28 Timeless Gift Ideas for Kids with Autism

Gift Ideas for Kids with Autism

28 Timeless, Trendless Thought Bytes for Gifting a Child with Autism

By Ellen Notbohm

“What kind of toys do autistic children like?”

“What should I buy for my ______ who has autism?”

Though I hear more of these questions at this time of year, they crop up in every month, in daily life and for special occasions. To the former question, I call out the generalization; the question makes no more sense than asking what kind of toys six-year-olds like, or little red-haired girls, or blue-eyed boys or kids with freckles. And to both questions, the answer is the same as it would be for any child or adult giftee—when you truly care about coming up with a meaningful gift, you have to let go of all your own preconceptions and personal preferences and focus exclusively on your intended gift recipient, a person who is one-of-a-kind. What follows are not tips or recommendations or instructions or guidelines, but rather, thought bytes to prime your imagination and perspective, and good for any day of the year, as giving should be.

In no particular order:

  1. Forget “with autism.” Think only about what would delight this one, individual child.
  2. Forget “a child.” Think only about what would delight this one, individual child.
  3. Think “What can I give?” which won’t necessarily translate to “What can I buy?”
  4. Nearly all children treasure pleasant times, memories and experiences doing what they like best.
  5. Ask the child what s/he likes. (Not “what toys to do you like?” or any other limiter.)
  6. Ask the child what s/he doesn’t like.
  7. Ask the child what s/he likes to do.
  8. Ask the child what s/he doesn’t like to do.
  9. Ask the child what s/he likes to read (or be read to).
  10. Ask the child s/he doesn’t like to read (or be read to).
  11. Et cetera. Whatever you ask, ask also in reverse.
  12. Check to make sure you understand. Mark Twain’s “darling mispronunciations of childhood” can be even more, well, pronounced in a child with autism who struggles with language, and can result in gifting mistakes that range from amusing to embarrassing.
  13. Let the child answer in any mode meaningful to him/her—verbalize, draw, show you on a device or book, take you someplace, sing, sign or mime.
  14. Ask the child’s parents about likes and dislikes.
  15. Ask the child’s teacher about likes and dislikes. They often see a different side of the child than what s/he exhibits at home.
  16. Ask the child’s siblings and peers about likes and dislikes. They often see a different side of the child than what s/he exhibits to adults.
  17. Ask the child’s parents, teachers and peers what sensory sensitivities to avoid.
  18. Observe the child in different environments. What is s/he drawn to? What does s/he avoid?
  19. Think twice about the “anything is better than nothing” gift. A gift that the child doesn’t understand or like can cause discomfort, confusion, anxiety, humiliation, anger. None of these feelings are “inappropriate.” They are real.
  20. Don’t overspend, unless that’s the example you want to set.
  21. Be kind but concrete and don’t leave a “maybe” impression if a gift the child requests is out of the question. To a black-and-white thinker, disappointment can damage trust.
  22. The purest definition of “toy” is “something to be played with.” Any object that is safe and engages the child in a way he enjoys can be a toy.
  23. Don’t assume the child will like a toy that is the latest trend or “hot” toy.
  24. Don’t assume the child will like a toy because you did as a child.
  25. Don’t assume you know the only “right” way to play with any particular toy. A child with autism may turn your thinking on its ear—literally and figuratively.
  26. Don’t be or act offended if your gift doesn’t get a second look. What doesn’t appeal now may spark interest later. Sometimes much later.
  27. Be aware that some wrappings, such as shiny paper, can cause visual or tactile upset for some kids with autism, or an unmanageable tangle of ribbons can trigger frustration and meltdown. This is not “bad” or “immature” behavior. It is legitimate sensory overload.
  28. The box and/or the wrapping may be more interesting than the actual gift.
  29. Here are some of the most subjective statements in the whole human existence:

“This is interesting!”

“It’s fun!”

“This smells great!”

“This is delicious!”

“That feels so good!”

Add “…to me!” to the end of those phrases and realize that a child with autism has his or her own, powerful and wholly legitimate thoughts on what is interesting, fun and tasty, and it is neither bad nor weird nor disrespectful if s/he doesn’t share your opinion.

© 2015 Ellen Notbohm, www.ellennotbohm.com

Tips for a Successful Family Outing

family outings

How to Plan a Successful Family Outing

The worst meltdown my son ever had was during a family outing in Dillsboro, NC. We were there to spend a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine™.

