Help Your Child with Autism Give Thoughtful Gifts to Loved Ones

karenkabakisistoSome children with autism have difficulty putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. As a result, they don’t easily interpret others’ thoughts, feelings, and wants.

During the holidays, it can be particularly challenging for children and adults with autism to choose appropriate presents to give. For example, a 15-year-old boy with autism might only see his point-of-view and think his mother would enjoy an action-packed futuristic video game as a present.  This teenager is not taking his mother’s viewpoint in terms of an adult woman’s interests.

Selecting the perfect present is a result of knowing someone very well and tuning into their unique wants and needs.  The process of thinking about a loved one and the effort to give them a desired item is most special because it creates a closer relationship.

Here’s what you can do to help your child:

To help your child understand the value of money, provide your child with a set amount of cash ahead of time.   These dollars and cents must be divided among a certain number of people for whom he or she is to purchase gifts.  Adjust the level of mathematic calculations required of your child (e.g., division, subtraction, addition, multiplication), and use a calculator if necessary.  Look through printed department store catalogues or newspaper ads to get gift ideas and to assess the total cost.

Help your child understand the ‘usability’ of the prospective gift, e.g., if the person already owns this exact item; if the person’s house can accommodate an overly large item; if the potential gift cannot be used during the current season; if the person is allergic to the material (e.g., wool); if the person is a child whose parents will not permit the use of this gift; and so on.

Discuss the ‘accessibility’ to purchasing this item. Ask your child to consider if the item can be found a short drive away at a store; conveniently ordered/shipped online;  if it is a popular item that may be on backorder; if it will arrive on time for the holiday; if it will be made in time if it’s a homemade item; etcetera.

Below is a checklist for guidance. While your child is filling out the survey below, review the various concepts of age, gender, interests, and so on with him or her.  If your child responds “No” to any question, the potential gift should not be purchased.  Homemade gifts and/or general presents follow these rules as well.  For example, a mug is suitable for the person who likes to drink hot beverages, or a pretty pen can be used to write one’s homework.

Who am I giving this gift to? ____________________

Is this person male or female (gender)? ____________________

Is this person older than me, younger than me, or about the same as me? (age) ____________________

What is this person interested in, or what does this person need? ____________________

My gift idea is ____________________

Do people of this gender usually enjoy this item? ____________________

Do people of this age usually enjoy this item? ____________________

How much does this gift cost? $____________________

Do I have enough money to buy it? ____________________

Ask your parents about the ‘usability’ of this item.  Is this item usable for this person? ____________________

Ask your parents about the ‘timing’ of getting this item.  Is this item accessible? ____________________

>> If everything says ‘YES’ above, then I can give this awesome gift! <<<

Once the gift is purchased and wrapped, your child might want to tell the recipient what is inside the box.  Explain that presents are surprises, so we want the recipients to find out by themselves when they open it.

For practice (with the help of another family member), have your child put ‘pretend gifts’ into gift boxes or bags when you’re not in the room.  While she hands the gift to you, guide your child’s wrists or arms while you model non-specific, general words like, “Jen, say, “Here is SOMETHING for you, Mom” or “THIS present is for you, Dad.”

When the person actually opens the gift and says thanks, model responses for your child, like, “Ryan, say, ‘Jimmy, I got you a mitt because you lost yours’” or “Trish, tell Grandma that you bought her cookie cutters because you both love to cook together.”

Whether it’s the holiday season, a birthday, or other celebration, by learning to pick out the perfect present every time, your child will grow closer relationships with friends and family – which is the best gift of all!


About the author:
Karen Kabaki-Sisto, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Applied Behavior Analysis instructor. For over 20 years, Karen has been helping people with autism improve their communication abilities within schools and at-home settings. After a decade of technological experimentation, she invented “I Can Have Conversations With You!™”, a life-changing therapy program for iPad to help people with autism enhance their social and language skills like never before. To learn more, please visit

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Date posted: December 4, 2015. Content created by The Autism NOW Center. Last updated: December 4, 2015.

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