Christmas Gifts for Children with Special Needs

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This is a toughie. It can be downright hard, because there are so many emotions tied up with the holidays. We have expectations. Christmas is supposed to be a time where we express our love and gifts are a way we do that.

What if the child, who has special needs, doesn’t like their gift? What if they don’t play with it? What if they open it, don’t react, and turn to their iPad instead?

It seems like a little thing but it can hurt. It hurts because Grandma and Grandpa want Julia to love her baby doll like they loved their baby dolls. They want Juan to love airplanes like they loved their airplanes. This hurts Grandma and Grandpa because their gift, their love, was tossed aside. It hurts Mom and Dad because they knew Juan didn’t like airplanes and really wanted a toaster instead, but that’s painful information to share because it shores up that Juan is different. It hurts Juan because he can sense new tension but he doesn’t understand where it came from or why it’s there.

It may seem silly to somebody who doesn’t have a child with special needs in their life, but it’s a very real issue. We want to fit in. We want our children to fit in. We want everybody to be happy, and to share the magic of the holidays that we enjoyed as a children, or to make them better than ours ever were. But a child often doesn’t appreciate the nuance of what we’re trying to do, and if you toss in any sort of disability, it complicates it even more.

What do we do? How do we keep feelings from being hurt?

I’ve learned through experience that the first thing to do is take a deep breath and let the expectations fall. This moment isn’t about us. It’s about the child.

I’m going to say that again, with love and relief.

It isn’t about us. It’s about the child.

We need to let go of the stress and the hurt. We have our own hangups that we carry with us. Set those aside, because it isn’t Julia and Juan’s fault that we feel stress to find the perfect gift, or that our gift has to be bigger than the other set of grandparents, or that we’re afraid our child will feel unloved if his or her gifts are simple. This is our perceived reality that we’re forcing on our sweet kiddo, and it isn’t fair. It isn’t about us.

What does Juan want? What does he really want, not “what do I think Juan should want?”

Here are some gifts that have made a difference in our lives, and I’ll tailor them to Juan and his beloved toasters.

1) The Object

Juan loves toasters with an unholy love. Does the household need a new toaster? Does Juan need a shiny toaster in the kitchen that is just for him? My son loves bread machines, so he received one for his tenth birthday. You’ve never seen a happier child.

2) Things Related to the Object

There are, believe it or not, stuffed toasters. Toaster-themed bedroom decor. The movie “The Brave Little Toaster.” Make him a sweater with a toaster on it. What about a toaster cake? A bag of his favorite bread with a little card that says, “Juan’s Special Toaster Bread” on it? You may think I’m kidding, but something small and dear like that means so much. It means that you see him, you see what he likes, and you support him in liking that thing. You aren’t trying to change him. You’re simply loving him the way he is.

Try giving him a toaster manual. Take pictures of toasters and put them together in a book for him to flip through. My dear friend did that with ceiling fans, and her son had a book specifically designed for him. Perhaps make a short video of your family and friends, waving and saying hi to Juan. Call him by name. Tell him you love him. Show him your toaster and how it works. Show him the buttons and slides and levers. Wipe it down so he can see it become clean and shiny. Make a piece of toast. Smile, because he is special to you, and you are letting him know in a way he can understand.

My brother and sister-in-law did this for my son with their washers and dryers. Everyone in the family got together with their kids and showed him their laundry room. They showed him where they kept their soap and started a load of laundry for him. “Here’s the dial for the water. I’m going to put it on low because I’m doing a small load.” He was rapt, seeing his favorite people doing his favorite thing, smiling at him and using his name. I cried. I’m tearing up again simply thinking about it. It was a 30 minute movie that was just for him, and it’s been replayed often. It might be the most touching, thoughtful gift we’ve ever received.

3) Experiences

Life changes when special needs happen. Things that used to be simple, like leaving the house, become astronomically difficult. Modifcations must be made and expectations adjusted.

Experiences don’t need to be big to be meaningful. Perhaps for Christmas, you can give Juan a card saying that you’ll take him to the store to look at toasters. He can look at toasters as long as he wants to. He can touch them and study the coils inside. You won’t rush. This is his Christmas gift. Just you and an experience he’ll enjoy.

You can visit a pawn shop and pick up a junky old toaster. You can have a date at your house so he can use your toaster. You’ll make and eat toast together, just the two of you. Or perhaps he can make toast for the whole family. It will be half an hour where everybody sits down and enjoys Chef Juan’s toast. It will be his contribution, a way that he can show his love while you show yours.

Does the child in your life like escalators? You can take her to the mall and ride the escalators for half an hour. Does she like the feel of fabric? Then how about an outing to a fabric store so she can feel every piece of fabric that she wants? Whatever you do, treat it as special because it is. Give her a calendar with the date of your outing circled in red. “This is the day we’re going to do this fun thing together.” Let her look forward to it.

