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Thinking Outside the Box When Gift Shopping for Autistic Tweens and Teens

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During our current health crisis, it can seem harder than ever to shop for anyone, particularly autistic tweens and teens. These ideas are all viable this year as well — especially if you consider a pass or tickets to an outdoor location.

Here’s why you need a gift guide for autistic tweens and teens:

Autism can make gift-giving challenging. Autistic tweens and teens appreciate thoughtful gifts as much as anyone, yet the mystery of what to give them persists — for family and friends alike.

Let’s start with the fact that almost none of these gift ideas are physical or take up space. If your home is anything like ours, it is filled to the brim with “things” our autistic son would supposedly enjoy.

In the end, there are relatively few items that are marketed as “toys” or “games” that maintain a prized status in our house. Instead, on a daily basis, it is cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, stray ribbons, and empty plastic bottles that sustain Mr. D’s need to explore his surroundings. But I do feel strongly that a non-verbal autistic tween or teen should not be left out of whatever gift-giving occasions your family chooses to celebrate. Here are the Piece of Mind Picks for your gift guide for autistic tweens and teens.

Tickets or Passes to a Favorite Spot

This can, of course, change over time — although some kids maintain a fascination with trains, animals or other interests well into adulthood. If you have a favorite local spot, then don’t be shy about sharing it with gift-givers. Aquariums, zoos, museums, and amusement parks may all be good candidates. If you have an outdoorsy kid, then a parking pass to a nature preserve or county park might be nice. (The National Park Service and many State Park systems provide special admissions access to guests with disabilities of all ages — check their websites for info.)

Restaurant Gift Card (with a take-out option)

If you know the family has a special spot where an in-person visit is possible, then this is a great choice. But if you don’t know for sure, then pick a place where take-out is an option. Because sometimes a special meal is even more enjoyable on your own terms.

Gift Cards

Mr. D’s all-time favorite food is a bag of Trader Joe’s corn chips.  He could eat a bag in one sitting if we let him. So for him, a Trader Joe’s gift card would be perfect. He also benefits from Old Navy gift cards — where we can resupply the socks and underwear that are constantly getting lost or left at school.

And I have yet to meet a family that can’t put a Target gift card to good use. We purchase things that may not cross your mind, like extra-large swim diapers, multiple bubble blowers (because they break all. the. time.), and more bottles of carpet cleaner and stain remover in a month than many people use in a lifetime.

A Week (or a Month!) of Therapy

Many therapies, such as art, music and equine, are not covered by typical health insurance policies but can provide outsized impact in the lives of individuals with disabilities.  Sponsoring a week — or a month — of one of these therapies can be a worthwhile gift that will surely be beneficial to the recipient. And many of these providers are now offering services remotely. 

Sensory Items

Again, proceed with caution in adding anything to our often chaotic households.  That being said, some items have a lifespan and additional supplies can be welcome. In our house, this includes chewies, bubble blowers, and yellow rubber ducks. Specific preferences can vary greatly, so if you aren’t entirely certain, then you should choose one of the other options.

Celebrating the holidays with a family member with a disability can come with some special challenges. After you’ve used this gift guide for autistic tweens and teens, here are some ideas to rethink the holidays for your family and child with a disability.

This story originally appeared on The Piece of Mind Retreat.

Originally published: November 30, 2020
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