Gifts: Making Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs

Want to make Christmas easier for the guest with special needs? We need to address the whole gift thing. Day 5 of a 5-day series.

Photo Credit, David Niblack,

The Whole Gift Thing: Making Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs

Welcome to the fifth and final day of the series “5 Ways to Make Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs”! If you missed yesterday’s post about travel, you can find it here.

Today the topic of discussion is gifts. Gifts elicit reactions at opposite ends of the spectrum. They either bring a sparkle of excitement to someone’s eyes or lead to a sigh of disappointment – or worse. It all depends on your past experiences. And having special needs (or not) doesn’t change the fact that giving and receiving can be a blessing or a thorn in the flesh. It seems that people are overjoyed with what they receive or are sorely disappointed and trying to hide it from friends and family members.

These reactions can be more pronounced in people with special needs for many reasons. If they’re on the autism spectrum, they may not have the self-control or the social skills necessary to handle the situation gracefully. Disappointment and excitement both can trigger meltdowns because of the inability to handle strong emotions in constructive ways. Someone with chronic health issues who is already exhausted by the festivities may not handle these situations well because of sheer exhaustion, which increases frustration levels and decreases patience. Pain can do the same thing.

And then there’s the financial stress caused by trying to buy for everyone. Having special needs – or a child with special needs – is expensive. Trying to get a nice gift for everyone in the family is unrealistic.

The bottom line is – how do we handle the whole gift thing?! Despite what our families would lead us to believe, we do have options:

We can choose not to do gifts at all. It’s not a popular choice, and many families don’t want to entertain the idea, but there are more and more families who are finding freedom in skipping the gift-giving in extended family situations and just enjoying time spent together. It takes the financial stress off, and it eliminates the issue of what’s the best gift to give everyone.

Draw names. If you want to have more time and money to spend on choosing just the right gift for someone, draw names within the family so each family only has a certain number of people to buy for instead of buying for everyone. With less pressure to show up with as many gifts, you can take time to discover what each person would really like to receive or really needs, and get that.

Buy for the kids only. Same principle as above. You narrow the number of people you buy gifts for and can focus on finding out and purchasing something the person will really like.

Limit the amount. However many people your family chooses to buy gifts for, you can put a limit on how much is to be spent per gift. This will eliminate some of the financial stress and may lead to some creative gifts!

Give gift cards or cash. It’s not the way everyone likes to go, but you can always do it and let the recipient buy whatever he wants!

Practice your responses. Adults and children alike should practice gracious responses to unwanted gifts. I usually have my kids practice one more time just before we go into the gift-giving situation. A simple “thank you” is enough. It means, “Thank you for thinking of me and getting me a gift.”

Receipts. We have family members who will tuck receipts into clothing or give us an envelope at the end of the day that contains the receipts for all our gifts. This is very helpful in case something needs to be returned or exchanged. It eliminates the awkwardness of having to ask for a receipt or get “trapped” with something that makes you miserable.

What are your family’s best ideas for handling gift-giving?
Want to read more Christmas series about a variety of topics? Check out the iHomeschool Network Christmas Hopscotch!


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