4) Mend Treasures

Perhaps Juan only has five toys he’s interested in, and they’ve taken a lot of abuse. This is a wonderful time to give these treasures some care.

Replace their batteries. Stitch them back together. Fix the wonky eye, the broken lens, the bent rims. Wipe them down. Shine them up. Replace missing parts and make them magical again. Show him these things are important to you because they’re important to him.

I hope your hearts and those dear to you are filled as you share your love. Disabilities can be so difficult and isolating, and the fact that you searched for this topic says so very much about you and your kindness. May you continue to be a joy to those who love you, and a light to the sweet child you care about. Happy holidays. ❤

 

 

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Christmas in July Wrap-Up

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I adore Christmas, but it hasn’t been so much fun lately. It’s turned into a huge fanfare with tons of pressure and very little fun. This is why Christmas in July has become so important in our house.

Every year, my mom would pull out the Christmas tree for a week. We would decorate it, listen to Christmas carols, and give each other small, homemade gifts. It was the good feeling and spirit of the holidays without consumerism undue stress.

 

This year it was especially nice because it’s been a difficult summer, and this gave us something joyful to lift our spirits for a week. Hooray for Christmas! Happy Summer Holidays to you.

 

2016’s More Realistic Holiday Newsletter

A few years ago I started the new tradition of sharing a more realistic holiday newsletter. You can read the first here and the second here. Now it’s time wrap up 2016. Hoo boy.

Hey, friends! Let’s be honest and admit 2016 sucked in almost every way possible. Somehow the Yardleys managed to soldier their way through it, because we’re not smart enough to lie down and quit after we’re knocked over. LUKE spent pretty much the entire year with allergies, an inhaler, and breathing treatments. He borrowed our daughter’s Sammy the Seal nebulizer and was simply adorable. MERCEDES won a cool haunted house but lost DAVID BOWIE. It wasn’t a fair trade and she wants her Glitter God back. NIKOLAI got into this weird Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez phase. Yes, it is too late to say you’re sorry.  NINA takes turns being delightful, turning sullen, and bursting into noisy tears. We think she’s most likely possessed by imps. LILIA is afraid to go into the bathroom because she thinks giant tarantulas live in there. We assure her that no, we only have deadly scorpions, but she refuses to quit screaming.

This year a dirty, starving, flea-bitten cat wandered upon our property and immediately claimed us as his humans. Now he’s our fat, sassy Lord of All. His true name is far too awesome and terrible to utter, so he deigns that we call him Marsh. Also, he hates you.  So bad. He’s absolutely wonderful and I’m grateful for him every day.

We hope you had a great year and that 2017 will be even better. Let’s do this thing!

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These truthful newsletters are so much fun to write, and make me chuckle when I look back on the year. Please let me know if you write one. I’d love to read it!

Easy Friends and Family Gifts!

We’ve let Christmas overwhelm us. It isn’t about spirituality or kindness or even really family anymore. It’s about gifts, about running ourselves ragged, about filling our days with so much joy and merriment that it somehow turns into pressure. I’ve been trying to avoid that feeling this year, and simplifying has been a great help.

I saw this on The Merry Little Christmas Project,  and liked the idea so much that I tried it myself. Instead of stressing over what to give teachers, bus drivers, neighbors, etc, try doing something fun and simple.

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I bought a few large candy bars and wrapped them in colorful Christmas pages torn out of magazines.  The lighting isn’t great in this picture, but the gifts are glossy and full of bright colors. They only took a few minutes, didn’t overwhelm me, and are absolutely charming. It’s nice to have a quick, inexpensive gift on hand, and a handwritten note will make each one personal and heartfelt. They’re also darling stocking stuffers,

What are some of your gift ideas? I’d love to hear!

 

 

Merry Christmas in July!

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Pretty sure this will be my Christmas card this year.

It’s a family tradition we’ve had since I was a child, and I looked forward to it every year. We’d decorate the tree and have small gifts for each other.It’s something that I do with my kiddos now.

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This is Christmas week! We’re putting up the tree. We’re making snowflakes and taping them to the windows. It’s time for Christmas carols, holiday movies, and everything but hot chocolate. We’ll do chocolate ice cream instead, since it is about 110 degrees here.

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Gifts are small and handmade. Stockings are often made out of paper. It’s the simple, homespun Christmas most of us long for every December.

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Won’t you join us? If not for the entire Christmas in July shebang, perhaps you can have that holiday feeling in your heart. How about being extra kind this week, or perhaps write a letter to someone you love? Peace on earth, good will to men.

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