• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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Navigating the Holiday with Autism; Part I: Not sure what to get your Aspie for Christmas? Ask them!

Navigating the Holidays with Autism
Ever since I was a child I had an extreme need to know exactly what to expect. I hated surprises, and I still do! My mother often complained how I was a “little bitch,” her words because when someone gave me something I didn’t like I was not polite and gracious about it, I said what I felt. There was no hiding that I was not going to wear that ugly itchy sweater, and even when I was a child I thought it silly to lie and say that I loved it when you’d wasted your money purchasing it for me.

Wouldn’t it be better to just buy me something I wanted?

I know Christmas gifts are supposed to be surprises (who made that up anyway?). Why do we need to be surprised?
My husband used to like to shop for clothing for me. He loves to shop; going to the mall is his favorite thing to do. He even loves to window shop-all of which I absolutely hate, especially if its clothes shopping. I have too many sensitivities, there are too many things that I absolutely will not wear for other people to buy me clothes. I don’t even like buying me clothes. I usually find a pair of jeans and a shirt that I like and then buy that same shirt and jeans in all the colors they come in. When I find something that fits and is comfortable I must seize the opportunity. Now don’t get me wrong, there are certain things that are universally popular, particularly novelty gifts like a personalized santa hat which are a lot of fun, but you don’t have to wear them every day!
Hubby used to constantly buy me clothing for gifts only to have to take them back, which he did not appreciate. I wasn’t sending things back to be mean or rude; I simply saw no reason to keep things in my closet that I knew I would never wear. Now, after 15 years, hubby is used to me-and I buy my own gifts.

Yes-I buy my own Christmas gifts. (Stop laughing)

Hubby is still telling the story of our 10th wedding anniversary when I came home wearing the new wedding band he had bought me. What? I gave him the receipt. Unfortunately, I think hubby likes surprise and I am so completely incapable of even contemplating surprising him. So he now sends me a list (with pictures) of the things he may like for Christmas, he gives me a list with options (another bad idea).
One of my friend’s partners once had jokingly put out an idea to ‘put your photo on pajamas‘ (I quote him telling this to my friend) and give it to her as a holiday gift! As weird as it did sound then, online research about this gave me a clear idea as to what it could be like. Let me see if I could put this suggestion through to my husband as a gift idea for next year!
I usually pick out one or two things I really want and that is my entire list…it is all I really want and never expect any surprises under the tree.
So what does this all have to do with Asperger’s/Autism? It is an intense need to know what to expect, and the inability to hide feelings or catch the comments from jumping out of our mouths when the “surprises” are not what we expected. This is not meant to be unappreciative or to be rude-not at all. In fact, I truly don’t want anyone to spend money on me, least of all waste their money on something I will never use.
My 13-year-old Aspie Teen is the same way, many times even upsetting me. He doesn’t mean to be rude, but if the gift he opens is not exactly, and I mean exactly, what he expected, asked for or wanted, you will know about it. He doesn’t let you know in a rude way, or I should say he doesn’t MEAN to be rude. He will say something like, “ya, it’s nice, but…” That but, could be it would be nicer in black, or Game Stop had this game with special features, or something that makes you want to smack him! But that is just him, he’s not being mean, he’s really not, just as I wasn’t when I was a child. He just gets very stressed if things are not exactly as expected.

Our Solution

The solution in our house, so Mom is not a teary mess on Christmas morning, is our Christmas lists. We all make lists, now similar to the ones that hubby does with the things we would like, complete with pictures, prices, and where to purchase them. I know this sounds ridiculous to many people, or you may think it ruins the magic of Christmas and the surprises of gift-giving but it does not-not for us.
Another important thing that I need to note here are that Aspie Teen, as well as, myself becomes very anxious the closer to getting gifts of any kind we get. It doesn’t matter if it is Christmas, birthdays, whatever, for reasons that I don’t completely understand sometimes, getting gifts is stressful. That’s not to say we don’t like getting gifts, but I would truly rather give them than to receive. Maybe it is because I know that I am scared to open boxes that are a mystery. I worry about what is inside, if I will like it, and if I do not, if I will be able to control my facial expressions and tone of voice.
Of course this has gotten better with age and experience, but for the spectrum children this may take a very long time. Just know that if your little one or loved one is like this about gifts that it is not being ungrateful, mean, or trying to hurt you in anyway. It is just their wiring. If you really want to make someone happy, or you are stumped for gift ideas, please just ask. It has saved us a lot of grief and needless hurt feelings.

Up Next… Is your Aspie a Christmas Control Freak?

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.