Every November, I start my shopping quest to find birthday and Christmas gifts I think Alex would like. With little guidance from him, we consider his interests, which are sometimes unusual, and try to find gifts that reflect his current preoccupations. One year, he was especially interested in astronomy, so he received books and activities about the stars and planets, along with a telescope from Ed’s brother. Another year, he was fascinated by casinos and gambling; therefore, many of his gifts were poker and blackjack video games and toy slot machines. As I mentioned in my earlier blog “Marking Time,” Alex rarely gives specific requests for gifts, but last year he asked for old calendars. Knowing that these calendars were likely to be lined up on the floor and perhaps even accompanying Alex to bed, as his favorite books often do, I decided that linen calendar towels would be the best way to fulfill Alex’s wish. Thankfully, I was able to find some linen calendar towels from the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s on eBay, and after some successful bidding, purchased them for Alex for Christmas. These old calendars satisfied his request nicely, and this past year, he has studied them carefully and enjoyed looking at the patterns of how the days align in each month of each year. While I was trying to find those calendars last year, I was reminded of a story another autism mom had told of her child giving only one request for a Christmas gift: a letter S. Although she didn’t know what the significance of the letter S was, for it was neither her child’s initial, nor would the child explain why he wanted it, she found a wooden letter S for him, and he was delighted with it. Even though we don’t always understand why our kids like what they do, it’s gratifying to see them pleased when we find items for them that reflect their special interests.
When I go shopping for Alex, I usually start with the games sections of Walmart, Kmart, and Target because he really likes board and card games. In addition, he is fond of handheld electronic games and video games for his computer. When he was younger, I spent a lot of time in the educational toys sections of stores which offered electronic activity toys that engaged him. We were always especially impressed with the Leap Frog educational toys not only because Alex would play with them for hours, but also because they were remarkably durable. Those Leap Frog toys got stepped on, dropped, knocked down the stairs, and handled constantly, and yet they lasted for years. In recent years, I find myself drawn to the men’s gift displays in stores, which usually consist of interesting gadgets, such as mini binoculars, flashlights, coin counters, and magnifying glasses. All of these types of grown-up toys appeal to Alex, and they make great stocking stuffers for him. Of course, with Alex’s love of books, I spend a great deal of time at Barnes and Noble bookstore looking for books Alex might like. When I buy books for Alex on meteorology, math, or interesting facts, I often pick up a second copy as a gift for my dad. I always find it interesting that even though they are nearly fifty-five years apart in age, Alex and my dad have awfully similar tastes in nonfiction books. Sometimes when my parents come to visit, my dad picks up books of Alex’s and reads through them, which makes choosing gifts easier for him because I simply remember which books he seemed to like, and I get the same book for him that Alex already has.
What has made shopping for Alex much easier for me is the Internet. With a wide array of possibilities plus the convenience of shopping from home, online stores, such as Amazon, allow me to find unique gifts for Alex. I’m always amazed when I use Google or the search function of online stores how many items I discover that Alex would like. In addition, we receive several specialty catalogs in the mail that contain a variety of items that appeal to him, and I also order online from these catalogs, namely Hearthsong, Mindware, and Signals. Knowing Alex’s fascination with math, our siblings often discover clever gifts for him they purchase online, too. Similarly, a friend of mine who shares some of Alex’s interests recently suggested a pi shirt he’d seen online that he thought Alex would like; he had already ordered one for himself. I appreciated his thinking of Alex and for letting me in on a great deal. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered several gifts from various online sites, and last week the fruits of my labor were revealed as all of the packages started arriving on our doorstep. Fortunately, Alex shows no desire to peek at his gifts ahead of time because he likes to be surprised, so we don’t have to be particularly clever about hiding his presents. Now that my shopping is nearly complete, I just need to sort the gifts between birthday and Christmas, wrap them, and wait to see Alex’s reaction, which is what I look forward to all the while I’m shopping for those unusual gifts.
“The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.” Psalm 69:32