With the Christmas season of giving just past, I can't help but think about what my youngest son with autism really understands about presents. When you have a child significantly impacted by autism, especially his ability to tell you what he likes or is interested in, it's difficult. You have to pay attention. Outside of that, finding toys or gifts he could truly appreciate is challenging.
While Cash'an, 10, watches videos of Charmin Bear, Mickey Mouse or Higglytown Heroes on the computer, he likes to do things with his hands and creative mind, like making arts and crafts projects, matching games and puzzles. Every year, I wish there was some toy out there that combines all of that. Yes, there is the i-Pad, which is not yet in our family budget. There are electronic games that offer small screens, abstract pictures and give a lot of verbal direction for games and activities, but for a child with limited verbal language and cognitive ability to understand multiple-step directions, those options can be more frustrating than fun. So instead, we resorted to videos Cash'an likes, puzzles, a personalized graffiti designed Charmin Bear shirt and the only Charmin Bear story book we could find. The most memorable gift did not come from me, but the Charmin company itself.
Last summer, I wrote about my son's fixation with those blue and red bears and the company sent him a package of Charmin goodies, including T-shirts, toilet paper and a stuffed bear. Nothing, however, can top the gift they gave my son in November when they invited him to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., to be their special guest for the day, along with former Giants player Amani Toomer, for a Charmin event at tailgating and a chance to meet the bears. The company graciously provided Cash'an with a hotel room, special seating at the event and six tickets for prime seats for the Giants vs. Raiders game. So me, my husband, two other children and father-in-law went on the road.
It wasn't the hotel or the tickets that I appreciated most. It was that for a day, Cash'an was celebrated being Charmin's "No.1 Fan," rather than being gawked at for this unusual affection for the toilet-paper bear. With all of his sensory challenges and the thousands at the outdoor event, along with our inability to explain where he was and why, it was a hard day for Cash'an. The crowds, noise and gushing wind were overwhelming. Still, with our family by his side, and Charmin's representative taking steps above-and-beyond to make my son as comfortable as possible, Cash'an got a picture with the Charmin bears – the moment he seemed to get it. He was able to stand with them and smiled. This experience is a gift Cash'an has never had. One day when he looks back at the pictures, I hope he knows that his uniqueness, even in the tough moments, is a gift, just because it is him. I am eternally grateful to the Charmin company for embracing my son for who he is.
I'm hoping in this coming year, there will be many more gifts for Cash'an, not store-bought, but from the heart: the gift of acceptance.
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