It was a miserably hot day. We were poorly prepared with not enough snacks and drinks, and our train tickets were smack in the middle of nap time. By the end of the day, the excitement, sensations, noise and activities were more than our preschooler could handle. And he threw a spectacular, hair-pulling, head-spinning tantrum! Needless to say, it was a memorable family outing!

Family outings with children (especially little ones) can be logistically cumbersome. The good news is that things get easier as your kids grow older and more independent.  Still, a little planning can make all the difference and help to save your sanity! Here are our best tips for having a successful family outing.

1. Plan ahead.

Keep a list of interesting activities or places that look like fun. Make a note if a venue has special discount days or unique events at certain times of the year. Research the area you plan to visit. Where are the restrooms? The restaurants? Nearby child-friendly areas (aka playgrounds?) Pick a time of day when your kid are at their best. Pad your travel time so you can arrive early and enjoy the venue at a leisurely pace. When we attend the Brickfair LEGO Expo in Birmingham every January, we leave home at 7 a.m. so we have plenty of time to enjoy ourselves and still be home before bedtime.

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn

2. Check the weather forecast.

The weather can be fickle, especially as the seasons change, so be sure to check the forecast and dress according to the season. Will you need jackets, swimsuits, a change of clothing? My husband and I both wear backpacks so we can carry everything and be hands free.

3. Pack snacks. And more snacks.

Hungry kids are grumpy kids! Be sure to feed your kids before you go, and bring along plenty of snacks and water bottles. Depending on how far we are going, I also pack a lunch. Even if we dine out, someone is sure to get the “munchies” on our way home.

Lakebottom Park, Columbus

4. Pack a bag of tricks.

If your child is too young to distract herself as you travel, pack a bag with small toys, games, stickers, magnets, and coloring books. If your child has a favorite blanket or comfort item, bring it too. Now that my boys are older, they carry separate backpacks filled with their favorite books, tablets, LEGO mini-figs, and anything else that will amuse them while we travel.

5. Pack a bag of essentials – for you!

Trust me on this one! When my boys were nursing, their diaper bag substituted as my bag of essentials. I repurposed an old diaper bag and keep it stocked with essential items like: tissues, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, a first aid kid, bug spray, phone chargers, batteries, and sunscreen. My bag stays in my car at all times. Before we leave on our family outing, I’ll include additional items, such as road maps, magazines, two-way radios, my personal tech, ticket vouchers, and other items that I need to keep within reach while we are out and about.

My bag of essentials
My bag of essentials

6. Brand them!

No matter how closely you watch them, kids can wander away. If you are planning an outing to an amusement park or a busy, crowded museum, write your mobile number on your child’s arm in case they get lost. When my boys were toddlers, I kept SafetyTats in my purse at all times. You may also want to invest in a wearable safety & GPS device for kids.

Indian Springs State Park, Jackson

7. Meet a friend.

If you are feeling really nervous about chasing around your toddler while caring for your newborn when you are out and about, invite a friend to come with you.  This way you will feel obligated to go, instead of coming up with an excuse to not go.  Also, another set of hands is always useful, particularly at an all-day outing like the zoo.

Sam Shortline, Cordele

8. Hurry up and Take your time.

Allocate enough time to arrive early to your destination. You can be one of the first people to step through the gate and beat the rush to your favorite ride. Additionally, the earlier you arrive, the closer you’ll be able to park in front of the gate. Early arrival also gives kids time to relax and make the transition to the new environment.

Depending on the age of your child, take regular breaks to rest or run around to get rid of excess energy. We like morning outings, then returning home or to our hotel after lunch to rest, swim and eat. We also learned to stay longer in fewer locations.

The Rock Ranch, The Rock

9. Have an exit strategy.

In the event you’ll be seated, plan to be on an aisle, in the back, or somewhere with an easy exit, in case your child needs to take a break or leave early. If you’re driving, park as close to your destination as you can. Be prepared to leave when problems begin, so you can end the outing on a relatively positive note.

Be sure to give your children a heads up when the outing is almost over. We have found that giving our kids a 2-minute warning goes a long way to avoiding arguments and tantrums when the time comes to move to another activities or leave.

Plains, GA
Plains, GA

10. Have a back up plan.

Always have a back up plan. Museums close for cleaning. Freak weather happens. Have a plan B (or C) in the back of your mind to salvage your day when things start going sideways. For us, an impromptu trip to Chick-fil-A or local playground is a failsafe back up plan. It works every time!

