Many people who give gifts are eager to see the reaction of the receiver, so it is natural to judge a person’s interest and gratefulness for a gift by the look on their face as soon as the box is opened. For a variety of reasons, a person with autism may not respond with the appropriate “oohs” and “ahhhs” when opening gifts.
When our friends with autism seem apathetic or disinterested, we can be disappointed. They may look bored, or look puzzled, or even say something rude, like, “I don’t like that CD.” I’ve even had friends with autism put new gifts in the trash because of their difficulty in dealing with change. Holidays can be more joyful for everyone if we are realistic about what response we expect from individuals with autism and if we help family members and other gift-givers recognize all of the factors that are involved in the gift-giving process.
Below is a list of just some of the other reasons why a person with autism may not respond in a socially appropriate manner when opening a gift.
1. It is certainly possible that your friend with autism doesn’t realize the item in the box belongs to him or her.
2. They may not know who gave them the gift.
3. Because the ceremony of opening gifts can be very overwhelming, some people may be reserved and somewhat withdrawn during the process.
4. Sometimes we “mis-read” the facial expressions of a person who has a flat affect i.e. a rather expressionless face.
5. It may be that the gift is not something that they really want. In this case they may just look disinterested or they may make a tactless response.
6. Whether they like the gift or not, they may not have learned to respond appropriately and politely in different situations.
7. They may not know how to deal with being the center of attention for the moment.
8. They may be embarrassed by the lavishness of the gift, and they don’t know how to respond.
9. It might be that our expectations are too high, in which case we need to learn to just enjoy the festivities rather than being concerned about responses to our gifts.
TIP FOR THE DAY. We can help our friends with autism learn appropriate “gift-opening” behavior. If they are verbal, we can help them learn appropriate responses to a person who gives them a gift. You can also help keep the joy in the season by quietly helping grandparents and other gift givers know what to expect so they aren’t surprised or disappointed.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com