With the holidays just around the corner, now is a great time to start thinking about how to show your autistic teenager that you care through a special gift. Of course, the old saying that kids spell love “T-I-M-E” holds true, so don’t forget to carve our time for your special holiday traditions too – whether that is making latkes together for Hanukkah or playing board games on Christmas Eve.
Teens are notoriously hard to buy for, but we’ve compiled some great ideas to help your autistic teen know you care!
Gift Cards to Promote Independence
As your teenager grows older, they may enjoy the opportunity to shop for their own clothes, school supplies, technology and more. Gift cards are a great way to expand their independence in a safe way. They don’t have access to a full credit line, but they can determine how to budget set amounts on gift cards.
Listen for their favorite stores or pay attention to their current hobbies and purchase a few gift cards to support these interests. Then offer to drive them to the mall or store so they can shop on their own and find their preferred items. Share their enthusiasm for their purchases, even if they are different from what you would have gotten!
Coach tip: Clients often come to me to work on the goal of living on their own, but with unrealistic expectations about the cost of living. Shopping with gift cards can be a great way to begin conversations about the costs of every day items with your autistic teen.
In a world obsessed with results and perfect outcomes, it can be hard for autistic teens to live in the present. The Buddha Board helps you do just that. With a simple design and set up, you let your creativity grow as you paint with water on a unique surface where your creation disappears in a few minutes.
I’ve heard from clients that they find the Buddha board relaxing and a refreshing change from the pace of school and friends.
Coach tip: When teens are struggling with anxiety, it can be helpful for them to write down what they are anxious about and then toss away the paper to help them “let go.” The Buddha Board can be a great tool for this!
In my last blog about parenting autistic adults, we talked about the need to delegate parts of your teenager’s growth and development to trusted experts. One area where this can be especially helpful is teaching your child to drive. Learning to drive is a significant step towards independent adult living but being in the passenger seat as your child ventures onto the road can be intense.
Look up trained driving education services near you with the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED). This guide from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia also has great information about teaching your autistic teen to drive. Driving with Autism is another great resource for autistic drivers and their parents
Coach tip: If your autistic teen is hesitant to drive ask them to tell you about their concerns. One I encounter often is the fear of hurting themselves or others when on the road. Reassure them that they will NOT drive on the road until they have mastered certain skills and that they won’t be alone while they are learning.
Almost Invisible Ear Plugs
For autistic teenagers who love music and concerts, Vibes ear plugs can make experiencing live music more enjoyable. These nearly invisible ear plugs bring the decibel level down without sacrificing sound quality, so your teenager can enjoy the show with their friends.
Coach tip: You may have noticed that your autistic teen with sensitivity to noise has been refusing to wear the noise-cancelling headphones they used when they were younger. That may be because they want to blend in with the crowd. These ear plugs can help!
The Coziest Plush Slippers
After a full day at work or school, your teenager may need some time to decompress. Changing into comfortable clothes from head to toe is a great way to let your body and mind know that it can relax now.
Fuzzy, warm slippers can help their brain to make the transition. We love this sustainable, UK-based small business. Sheepers’ slippers are sure to be a hit!
Coach tip: Remember that the school day can be very stressful for autistic teens. Give them time to relax when they get home before they start their homework.
Watercolor Pencils for the Budding Artist
Communicating and relaxing through art can be really powerful for autistic teens. For those budding artists or looking for a new hobby, watercolor pencils are a great medium to explore. While paintbrushes and paints can feel overwhelming, these watercolor pencils let you practice a variety of techniques with a fraction of the cleanup. Check out our favorite pencils and watercolor paper here.
Coach tip: Creating art can be a great emotional outlet for autistic teens but fear of criticism from others can hold them back from truly expressing themselves. Make sure your teen knows you’d love to see anything they want to share with you but that you won’t ask to see their creations.
A Soothing Weighted Blanket
We all know how crucial quality sleep is to a balanced life. But for autistic teenagers, getting a good night’s rest can be elusive. Some of my clients swear by a weighted blanket to help them fall and stay asleep. These YNM weighted blankets are designed to help you sleep deeper, calm anxiety and wake up feeling rested.
Coach tip: Many teens have difficulty falling asleep. Encourage your teens to stop using phones and computers for at least 30 minutes before their target bed- time. The blue light emitted from these devices can exacerbate sleep challenges.
A Room Refresh
Autistic teenagers may choose to spend a lot of time in their room. Whether for homework, hobbies or relaxation, making their room reflect their personality can make it a special place for your teenager. Whether you update a few posters or make a whole new relaxation zone is up to you. Planning for a room refresh can also be a great opportunity for teens to advocate for themselves.
Need inspiration? This article has some great tips for teen bedroom décor.
Coach Tip: Let your student decorate their room how THEY want to, now how you want them too. This is their special space just for themselves. The beauty of giving them freedom to decorate their bedroom is that you can always close the door if it’s not your style.
There’s a reason you’ve started seeing these strips everywhere. More than just a sticker, these are textured and reusable sensory strips that are great for sensory seeking individuals and in the moment stress reduction. Your student can stick them on a notebook, water bottle, laptop, desk or phone for a simple way to bring calm to their day. These can be useful in classroom settings, social settings or anytime that they need a little bit of mindfulness in the day.
Anyone can use and enjoy these calming strips. They can be especially useful for students with ADHD or autism. Pick your favorite pattern here!
Coach Tip: Try these strips on yourself too! You might be surprised that you find them calming to your nervous system as well.
The Best Friend Game
Remember the Newlywed Game? It’s always entertaining to see people who just got married share how much (or little!) they know about each other!
The Best Friend game takes that same concept and applies it to friends. With 250 questions, it’s a fun and genuine way to get to know each other. It also sets a tone of sharing so you can ask questions that you might otherwise not feel comfortable enough to ask.
This would be a great gift to send back with your college student after Winter Break! Get it here.
Coach Tip: Finding friends in high school and college can be hard. Don’t worry if your student has a handful of close friends. Quality truly is more important in quantity in this case. If your student is lonely or doesn’t feel like they have any close friends, help them select a few activities to get involved in next semester. Continuing to put themselves in situations where they can find peers with shared interests is the best way to allow those friendships to happen organically.
The Ultimate Gamers Cookbook
A cookbook based on your young adult’s favorite game is a great way to foster independence while leaning in to a special interest and thus increasing motivation. Rather than pushing your student away from their video game passion, this is a practical way to connect that passion to an important life skill of meal preparation.
This cookbook offers a variety of great recipes or you can also look for a game-specific cookbook like Halo: The Official Cookbook or My Pokeman Baking Book. If your student is a visual learner, make sure the cookbook you chose has detailed directions and photographs of each dish.
Coach Tip: Learning to cook nutritious meals is such an important life lesson. Whether using video game inspired cookbooks, trying a hands on cooking class or delegating one meal a week to your student, helping them to feel comfortable and confident in the kitchen is a gift they will lean on for life.
Happy shopping! We hope this gift guide save you time and stress during the holiday season and lets you focus on the quality time that matters most.