Finding The Right Gifts for Special Needs Children
Before Lily, our youngest, was born we didn't really have to 'soul-search' when buying her older sister gifts. A "typically-developing" child, Emma hit all her milestones within a month or so of whatever date Dr. Sears and company's book suggested she would. And if perhaps she hit some early, or some a hair late, whatever you typically gave as a gift to any other baby girl, she too would invariably enjoy. When she toddled, she enjoyed toddler toys, etc. It was one of the things that was so easy about parenting a "neurotypical" child. For the most part, things just go according to Hoyle. Buy a princess for a girl, a football for a boy, bang. done. When our youngest was old enough to appreciate gifts, one of the things we noticed right away was her...lack of appreciation for gifts. She didn't like any of the stuff that the other kids liked. She wasn't captivated by the mobile above her crib. She didn't squeeze the squeaky toys or shake the rattles. What she did was endlessly examine and discard her disposable diapers. She'd extract them from the box where they were wedged like file folders, look at them, pull at them and then cast them aside over and over and over, until a pile of diapers would surround her and the empty box that had once been filled uniformly with tightly bundled rows of new diapers. It didn't take long for the people closest to her to figure out that what Lily really wanted is what they should get her. Dolls would remain untouched. Traditional toys were uninteresting to her. Her first birthday party gifts consisted mostly of wrapped boxes of diapers and Lily spent the majority of her party retrieving, examining and discarding them. Giving gifts to children, especially special needs children, is too often about the giver's own hopes or assumptions of the recipient's future and not what the child really wants or needs. People don't want to hear, "Just bring diapers", to use Lily as an example, they see future cheerleaders or chemists or astronomers or football players, and give gifts accordingly. And for a typically-developing kid...you probably can't go too far wrong with that approach. But the microscopes and dolls and footballs that a typically developing child might enjoy would just collect dust in our home. The gifts themselves almost seemed a desperate projection of the giver's wishes for her more than a reflection of her wishes. And they were well-meant wishes, but possibly indicated a failure to truly understand, or even accept Lily as she was. Lily is older now and better able to communicate her desires. We no longer have to guess what she wants (as much). She wants chipmunks (as in "Alvin and the..."). So although we could buy her a Barbie doll, complete with dollhouse and car like other girls her age, she WANTS chipmunks, and ONLY chipmunks. And so that's what we'll give her, chipmunk clothes, toys, ornaments, animatronic decorations...anything with a chipmunk on it. And we know that she'll enjoy her presents. [caption id="attachment_2294" align="alignnone" width="300"] I know what you did last summer, Simon.[/caption] The difference between what we think she SHOULD want, and what she does want is often the difference between where she's at developmentally and where the "book" says she should have been. For example, we sometimes discourage her from watching Barney (which she loves) in order to watch something more age-appropriate (Good Luck Charlie). There's a guilty feeling associated with that push. Why shouldn't she watch Barney? There's nothing wrong with it (apart from the heightened annoyance factor that having it on in the background vs. having Good Luck Charlie on creates). Is it simply a question of accepting where she's at right now versus trying to push her into a stage she's not yet reached? Accepting her as she is means developing an understanding of what she enjoys and being okay with it. Lily is a December baby, so friends and relatives ask for LOTS of ideas for Christmas and her birthday. And it's got to be less about what we WANT her to want, and more about what she wants. Making peace with those wants is a process, but I think it's one that Lily's loved ones embrace and accept and ultimately everyone is happier for it. This year for Christmas I expect Lily to have lots of fun opening presents. Instead of ignored toys and aimless bored wandering from "no" to "no", I expect happy smiles and lots of playing. And lots and lots of chipmunks. Don’t forget to enter our Boredom Buster giveaway: a Kindle Fire preloaded with our best-selling apps!