At the Present Time

Kerry Fender by Kerry Fender Additional Needs

Kerry Fender

Kerry Fender

Down’s Syndrome, my family and me – one mum’s account of family life with an extra chromosome.

On the last weekend of the long summer holidays the first Christmas cards appeared in a shop in my hometown. A lot of people grumbled that it was ridiculously early, but it seemed perfectly natural to me.

You see, as soon as Freddie is settled back at school after the summer holidays, I have to start thinking about presents.

Freddie’s birthday falls just a month before the Christmas festivities, and like most families we need to spread the cost.

I have to get my thinking cap on good and early because trying to fathom out what would make good birthday and Christmas gifts for him has always been a bit of a conundrum.

I know that children with Down’s Syndrome should be encouraged to display age-appropriate behaviour.

I have to say that in Freddie’s case his chronological age and developmental stage are nowhere near each other.

The different areas of his development (physical, intellectual, and emotional) are at slightly different stages.

It’s getting easier for us, his immediate family, now that he is better able to communicate his needs, wants, and interests to us.

But our relatives still find it really hard to gauge exactly where to pitch a gift.

The older ones tend to assume that he can’t read and give him babies’ picture books, which is frustrating because his sight-reading ability is similar to that of a typically-developing child of the same age.

It’s his understanding of context which needs improvement.

I’m always pleased when anyone gives him a gift that is appropriate to his chronological age, because it means they’ve thought about the little boy and not the disability

Although, I also always feel bad that I can’t send them a picture of him happily coming to grips with his new toy, or tell them how much he loved it, because it actually didn’t interest him at all.

In this case, we put the gift away for a while, in the hope that he will one day ‘grow into it’.

We are not ungrateful for any present given to Freddie, even if it’s not appropriate – we understand that it was given in the spirit of generosity and kindness.

It’s a just a shame that he won’t get any benefit from it, and the giver will have wasted their money.

So, what would my advice be to any grandparent, auntie, uncle, or other relative (or friend) who wants to buy a gift for a child with a learning disability, developmental delay, or other disability or additional needs?

1. Ask the child’s parents what they would like/need. You won’t hurt or offend them by admitting that you don’t know what to buy for their child.

It’s far more tactful to ask, and present them with something that will be really useful and appreciated, than to buy something that their child will never be able to use.

It will only remind the parents of all the things their child can’t do.

2. Be open-minded. Something may not sound like your idea of a present, but if it works for the child you’re giving it to, does it matter?

It doesn’t have to be a toy or be in fancy packaging to be a great gift

One year my dad bought a car steering wheel from a breaker’s yard for one of my children, who loved to play ‘driving’ but would not accept a toy steering wheel because it didn’t look realistic.

3. It’s OK to give money. Any monies given can be put into an account for the child’s future, or can be used to buy things as and when the child needs them.

With Freddie’s birthday being so close to Christmas we found it useful to have some money we could put aside for later in the year – if we needed to get new toys or equipment because he’d had a developmental spurt.

Now that he’s getting older he enjoys going to the shop to choose a treat with his own money, and it’s a great way to teach him how money works.

4. If giving money feels too impersonal consider giving the money in advance of the day with a handwritten gift tag and a sheet of wrapping paper or gift bag enclosed (see below).

That way, Mum and Dad can order or buy the gift with the money, wrap it and stick your gift tag on. Voila – there’s no mistaking it came from you!

5. Remember – some children don’t like surprises. They may need to know in advance what they will receive.

They may need the gift to be clearly visible and not wrapped in paper (you can’t see through paper, so you never know what’s inside it).

Some enterprising souls have got around this by presenting their gift wrapped in clear cellophane to make it look present-like, but before doing so check with parents in case the texture or sound of cellophane would be problematic.

6. If wrapping – consider the child’s needs/dexterity. When Freddie was little, he hadn’t got the level of fine motor skills necessary to tear wrapping paper, but he did love to rummage in a bag, so we put his presents in gift bags.

He has no trouble tearing paper now, and loves the excitement of it, so these days we wrap things, but don’t go mad with the Sellotape because he finds that more difficult to pick open.

So there you have it – my six top tips for gift-giving.

If you, like me, are the parent of a child with a disability or additional needs, what tip or tips would you add to this list?

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