Mark opens the present and says with disappointment, “Oh, I already have that.” Mary sees the new DVD she’s received and says, “I hate that movie” or John has a reaction of apathy when given a __________ (fill in the blank).
These and other ‘less appropriate’ reactions are not uncommon when kids on the spectrum receive gifts.
Pre-teaching and practice is the best intervention here. BEFORE your family and friends arrive with gifts for your child, it’s important to practice how to receive gifts.
What do you want to teach a child about opening presents? For some parents it may be that you’re wanting a child to say “thank you” and acknowledge the gift (rather than walking away or just beginning to get absorbed in it), for others, it’s to teach them how to show enthusiasm, to give them words of appreciation, or to teach them to not hurt people’s feelings.
We don’t want to teach kids to ‘lie’ per se, but sometimes, those white lies we tell are intended not to hurt other people’s feelings. “No, I don’t have one” (when in fact you do).
To do this you need some practice gifts to open. You don’t need to buy actual presents to wrap, you can take a child’s existing toys and wrap them in paper towel (good practice for learning to not to say “Oh, I already have that”), or you can hide a spoon in a pot and have your child open the lid of the pot. Or, put a rock in a bag and have your child open the bag. The idea is that the actual gift doesn’t matter. So, the more mundane the practice items, the better to teach this skill: The gift is in the giving, not the content.
To practice, you need to show/demonstrate how to open the package. Show a smile on your face, look at the person who gave it and say “Thank you.” Then show how to play with the toy or do something appropriate with it instead of just putting it back down or walking away. Have your child imitate you.
Then depending upon how sophisticated your child is, you may be able to add more content “I really wanted that” or “I was hoping to get one” “This is so cool.”
Play around with what to do and what NOT to do if your child can handle this. Show him/her how to open a gift inappropriately and see if your child can recognize the correct and incorrect ways of receiving a gift. Have him/her do the same things. Make it fun and a game.
Connect this practice to the real world by talking about the people who are likely to bring gifts to the house (aunt, uncle, grandparent, friend, etc). Talk about how your child can use his new practiced skills when opening the presents.
You may want to make a list while practicing:
Some things to “NEVER SAY” when you get a gift:
“I hate _____”
“I don’t want that”
“I have that”
Some things you can “ALWAYS SAY” when you get a gift:
“That’s really nice”