Related Content:

Georgia State Parks “Leaf Watch” Tracks Fall Color

ATL_RedTopMtnStatePark_Hiking472 (3)

Georgia State Parks “Leaf Watch” Website Tracks Best Fall Color

Travel Tips for Leaf Peepers

Every October, Georgia’s mountains turn to a vibrant blanket of red and gold as the leaves begin to change. To help “leaf peepers” find the best spots for fall color, Georgia’s State Parks will offer an online Leaf Watch travel planner in October and November, found at www.GeorgiaStateParks.org/LeafWatch.

Leaf Watch is filled with top trails and overlooks, mountain cabins and campsites, fall events and hiking tips.  Shutterbugs are encouraged to share their favorite shots on the Georgia State Parks Facebook page and Instagram, tagging #GaLeafWatch and #GaStateParks. Rangers will post updates on how fall color is progressing in their parks.

Some of Georgia’s top state parks for leaf watching include those in the mountains, such as Amicalola Falls, Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Fort Mountain, Smithgall Woods, Tallulah Gorge, Unicoi and Vogel. While F.D. Roosevelt is south of Atlanta, its higher elevation means autumn colors are often vibrant. For late-season getaways, visitors may want to explore parks further south, such as George L. Smith. The southern Georgia parks can offer pretty color after the last mountain leaves have fallen.

Georgia State Parks offer a variety of accommodations where leaf peepers can stay in the heart of autumn scenery. Guests can choose from cabins, campsites and yurts – a “glamping” option that is like a combination tent-cabin.  Accommodations may be reserved 13 months in advance, and many fill up on October weekends. Guests are encouraged to make plans as early as possible or visit during weekdays.  Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-864-7275 or at GeorgiaStateParks.org/reservations.

Park rangers have planned numerous events throughout October, including guided hikes and paddles, fall festivals, and Halloween hayrides and campground trick-or-treating. A list of events can be found at GeorgiaStateParks.org/events.


Ten Top Georgia State Parks for Fall Color

Amicalola Falls State Park – Dawsonville

Just an hour north of Atlanta you’ll find the Southeast’s tallest cascading waterfall.  A short, flat path leads to a boardwalk offering the most spectacular views.  There’s also an easy-to-reach overlook at the top.  For a tougher challenge, start from the bottom of the falls and hike up the steep staircase.


Black Rock Mountain State Park – Clayton

At an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain is Georgia’s highest state park.  (Brasstown Bald is the state’s highest peak.) Roadside overlooks and the summit Visitor Center offer sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail is a good choice for a short, moderate hike.  For an all-day challenge, take the 7.2-mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail.


Cloudland Canyon State Park – Near Chattanooga

One of Georgia’s most beautiful parks offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging trails.  A favorite hike takes you down a long, steep staircase to the bottom of the canyon, where you’ll find two waterfalls.  (Remember, you have to hike back up, but it’s worth it.)  The 5-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult and offers great views of the canyon.


F.D. Roosevelt State Park – Pine Mountain

Many people are surprised to find hardwood forests and rolling mountains south of Atlanta.  The 6.7-mile Wolf Den Loop is a favorite section of the longer Pine Mountain Trail.  For a touch of history, drive to Dowdell’s Knob to see a life-size bronze sculpture of President F.D. Roosevelt and views of the forested valley.  Ga. Hwy. 190 is a pretty driving route.


Fort Mountain State Park – Chatsworth

This park is best known for a mysterious rock wall along the mountain top, plus a variety of trails. For the easiest walk, take the 1.2-mile loop around the park’s green lake.  For a challenging, all-day hike, choose the 8-mile Gahuti Trail.  Mountain bikers have more than 14 miles to explore.  Hwy. 52 has beautiful mountain scenery and overlooks worth stopping to see.


Moccasin Creek State Park – Lake Burton

Georgia’s smallest state park sits on the shore of a gorgeous deep-green lake.  Guests can choose from the 2-mile Hemlock Falls Trail or 1-mile Non-Game Trail with a wildlife observation tower.  Hwy. 197 is a particularly pretty road, passing Mark of the Potter and other popular attractions.


Smithgall Woods State Park – Helen

Protecting more than 6,000 acres around Dukes Creek, this is the perfect spot for fly fishing while enjoying fall color.  Day visitors can picnic near the creek, and overnight guests can hike a private trail to Dukes Creek Falls.  A 1.6-mile loop climbs to Laurel Ridge and provides a view of Mt. Yonah once most leaves are off the trees.  Smithgall Woods has some of the park system’s most sought-after cabins and is near wineries and Helen’s Oktoberfest.


