only be ordered in advance (by pre-order or pre-release), and which ones are currently available. You might also need to ask them for a list of things they are not expecting anyone to get, as this is sometimes the case with the more expensive or rare gifts.

Try not to get something “close” to the wish list; ask them if it could be added to the list. Chances are the “close” item is actually “out of bounds” for them. For example, just because they seem to like Nintendo games doesn’t mean you should automatically buy Monster Hunter or Pokemon; they may only be interested in Zelda and Mario. Ask them if they are interested first, then buy it. It saves guessing time, lowers emotional anxiety and stops unexpected surprises from getting the best of you (or them). Giving gifts this way will let you know what they like or dislike. If necessary, you can get them to make a “close but no” list, making the closeness game doable with at least a higher rate of success.

If you can’t think of anything, go functional. Give a gift card or other functional item for an activity they do regularly. Think of something they have access to that you can buy a gift card for, such as Amazon, Tim Horton’s, or Subway. You might have to ask them if they would use it — or at least ask what sort of gift cards they would like to receive. Functional items may be something like an expansion pack for a card game they like to play.

If it’s not a gift-giving or outing holiday, make sure you inform them of the upcoming celebration. They don’t want to walk downstairs in their PJ’s to find their aunt and uncle came over for a visit. Inform them not only of the celebration, but what kind of visitors or guests they should be expecting. Don’t forget to give reminders either. It never hurts.

Basically, the best way to give a gift is to give notice. Otherwise, your carefully planned trip to Disneyland may result in a family trip without them — and a really expensive babysitter or a big favor from a friend. Although this is geared towards those with autism, you can actually use these methods for pretty much anyone — friends, family, kids, teenagers, etc. It is always nice to give notice, and you can even ask them if they are expecting someone else to give a similar gift!

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Getty image by Julia Sudnitskya.


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