We are used to hearing the phrase ‘what do you buy for the man/woman who has everything?’ but I have a slightly different but equally challenging dilemma; ‘what to buy for the child who wants nothing?’
When my twin boys were young it was so easy to get carried away in the VTech aisle of Toys R Us (sadly no longer with us) and buy so many items that I knew would fascinate and amused them. However, as they have grown, its become harder to shop for them both.
For Oliver he’s had the typical ‘fads’ on things like Lego Ninjago, Minecraft and now fitness. That’s great until you’ve bought every Lego Ninjago set ever made, he’s overdosed on Minecraft to the point that his eyes now look like they’re made of blocks and you’ve bought all the fitness gear you can without having to convert the garage into a bloody gym! Saying that, there is usually a few things that I can buy for him and with a bit of thought I always get there in the end.
With Harry, his fascination with Vtech continues even now as he approaches the teenage years but again, we have pretty much bought every one of the toys that he loves and to duplicate them seems like a waste of money and space. Buying gifts for Harry requires more than just thought alone. You see, he never actually asks for anything.
He doesn’t follow any of the trends and only engages in imaginative play with his Thomas and Friends trains (we’ve bought them all and have now resorted to buying random named trains from abroad). The things that bring him delight are watching other children playing with toys on YouTube and playing with remote controls. We have amassed well over a hundred in the years that Harry has been obsessed with them and one Christmas his main gift was a box of remotes, all individually wrapped, which had been donated by amazing family and friends. He was thrilled! I will say that he also likes the experience of shopping – racing around the aisles, finding something that he likes (usually an infant toy) and racing to the checkout shouting “Lady! Lady”. He is currently having a bit of a phase on wall and shelf clocks which he pronounces as ‘cocks’ so you can imagine the fun we have in B&M when he runs in shouting “COCK!! LADY! LADY!” as he races to the checkout with a new clock in his hands.
Birthdays and Christmas always stress me out because I dearly want Harry to have gifts to open, which in itself excites and entertains him but I often find myself buying thigs for the sake of it or hoping that he will like a certain gift only to find that he’s not interested at all. So why do I bother? If he doesn’t realise it’s his birthday and is happy just to unwrap cheap clocks and remote controls why don’t I just get a few of them and relax? There are thousands of Jehovah’s witness children who, as part of their faith, never celebrate birthdays or Christmas and I’m sure they are not mentally or emotionally scarred by the absence of gifts.
There are a few reasons.
Because it makes me feel better.
For many years we don’t actually buy gifts for our children. We only buy them to satisfy ourselves. To prove the point, think about the birthday and Christmas gifts that children get in the first couple of years of their lives. They have no concept of what day it is, let alone what occasion and yet we still buy for them. I am fortunate that all of my family and friends always ask me what they can buy for both of my boys and even when they’re not sure they always try to find something. However, I know that not everyone is this lucky and some parents find that their disabled children receive no gifts or cards because “well, I didn’t know what to get and they don’t really know what’s going on anyway”. I’m sorry but that just wont wash. Not unless they try to tell me that the one year old they just bought for put a personal request in for the gift that they have no idea is for them.
Because birthdays are a celebration of their life
Birthdays to me are always more important than Christmas. Partly because I’m not religious and so Christmas for me is a time of commercial gain and financial stress (aren’t I a merry soul). But also, because the day of my boy’s birth was incredible traumatic for me and I relived it with mixed emotions for several years. Now that I don’t feel remotely sad anymore, their birthday is massively significant and not only do I thank my lucky stars that I have loved my boys for another year but I am proud to watch them grow up. It’s a celebration of their lives and going back to the people who don’t buy anything, I’m afraid I would have to say that the message sent there is that the child really isn’t important enough to consider on their birthday – even if that’s not actually the case. I want to buy Harry gifts as a symbol of the gift he was to me, just wrapped in paper I’d never seen before.
He deserves to know some joy.