Tallulah Gorge State Park – Near Clayton

Tallulah is one of the most spectacular canyons in the Southeast, and you can choose from easy or difficult trails.  Hike along the rim to several overlooks with waterfall views, or get a permit from the park office to trek all the way to the bottom.  During November, you can watch expert kayakers as they enjoy the bi-annual “whitewater releases.”  Be sure to see the park’s film because it includes heart-racing footage of kayakers and news clips from Karl Wallenda’s famous tightrope walk across the gorge.


Unicoi State Park – Helen

New ziplines take you high above the forest canopy for a unique view of leaves. If you’re up for a steep hike, take the 4.8-mile Smith Creek Trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. Unicoi offers a lodge and restaurant.


Vogel State Park – Blairsville

The 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail makes a nice day trip for experienced hikers, offering great mountain color and a birds-eye view of the park’s lake.  For an easier walk, follow the Lake Loop to a small waterfall.  The twisting roads around Vogel, particularly Wolf Pen Gap Road, offer some of north Georgia’s prettiest fall scenery.


Blog: The Silent Battle With Postpartum Depression

New Mom Takes Her Own Life After Silent Battle With Post-Partum Depression: Why All Of Us Must Share Her Friend's Plea

New Mom Takes Her Own Life After Silent Battle With Postpartum Depression: Why All Of Us Must Share Her Friend’s Plea

Written by Julie Anne Waterfield for Her View From Home

Allison was a beautiful ray of sunshine in my life.  The life of an Army wife can get lonely at times – moving around so much, searching for new friends, and trying to make a strange house and new town feel like home.  A mil-spouse herself, Allison knew the struggle, and reached out to my husband the very first weekend we moved a few houses down from her in Montgomery, Alabama.  She invited us on a blind friend date with her and her husband, Justin.  It wasn’t long into our first dinner together that I knew we hit the friend and neighbor jackpot.  It was easy to be drawn to Allison.  She was incredibly witty and had an amazing ability to make everyone around her feel welcome, included, and loved.  I knew we would be lifelong friends.

With both of us expecting our first child, Allison due a few months before me, we had a lot of similar experiences that year in Montgomery.  We shared pregnancy together, eating cupcakes regularly, waddling around the neighborhood, and alternating as the designated driver so our husbands could enjoy drinking for two on the weekends.  Allison’s career as an early childhood educator, coupled with adoration for her niece and nephews, portrayed her love and experience with little ones.  I trusted her baby sense, and copied everything she did.  I chose the same OB group, the same stroller and car seat, even the same nursing tanks and nipple shields.  I wanted to be just like her.  She was adorable, healthy, smart, funny, loyal, supportive, and oh so sweet.  Every time she greeted me with my giant belly, she said, “You look beautiful!”  Of course I didn’t think so when I looked in the mirror, but she made me feel so good.  Allison was a great friend.  She handled pregnancy and motherhood beautifully…on the outside.

On the inside, less than 200 feet away from me every day, Allison was silently struggling with Postpartum Depression.  I had NO idea.  I inquired about her postpartum hormones after baby Ainslee was born.  I bluntly asked her, “Do you feel crazy? Do you cry a lot?”  I wanted to know for myself and prepare for what I would soon be experiencing with the birth of our baby.  She responded that she cries some, but mostly happy tears about Ainslee gaining weight and the appearance of little chunky baby rolls, about how precious she is to her, and what a good father Justin is.  Why didn’t I dig further?  I regret every day that I accepted her answer.

My beautiful would-be life-long friend lost her hidden battle with Postpartum depression on June 28th, 2016.  She left behind a loving husband, a precious 4.5 month-old baby girl, and countless family and friends who adored her.  I miss her every day, and I’m not even her family.  The depth of their pain…I cannot fathom.  Her family’s hope, as well as mine, is that PPD is de-stigmatized, and that other struggling mothers may hear her story and seek help.  The truth can be so hard to speak, especially when you feel your truth is shameful.  There is nothing shameful about PPD.  The adjustment to a new way of life as a mother, added to the raging hormones, can be a brutal weight to bear.  It is a weight that never should be carried alone.

Not every new mother’s journey is happy and bright.  Sometimes it is dark, lonely, scary, miserable, and uncertain.  And the guilt!  The guilt that we self-impose and that society imposes on us is overwhelming.  If our journey as a mother isn’t daisies and butterflies, we feel alienated and ashamed.  There is a rainbow at the end of the PPD storm that is raging for these struggling mamas.  Help is out there in many forms if we just seek it: loving friends, supportive husbands, counselors, support groups, and medication.

