Since 1970, April has been Autism Awareness Month. Over the years, the information and reception of autistic and neurodivergent adults have changed drastically. In many countries, the shift has been a largely positive one. Thanks to platforms like TikTok, many people with autism have found a community to lean on, learn from, and support them as they become more comfortable being transparent about their journey. This blog aims to help you in selecting gifts for autistic adults. However, it’s impossible to do that without mentioning some potentially uncomfortable truths.
To begin – I will answer the question you’re probably asking yourself. What are my credentials to speak about gifts for autistic adults? I’ve spent over 9 years diving into the world of gifts. Pouring over the cultural dos and don’ts of dozens of countries. I’ve done this as an autistic woman myself. If you continue reading, you’ll find a general guide. A starting place, if you will, to help you navigate the wild and wonderful world of neurodivergence.
Gifts For Autistic Adults – Manage Your Expectations
First and foremost – autism is a spectrum. The communication, behavior, and sensory differences you’ll find in people with autism are incredibly varied. So varied, in fact, I’ll come right out and say it. The absolute best way to get advice on gifts for autistic adults is to ask them their preferences. However, depending on your situation, this conversation can range from awkward to impossible. And that’s okay. You’ve taken the step to research on your own, and we’re here to help.
The first tip everyone should get about gifts for autistic adults is to manage your expectations. I mean that in every way possible. The social niceties and norms you’re used to aren’t always something an autistic person can emulate. They may not respond to gifts the way you would expect. A lack of facial expression doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like your gift. Nor does a lack of response.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you may find your friend getting overly emotive. So when you give someone with autism a gift, do so with an open mind. If you aren’t sure what they’re thinking or feeling – ask. Working to understand and appreciate their natural responses is the best gift of all.
Gift For Autistic Adults – Make Sure They’re Prepared
The second thing you’ll need to be aware of is just how important routine and structure can be to someone with autism. When thinking about gifts for people with autism, timing is as important as what is in the gift. Generally speaking, major holidays and birthdays are relatively safe. After all, these gifting moments have likely been part of their lives for a while now. But again, this varies from person to person.
The real problem area lies in total surprises. Sending them a just-because gift is sweet. However, it can also be disruptive to routine. Unexpected gifts can cause extreme anxiety for your friends with autism. However, there are a few ways to navigate this.
Ask them in advance about when and how they like to receive gifts. Make sure you tell them about when and how you like to send gifts so you make sure all areas are covered.
Give them notice when you are sending them a surprise. Make sure you tell them clearly what the surprise is for. Definitely make sure you let them know there are no expectations to return the favor. Unclear social obligations are a nightmare to navigate.
Be punctual – It’s just considered polite to be on time when sending birthday and holiday gifts. But when surprising your friends with autism with a gift, being on time is more than just polite. It helps ensure you don’t disturb their sense of routine. However, gift delays do happen. Go the extra mile to keep an eye on tracking and let them know if something has been delayed in transit.
What To Get Someone With Autism – Navigating The Senses
It can be hard to explain sensory issues to people who don’t have them. The best comparison I’ve ever encountered is thinking of them like allergies. No – touching textures I find unpleasant won’t literally give me a rash. However, it can certainly feel just as uncomfortable, if not more so. Once again, people with autism have different sensory issues – so I’ll break this advice down into some general tips for each of the five senses.
It’s always a good idea to stick to flavors and food textures your friend is familiar with when sending them a gift. For this reason, custom gourmet gift baskets make for ideal gifts for autistic adults. You’re in control of exactly what goes in them, leaving them without any unpleasant surprises. Keep in mind that many people with autism often have fixation foods, and these tend to cycle.
A fixation food is a food item or category they find particularly enjoyable. For some it can be so extreme it is the only thing they’ll find palatable for a time. If you’re close enough to know what their current fixation food is, surprising them with it can be an incredibly thoughtful gesture.
Many people find certain smells comforting. People with autism are absolutely no exception. Candle gifts and spa gift baskets make excellent gifts for people with autism. They can be used for much-needed self-care. In fact, lighting a candle or taking a bath are amazing calming techniques for anxiety. It can give them something to focus on and ground them.
Sticking to milder scents is generally a good idea to keep them from being too overwhelming. And as always, checking in with your friend to see if they have any scent preferences is a great idea.
Triggering sensory issues regarding touch or texture is often one of the trickiest things to avoid. What feels good and what doesn’t can change quite dramatically depending on many factors. In general, unless you are exceptionally well-versed in your friend’s tactile preferences, it is best to avoid gifts that center around textures. Things like blankets, scarves, clothes, hats, and even stuffed animals should only be given if you’re 100% certain they’ll like them.
This may seem like a weird thing to consider when it comes to gifts. However, I promise you, sound is a factor in a lot of things. From singing birthday cards to Christmas poppers – there’s a lot of sounds to navigate in the gifting world. If you know they have issues with sound, surprising someone with autism with noise-canceling headphones can be a life-changing gift.
Additionally, if your friend has children you want to spoil – stay away from toys that make excessive noise. Keep in mind any gifts for their children are gifts they’ll have to be around. Considering their sensory issues will make the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.
When it comes to sensory issues with vision, it can be tricky to explain. Too much visual stimulation can be painful. Too much light, clashing vibrant colors, or even just specific colors, can be off putting. In general, the advice I can give here is less about what to get someone with autism, and more about what not to get. If you aren’t sure of their sensory issues regarding sight, stay away from things like light displays. I’d even caution you against buying tablets or televisions as well since screen resolution can also be an important factor.
Quick Gift Ideas For Autistic Adults
This is a lot of information to go through, so if you’re looking for the TLDR – here it is! A quick checklist of things to do to level up your gifts for people with autism:
- – Take the time to ask them about any sensory issues or allergies.
- – Ask them about their gifting preferences.
- – Stress to them that you always want honest feedback about your gifts.
- – Give them a heads-up when you are sending them a gift.
- – Consider e-gift cards only if you’re sure the ordering process won’t be stressful for them.
- – Remain open minded.
When they say “it’s the thought that counts” regarding gifts, surely they mean how thoughtful you are about the recipient. When navigating sending gifts to people with autism and other neurodivergence, this sentiment couldn’t be more accurate. Be open to communicating with your friends, family, and coworkers about your gifts, and you’re sure to make them feel spoiled.
You’ve learned how to navigate sending gifts to autistic adults: now what?
- – Get a jump start on picking out birthday gifts for friends and family.
- – Read more about Gift Giving and Mental Health.
- – Subscribe to our blog to get more corporate gifting tips.
A foodie, nerd, book lover, and eager taste tester. I’m a night owl with a need to expand my knowledge of other cultures and places to give myself better perspective.