If you work with very young children, you are probably planning to have your students make Christmas or Hanukkah presents for their parents. The younger they are, the less able they are to initiate making or buying gifts themselves, so I’m glad you help them with this holiday tradition. Your help here is especially appreciated in one-parent households, where the mom or dad may not get any gift from their child at all when there’s not a partner to help with the surprise. Opening up something from their child that the parents didn’t buy and wrap is a very special joy. When the young child is on the autism spectrum, and may not be able yet to say, “I love you” in spoken words, a loving gift made at school is a particularly precious treasure.
The big question always is, what to have them make this year? Even though it takes time, I hope you are able to put some thought and effort into helping your students experience the joy of giving their parents a surprise gift. It doesn’t need to be expensive. Ornaments can be made from Styrofoam balls and frames can be made with craft sticks. Some paint, some sparkle, something personal like a photo of their child smiling or a tiny handprint can make for a winner of a gift. I would recommend going beyond simply making a card, although a card with the child’s photo, handprint, or fingerprint art is a nice addition.
Look around your craft cupboard. What materials are already available that could be transformed into a parent gift? If you have a budget to purchase more supplies, I hope you know how fortunate you are. Even if you don’t have the funds, there are sites online full of useful tips and ideas for low-cost gifts to make, like these or these. My favorite is this handy ring dish: they rolled clay out like cookie dough, outlined the child’s hand and cut it out, then bent the fingers up into a natural curled position before firing the clay, to create a bowl. Adorable!
Many parents of youngsters on the spectrum are waiting anxiously to hear their child say the words, “I love you!” We know there are many ways to communicate without verbal speech, but we also understand how important this will be to our students’ moms and dads. While their parents are waiting to hear the words, consider including a simple rhyme in the cards your students make, such as:
I may not always show it
Like the other kids do,
But I hope you really know it:
I LOVE YOU!
Or, here’s another idea:
Words alone can never say
What I feel for you each day,
But you understand what’s true.
It’s no secret:
I LOVE YOU!
This kind of greeting card rhyme is really corny, I know, but maybe a corny message that reminds them of how much their child loves them is exactly what parents need this holiday season.
For some older students this can be a good time to talk about keeping secrets. If they have learned not to keep secrets from their parents in “stranger danger” lessons, they may not be able to easily distinguish good secrets from bad secrets. (And we know how literal our students can be at times.) Explain how secrets about things like presents are good secrets, because they are only secret for a short time, until the gift is opened. Also, part of the fun is not knowing what’s inside until they open it. That’s why we have wrapping paper, to add fun to the surprise. You may want to write a Social Story© about this if your students need one.
I hope you have fun making presents and cards with your students, and that you realize how very happy you are making their parents.