Buying Presents for Autistic Kids

Are you buying a present for a child with autism this christmas? Here’s a few tips to help you.

What are they into? A lot of autistic children will have a special interest. They may be totally absorbed by one topic and want to devote much of their time engaging with it whether it be dinosaurs, castles, trains or something more niche like hoovers or even feet! To those looking on it may seem like these special interests are unhealthy obsessions. You may find yourself reluctant to collude in obsessional behaviour by buying yet more special interest paraphernalia. You’ll have to decide what is right for you. When Edward was little his main love in life was dinosaurs. For years every christmas and birthday we bought him dinosaur related products  – he loved them all. One year I spent hours and hours hunting down a rare plastic blue plesiosaur on ebay – it was his most prized and cherished present. Often times friends and family would generously buy him non dinosaur presents to try and expand his interests – it was a good idea but actually these gifts mainly just gathered dust. If you want to be sure of giving a present that will be appreciated your best bet is to stick with the special interest. (If you need more persuading about why this is a good idea read my post Lovely Obsessions)


Don’t be restricted by age appropriateness. If a child is really interested in a toy or game which is usually marketed for a much younger child don’t let that put you off buying it if you know it will be well received by both the child and their family.  My 15-year old son Edward is highly academic and doing very well at school but this Christmas will be the first one where I haven’t bought him any wooden building blocks – the kind which are usually marketed for two-year olds. Edward has spent hours of his life playing with his bricks – it’s been a great way for him to unwind and so I have never minded buying him “babyish” things.

brick-city brick-city2

Equally if you are buying for a child who has a special interest they may already have become quite an expert in their chosen subject so you might have to get them something which is normally marketed for older children or even adults. Edward is a maths whizz so once he’d worked through the usual kids maths books we moved on to books by Martin Gardner with baffling titles like “Hexaflexagons, Probability, Paradoxes and the Tower of Hanoi” which were probably not written with 12 year olds in mind.

To wrap or not? Some autistic children find the unknown stressful. Having to unwrap a surprise present especially if they have to do this in front of an audience can be hugely pressurizing. For some kids they would much prefer to receive an unwrapped present so that the stress of having to deal with the unknown is removed. Although Edward does not get stressed by having his presents wrapped I suspected  that he would prefer them unwrapped – it is after all more time, cost and energy-efficient this way. However I am wrong – it turns out that for Edward the wrapping does add a certain something!


Being thanked. In my experience autism comes with a large dose of honesty. If you buy a present they love you’ll know about it but equally if you buy a present they don’t like you’ll definitely know about it. Learning how to thank someone for a present requires quite a high level of social communication especially if you don’t particularly like the gift! Autistic kids are probably going to take a few more years to get the hang of saying thank you than their peers so don’t be offended if you don’t get a decent thank you..

My brother lives in Australia so my kids don’t see him very often. One year when he was over visiting he gave my kids beautiful wooden key rings, each one with a different australian animal. Leila, Seb and Ivy all took their key rings and said “thank you”. Edward took his key ring and stared at it silently for quite some time before asking his uncle, “Why did you get me this?”.

“I thought you might like it.” replied my brother.

“It’s a key ring. I’m 10 and I don’t have any keys. I don’t know why you thought I would like it.” said a genuinely confused Edward.

“fair enough.” sighed his jet lagged uncle.

Edward is now able to say thank you when he receives a gift regardless of whether or not he likes it.  It took us a long time to convince Edward that he was thanking the person for giving him a present and not simply for the present itself. He remains concerned that if he says thank you for a gift he doesn’t like that he is being disingenuous and also running the risk of receiving further unwanted gifts from the same person in the future. You’ve got to admit these are valid concerns.

I hope if you are buying a present for an autistic child this christmas these tips have helped.

If you have any more tips to add please do so in the comments below. Thank you.


Diary of an imperfect mum


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13 thoughts on “Buying Presents for Autistic Kids

  1. Very funny Lynne and also very helpful – thank you. I know a few people this will apply to!

  2. Edward sounds great, I love the key ring story. It’s a interesting insight to the workings of an autistic mind, wrapping really is a massive waste of time!
    thanks for sharing

  3. I loved his response and yes it is very logical to worry you may get more of what you don’t want if you say thank you!
    We had an interesting tine one day when visiting friends for dinner. At the end J said ‘thank you for my disgusting dinner’!!
    I do find it quite a challenge how disingenious it is when we are not entirely honest, there is a lot of logic in their reasoning!

    • Andy, this made me laugh a lot. I hope your friends had a good sense of humor. We teach our kids to be polite and honest but it’s not always the winning combination we’d imagined!

  4. Oh yes recognise all of these but we are still working on the honesty ? Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime ?

  5. This is amazing . My grandson who is 5 is autistic and i just adore him . He is getting used to wrapped pressie now lol but hed rather have a big box of batteries lol as he loves to chsnge them in his toys . Bless you .. xxx

  6. Great ideas here and I love the examples you provide as well. I’ve written something similar, urging gift givers to check with the primary caregiver before bequeathing a gift that may not be suitable. My son’s wardrobe is literally full of Lego boxes and toys that have been given as gifts, yet remain unopened as he is simply not interested in them. He has also forbidden me to donate them as they were presents given to him (it’s apparently of no relevance that he will never open them!)

    • You’ll know he has reached a land mark moment when he wants to pass those unwanted lego sets on to someone else. Thanks for your comment – I agree it’s definitely worth checking with the parent before spending money on any gifts for kids with autism. Hope you don’t get any more lego sets this year!

  7. Anthony got a T shirt last year – “That’s not a present, it’s clothes” he said. “That’s pretty rubbish mum.”

    Couldn’t fault him – no clothes this year.

    Thanks for linking to #spectrumsunday

  8. Haha! I love his response about the keyring! I have written about this before and given similar suggestions. Mine has a love/hate relationship with wrapping. It’s not a real present if it’s not wrapped but he is still anxious about the surprise! Thanks so much for linking with #SpectrumSunday. We hope you come back next week.