Friday, December 6, 2013

Spectrum Holiday Gifts - I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas

Season's Greetings!

Each year at HeARTs for Autism© I hear interesting stories about the gifts our kids want for the holidays. Some are "doable" and others are amazing requests or impossible feats. Then there are other children or young adults who are harder to shop for given the way they perceive and deal with the world. Sometimes grandparents, relatives and friends want to shop but just don't know what to get. The following is our Spectrum story with useful suggestions and tips for gift giving:

In 1953, a 10-year-old name Gayla Peevy, sang the song “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”, which became quite popular. I love the lines:

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas; Only a hippopotamus will do. Don’t want a doll, no dinky Tinker Toy. I want a hippopotamus to play with and enjoy! I want a hippopotamus for Christmas; Only a hippopotamus will do. No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses. I only like hippopotamuses, and hippopotamuses like me too!

This time of year, we listen to the radio station with non-stop Christmas holiday music, and the song always makes us laugh. Yet, it probably makes us laugh because the song to others might be preposterous, but to a family living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Asperger’s or any other special needs, this pretty much sounds like the intense requests we have gotten from Kevin and our friends have gotten from their children with various special needs.

We have had requests for giraffes, elephants, castles, restaurants built in the back yard, flying suits, a hot fudge hot tub and a classic Mini Cooper car, to name a few. The request is not for the toy version, stuffed or model size, but for the real thing. The trick has been to work with our son to find suitable alternatives, given his potential heartbreak for really expecting what he has requested.

So When Only a Hippo Will Do, What Are We To Do?
As the parents and loved ones dealing with the requests, simply take notice and see how to engage the child with possibilities.

*Their request may be based in a special interest. Given the social and communication deficits in ASD and other special needs, we need to meet the person on their ground and find ways to connect. Many of these kids can not communicate what they want. Look then to their interests, perseverations and passions for clues for meaningful gifts. As we learn to speak “their” language, we build trust and show understanding. When we can share in their excitement, they learn ways to connect outward, and we find we can relate in genuine ways. This mutual interest then becomes the greatest of gifts – the present of our Presence.
*Some suggestions families have used to build bridges in understanding, include taking field trips to a place which represents the child’s interest, going to the library or bookstore, using modeling clay to create scenes or objects, painting or drawing the topic together, visiting museums, creating collages from magazines or internet images, and simply just quietly observing what seems to make the child light up when they are engaged with their interest.
*Sometimes, the interest has deeper meaning and connection to a quality or experience of life they would like to have. For instance, one boy was into tanks and animals, liking the ones with big claws and fangs. Turns out, he felt weak and defenseless. These interests indicated he wanted to feel more powerful. His parents and teacher created opportunities for him to experience positive empowerment and his interests then shifted.

Sharing of Love
The holiday season has many messages competing for our attention, but the core one to all traditions, is the sharing of love. For our children with special needs, this season is not the time to worry about fixing their problems…it is an opportunity to show and share unconditional love.

Self Care: Holiday Stress
Given the stresses of the season, it is important we take care of ourselves. Find at least three things you would like to do this season, and request the help to make it happen – something just for you. Another aspect of self-care is to plan special needs care. Here are some examples:

*Prepare your child for various events that will occurring, using social stories, visual schedules, and sensory tools, while being mindful of stimuli and foods.
*Ask hosts for a quiet space.
*Gently and discretely explain your child’s specific needs to guests who might wonder. Education is always a powerful ally.
*We often bring our own snacks, and have an exit plan, often traveling in 2 cars, when the kids were younger.
* We use behavioral strategies and stress reducers, like breathing and yoga, to center when overload happens.

We blend the “social” scene with the auto/self needs, balancing as best as possible, trying not to place too many expectations on any of us. Overall, we choose to find our joyful, peaceful space in the midst of this hectic season, remembering that what really matters is the spirit of celebration which honors each of us uniquely.

"I only like hippopotamuses, and hippopotamuses like me too!" Wishing you a joyous and peaceful holiday, rich with love and wonderful presents and presence!

Visit to learn more, see beautiful art and to gift/donate to our awesome AWE-tistic children & family programs.

© Robin V Schwoyer 2012-18

*article first appeared in Special-ism, an online blogzine. Visit Special-ism for great resources for special needs.