Sunday, December 6, 2015

Autism Holiday Shopping

Yesterday I began my annual quest to find the perfect birthday and Christmas gifts for Alex. Since his birthday falls nine days before Christmas, the importance of this adventure becomes double as I seek to find items that will not only thrill him for his birthday but will also keep him amused until the highly anticipated Christmas morning. A primary factor in finding these gifts is that they are not dangerous. Over the years, I have rejected toys for the following reasons: (1) toys with small pieces (choking hazard because he chewed on things until he was a teenager and stepping hazard for me because he left things all over the floor for me to find painfully when barefoot), (2) toys that were never intended to be thrown but would shatter if used incorrectly or would do property damage to things in their pathways or would hurt when hitting their intended targets––Ed or I––if hurled by an angry Alex, or (3) toys that for some strange reason he found upsetting (e.g. the “Don’t Like Elves!” phase of 1998). Thankfully, for nearly two dozen years, I have been mostly successful.

This week I read an entertaining essay on the Thinking Moms’ Revolution blog [To read this article, please click here.] entitled “The Great Autism Gift Scramble” that discusses the dilemma we autism moms face every year for our children’s birthdays and Christmas. Specifically, she describes trying to locate a copy of her child’s favorite Disney video Aladdin and the frantic search that ensued. In addition, she explains the “create a gift” problems that arise when children request something unique, such as “the dinosaur that talks and is pink polka dotted,” and she wonders whether she didn’t quite understand what the child wanted or whether the child had imagined the item or whether her child was simply messing with her. Nonetheless, she faithfully attempted to hunt down those desired objects. Last year, her daughter, who is interested in classic Hollywood, requested a movie star nutcracker, sending this devoted autism mom again on a wild goose chase to find the perfect gift. As she explains, “I repeat: you will do anything for them. Besides they deserve this tiny bit of happy.”

Similarly, I read a news article this week about an autism mom in Canada whose twelve-year-old son is obsessed with only the primrose-colored Crayola markers. [To read this news report, please click here.] If he cannot find his precious primrose markers, he goes into meltdown mode. As his mother, Stacey Haley, explains: “No primrose means hell in my household.” After making a plea for people to send her primrose markers, she received packages from around the world containing primrose markers. In addition, Crayola heard her story and also sent her primrose markers; therefore, she has requested that people no longer send markers anymore because they now have plenty. Overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers, she noted, “What started as a little ask for my son has turned into a movement of supportive communities who have gone out of their way to make a difference in the life of our family.”

Fortunately, Alex has not asked for anything elusive, unusual, or nonexistent this year. A few years ago, he wanted old calendars for Christmas, which taxed my brain until I thought about old calendar towels. Then I discovered the magic of eBay, which connected me to people who apparently hoarded antique linen calendars until deciding to sell them to crazy autism moms like me. Now he has a collection of towels from various decades of the 1900’s. Of course, he has moved on from that obsession, and the highly sought old calendars now sit folded in a box as a memory of Christmas Past.

This year, when asked what he wants for his birthday and Christmas, Alex has no requests. I specifically asked him the other day what he wanted when Ed’s sister asked me to ask him so that she could fulfill a wish. Even reminding him that she could track down something in New York that he could not find here, he still was noncommittal, asking me, “What would be good?” With no help from him, I suggested that she send him a gift card from Barnes and Noble so that he could pick out books when he was more decisive.

Of course, this did not solve my problem of what I should get him. Yesterday, I set out in the early morning hours, armed with small envelopes labeled individually with store names and their opening times along with notes about some items to look for and coupons for discounts (and realizing that Alex did, indeed, get his OCD from me). With my Skechers Go Walk sneakers and my Fit Bit Zip to record my steps, I was ready to walk to the ends of the earth (or at least through selected stores in my area) to find perfect gifts for Alex. After four hours and 2.53 miles (according to my Fit Bit Zip), I felt triumphant.

As I scoured the stores’ shelves, I realized that even though Alex is a young adult, most of the same criteria apply for the perfect gift now as they did when he was younger although thankfully he doesn’t throw things in anger anymore. The teacher in me looks for gifts that are educational, items that will encourage developing his speech, language, fine motor, and social skills, which means I spend a lot of time looking at books and games. Knowing his love of sports and music, I look through the fans’ section for his favorite teams and search through the CD’s for something new for his listening pleasure. If in doubt, I always choose something in red, his favorite color. Of course, I also have to keep the annual tradition of getting him at least one calendar, a new Old Farmers’ Almanac, and the latest edition of the World Almanac, which he loves so much that he literally sleeps with it.

While I wish that Alex could give me some guidance about a gift he would really like this year, I suppose I should be grateful that he’s not asking me for something nearly impossible to find. In addition, I think his lack of gift requests probably means at least one of several possibilities:
He trusts me completely to choose gifts he will like.
He has truly become a man, and we all know that men never give good gift suggestions (or at least I have learned this from his father and my father).
He has everything he wants and needs in life, so anything else is just a bonus.
He is totally content with his life and really doesn’t need anything to make him any happier.
As I watched him study with delight the ornaments on our Christmas tree this week, I think that the latter reason is probably the most likely one. After all, as Alex reminds me, Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, and that’s the best reason to celebrate. Certainly, we also think Alex’s birthday is pretty special, and as we celebrate the birth of God’s son, we also thank God for the birth of our son and for all that He has given us.

“Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.” 2 Corinthians 9:11

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