Harry never asks for anything, other than the odd remote control and so on his birthday I want him to feel the excitement of having things to unwrap. Not asking for gifts doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve the excitement of a pile of gifts to tear the wrapping paper off! He really does love that aspect of gifts, as the staff at our local Frankie and Benny’s will tell you after he attacked the empty boxes wrapped under their Christmas tree one year. If that’s the only thing he loves to do and I have to wrap remote controls each year then that’s what I will do. I cant imagine anything worse than watching Oliver unwrap gifts as Harry simply watches on.
On some level I’m sure he knows
I truly believe that Harry knows so much more than he is able to express. His mannerisms and reactions on occasion have shown me that people massively underestimate how much Harry is processing simply because he may appear to be detached at times. I was lucky enough to speak at a fantastic special needs festival recently and one of the other speakers was a young man who, to the rest of the world, looks like he is a passive part of the world and yet his mind is incredible! I’ve included a YouTube clip below of a speech he wrote and I promise that it will change your opinion on the capabilities of people with disabilities forever.
I’m not sure that there is a genius trapped within either of my boys but I am sure as hell not going to write Harry off as someone who is totally unaware. I explain his operations to him in the same way that I would to Oliver. I talk with him and not at him even though he never responds in traditional conversational style and I never discuss his birthday presents or arrangements in front of him. He may not appreciate that I do those things, but he also may be incredibly grateful that someone sees beyond his disability so I’m not taking any chances.
Yes, buying anything for Harry is so much harder than it is for many other children but when I do find that one gift that he adores or I treat him to an experience that he squeals about with excitement, the rewards are so much higher.
This year as he turns 13 I am taking him for an overnight stay in a hotel as he loves hotel swimming pools before a visit to a clock museum. I’ve also booked a light aircraft flight through a charity which I hope he will enjoy and Andrew suggested a birthday party for him with our family and friends. He does also have some gifts to unwrap, including a mechanical pig and rabbit which he’s currently fascinated with and more than likely will end up in the bath at some point (sigh). Often, he opens gifts and will cast them to one side but pick them up at a later date and really enjoy them. His initial reaction tells me nothing about how much he may value the gifts later and I know he won’t respond at all to the experiences when I tell him but once we are there he will love it. My boy deserves to be making memories as much as anyone does.
So, what can you do if you have a child in your network who simply doesn’t want anything?
Ask the child anyway
Not all disabled children are non-verbal or unable to give their opinions. Where you can, always try to ask the child themselves and if all else fails an Argos catalogue is a great resource the help them to think of something or show you as Harry used to do with us.
Ask the parents
If in doubt, simply ask. Some parents will simply say “don’t worry about it” but believe me they will be touched that you asked. Alternatively, be prepared for some sort of vague explanation of the sort of things that interests their child and prepare to get creative! The fact that you have thought about their child will mean so much more than the gift you eventually buy.
Buy a voucher
As with any child when you aren’t sure what to get, a voucher is a great idea as parents will be able to buy something maybe at a later date when their child does have a particular interest or they can out it towards a bigger item that they would love to afford but can’t right now.
Offer to spend some time together
I see so many parents say that they rarely get any time together. How about offering to stay in with the child and have a fun movie night or YouTube session while the parents and / or siblings head out. Of course, this is harder if the child has complex needs but thinking out side of the box goes a long way and something like this massively shows that you value the child and their interests whatever they might be. Alternatively, if you are familiar with the child then you could maybe take them out for the day. I wrote 5 tips for successful birthday shopping last year when my sister took Harry out for the day. Can you guess where they went?
I have big plans for my boy’s birthday this year and I am equally as excited to reveal the gifts and experiences to both boys because despite the fact that they are very different in their needs and wants, I love finding things to make them happy. Granted, life would be easier and cheaper if I just went with a few basics but who wants a basic life? I love a challenge – maybe that’s why these boys are mine. My gifts. Every single day.
I do hope these ideas have helped if you are someone who struggles to know what to buy for a child who wants nothing and I’d love to know of anything else that you would add to the list. Everyone deserves to feel that they are special and important, not just on special occasions but every day.
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