To all those mothers out there experiencing some of these same feelings: you are not alone, and you are not a bad mother!  PPD is lying to you.  It is twisting your memories, feelings, and beliefs and reshaping them into an overwhelming falsehood.  You will not be judged, only loved, as you seek help.  To those breast-feeding mothers taking Reglan (metoclopramide) to increase milk supply: stop and do research. Reglan has detrimental side effects such as new or worsening depression, suicidal ideation and suicide.  Supplement with formula if needed.  Your baby will be just as perfect and healthy with or without the breast milk.  Having more breast milk is not worth sacrificing your mental health or possibly your life.

Please share Allison’s message with everyone you know, and reach out to those new mamas. Love them through their struggles. Pray for them.  Open up about your own tough experiences as a new mother to make them feel more comfortable and less alienated.  Ask them tough questions over and over again.  I wish I had.

*Editor’s Note – We want to thank Julie for sharing her brave, heartbreaking story.  It is our hope and prayer that this message will save another life.  Thank you for your support.  For more stories from the heart, visit us on Facebook.

Resources and information for PPD:





Twenty-four hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Home Alone: Is Your Preteen Ready?

preteen home alone

By Charlotte Bowman

Is nine OK to run a quick errand? Maybe 10? Does a 14-year old need a babysitter? Can a 12-year old be trusted to look after younger siblings? This summer my husband and I faced the dilemma of whether our preteen boys were ready to stay home alone. They are no longer babies but not yet full-fledged teenagers.

According to a new report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Poll on Children’s Health, we’re not the only family struggling with this decision. Only 43 percent of parents say they are comfortable leaving their tween home alone for an hour or more.

Only three states currently have laws that specify what age a child can be home alone, and 10 states (including Georgia) offer “guidelines.” For the most part, the decision is left to the parent’s judgement. So, how do you decide?

Questions for Parents:

The preteen years are tricky. Every child reaches maturity at a different age and may not be equipped with enough knowledge to stay home safely. Your child needs to know what to do (and not to do) in an emergency situation.

Here are several questions that can help you make the decision:

  • Does your child know what to do during severe weather or a fire?
  • Does your child know if and when to call 9-1-1?
  • Does your child know not to play with guns?
  • Does your child know to stay away from toxic substances?
  • Does your child know who to call if something goes wrong?

House Rules:

If you answered “yes” to most or all of the previous questions, your tween may be ready to stay home alone. Before you leave her at home for the first time, establish some basic house rules. Make sure she knows the following:

  • What to do if the doorbell rings
  • What to do if the phone rings
  • Whether it’s OK to have friends over, and if so, how many friends can come over
  • What kinds of snacks they can eat
  • Time limits on watching TV or playing computer or video games, and a list of approved programs and games

Home Alone Safety Tips:

Before you trust your tween with your home and all its contents, make sure he knows what to do in case of an emergency. Here are some safety tips from the American Red Cross.

  • Post an emergency phone list that includes 9-1-1, parent cell numbers, numbers for family members who live near by, trusted neighbors, your pediatrician, and poison control.
  • Discuss what to do in case of a emergency, such as a fire, power outage, severe weather or injury.
  • Stock the fridge with enough healthy foods and snacks to hold your tween until you get back.
  • Keep a well stocked first-aid kit, and teach your kids how to use it.
  • Leave flashlights and fire extinguishers in easy-to-fine places
  • Remove or safely store dangerous items like guns, knives, hand tools, and power tools.
  • Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach.
  • Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage area.
  • See more safety tips and resources from the American Red Cross, KidsHealth and the National Crime Prevention Council.

Gun Safety Guidelines:

Regardless of whether you keep a firearm in your home, it is absolutely imperative to discuss gun safety with your children. Here are some firearm safety tips:

  • Always keep guns unloaded and locked up.
  • Lock and store bullets in a separate place.
  • Hide the keys to the locked boxes.
  • Talk to your child about guns and gun safety.
  • Find out if there are guns in the homes where your children play. If so, talk to the adults in the house about how and where guns are stored.
  • For talking points, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics site (healthychildren.org) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) site (eddieeagle.nra.org/parents).

Ultimately, the decision to leave your preteen home alone depends on her maturity and your family situation. Remember that every child is different and so is every parent. So use your best judgement. Also, when you decide the time is right, make sure you’re easily accessible on your cell phone and check in frequently.


(Guideline) From Georgia’s DHS Website: Children under 8 years old should never be left alone, even for short periods of time. Children between the ages of 9 and 12, based on level of maturity, can be left home alone for brief periods of time.”