The Perfect Gift

By Tricia Veldman

October 24, 2016 5 min read

Finding the perfect gift for a teenager is never easy. Throw the diagnosis of autism or Asperger's syndrome into the mix and the task can become that much more challenging. Because autism exists on a spectrum, the extent of its impact varies on a case-by-case basis. Given the overarching trends of the disorder, however, the following gift ideas will steer you in the right direction.

The most beneficial gifts will be both enjoyable for the recipient and provide therapeutic benefits. As a certified speech-language pathologist specializing in social communication skills, Molly Ramassini of the Boston Ability Center recommends games that facilitate interaction. Reading facial expressions and body language are essential skill when dealing with others. For those with autism, understanding implicit cues can present quite the challenge. According to Ramassini, "the Awkward Family Photos board game is a great gift to give because it's an interactive, multiplayer game that encourages players to not only infer information from the hilarious photos but also think about what makes each photo 'awkward.'"

We all have such photos lying around the house or lurking on the internet. Give the game a more personal touch by using photos of your own family. Similarly, the Making Faces game is a fun way to target the same skills. The ability to read someone's emotions based on facial expressions will undoubtedly benefit social communication skills.

According to the article "Autism Spectrum Disorder" -- by Melinda Smith, Jeanne Segal and Ted Hutman from the UCLA Center for Autism Research & Treatment -- those with autism have unique sensory needs, as well. This can manifest in the form of oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sensory stimuli. The oversensitive bunch tends to be more touch-averse, steering away from contact when possible, unless it is self-initiated. Those who are undersensitive, however, find tactile stimulation especially enjoyable. Items that allow for an enhanced sensory experience make a perfect present. Pin art, for example, allows the child play and create while indulging in the prickly sensations on their skin. Moon sand and Aquabeads offer fun options that come in a variety of colors. Sensory integration extends beyond touch; gifts that are auditory or visually stimulating are also well-received. Light spinners, kaleidoscopes, liquid timers, lava lamps and other displays of bright lights and colors can be visually appealing to those with autism. Old-school toys like wooden whistles, kazoos, harmonicas and rain tubes tap into the auditory arena.

Another common element of autism spectrum disorder is the need to fidget as a means of self-regulating, focusing attention and expending excess energy. Fidgeting toys designed specifically for those with ASD or Asperger's can be found on specialty websites. Common items will often be just as effective. A "fidget" is basically anything that will keep the person's hands busy. Ideally, it is silent, so as not to disrupt scholastic activities or draw unnecessary attention to the user. Stress balls, beanbags, Koosh balls, Silly Putty, and Bendeez are excellent fidgets. To top if off, these small trinkets make the perfect stocking stuffers!

Calming toys prove especially beneficial for persons with autism, who experience anxiety at particularly high levels. When a meltdown occurs, a soothing toy can benefit everyone around them. The aforementioned fidgets often alleviate some anxiety by providing an outlet for their energy. Other relaxing items include vibrating pillows, vibrating rolls and massage rollers. And sometimes life necessitates a simple mental escape. "Another good gift for younger children is a play tent," claims Ramassini. "These are great for providing a safe space when children with ASD (or overwhelmed parents) need a break from the sometimes overstimulating outside world."

Children with ASD or Asperger's can benefit from a wide variety of everyday items and games. For extra guidance, visit the Autism Resource Center website. Use these ideas as inspiration to find the perfect gift, taking into account, of course, the individual needs and interests of the recipient.

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