The Best Holiday Gift to Give Your Child with Autism - Joy and Thanks

Read more about our tips for holiday hosts who are entertaining guests with sensory challenges by clicking here.

As you prepare for hosting and/or visiting loved ones this holiday season, model these key social skills and language to make gatherings more enjoyable for your child with autism – and for everyone he or she sees!


For kids with limited language skills:

Some children with autism are confused about speaker/listener roles of “Thank you/You’re welcome.” For example, your child might incorrectly say “Thank you” or “You’re welcome” when handing something to someone rather than, “Here, this is for you.”

To help your child, take these different perspectives or points of view. Role play with your child to practice giving and receiving gifts. Without your child’s knowledge, purchase a variety of inexpensive trinkets for him or her to receive from you as practice. In turn, have another family member purchase a variety of inexpensive trinkets for your child to wrap up—without you seeing--to give to you.

As he hands a wrapped gift to you, guide your child’s wrists or arms while you model language by saying, “Johnny, say, ‘This gift is for you, Mom.’” Explain to your child (possibly by putting your pointer finger to your lips) that once he has given the item to you and has empty hands, he stays silent while you say to him, “Thank you, Johnny.” Then model, “Johnny, say, ‘You’re welcome, Mom’.”

In the reverse role, you put a gift in his hands while you say, “I have a present for you, Johnny.” Next, model, “Johnny, say, ‘Thank you, Mom’”. Then, tell your child to stay silent while you say, “You’re welcome, Johnny.”

Recap for your child that whoever gets something in his or her hands is the person who says “Thank you”; likewise, whoever was the giver with nothing in his or her hands at the end is the one who finalizes this interaction by saying “You’re welcome.”

For kids with more language skills:

To build deeper expression other than the typical “Here you go” and “Thank you/You’re welcome” scripts, model more enticing language. While handing over a present, say, “Kayla, I think you’re going to like what is inside this box,” or “I bought this special gift for you.” Encourage your child to express similar sentiments while he or she is giving gifts to the hosts and/or the other guests at a holiday party.

When your child receives wrapped gifts, explain that it’s even better and will make the host feel fantastic to say something beyond “Thank you.” So, during role play, model, “Wow! I’m so happy you gave me a present,” and “Hmm…I’m excited to open this!”

Upon unwrapping the gift, model language for your child to imitate and use with the host like, “Awesome! I always wanted a remote-controlled airplane,” or “This bracelet is so pretty! I love it!”

Point out to your child that if she receives an undesirable gift, the only response should be, “Thank you.” You can practice this when you role play by interspersing some unexciting or unfavorable gifts such as a tissue, a broken pencil, or a paper clip.


As a fun activity together, you and your child can wrap the gifts for the hosts and guests. However, your child might not understand that she is not supposed to reveal what’s inside. Explain that presents are surprises, so we want the recipients to find out by themselves when they open it.

For practice (with the help of another family member) have your child put ‘practice gifts’ into boxes and gift bags that you don’t see. Then, as discussed before, while she hands the gift to you, guide your child’s wrists or arms while you model non-specific, general words like, “Jen, say, “Here is ‘something’ for you,” or “’This’ is for you.”


Role play being a guest at someone else’s home by modeling at the door, “Kate, say, ‘I’m so happy to visit you’,” or “It’s so nice to see you. I’ve missed you.” If your child wishes, give him the option to hug or give a handshake to the host.

Explain to your child that even though everyone is responsible for his or her own belongings, when she is a guest, the host wants her to feel welcomed and comfortable to enter the home. Teach her that the host will probably take her jacket and provide escort into the home. Model language like, “Thank you for taking my coat” and “Oh, that’s very nice of you to hang up my jacket for me.”

Bring along games and objects to stimulate entertaining social interaction and conversation. Your child can invite the guests to join in by saying, “Hey, Uncle Paul, let’s play this card game,” or “Would you guys like to throw this football to each other outside?”


Tell your child that this winter holiday is a special dinner, and the host will provide a lot of food to share. Complimenting is one way we can make the cooks and bakers feel good. With your child, review different things he can say like, “Mmm…Aunt Ann, this pie is yummy,” and “I would like some more potatoes because they taste delicious!”

Offering to help the host is another way we can make people feel nice. Provide models for your child like, “Grandma, can I help you wash the dishes?” and “Uncle Jack, I will throw out the wrapping paper.”

With your help to model various expressions of cheer, appreciation, and graciousness, your child will grow closer relationships among family and friends this holiday season - and for seasons to come.

About the author

Karen Kabaki-Sisto, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Applied Behavior Analysis instructor. For over 20 years, Karen has been helping people with autism improve their communication abilities within schools and at-home settings. After a decade of technological experimentation, she invented “I Can Have Conversations With You!™”, a life-changing therapy program for iPad to help people with autism enhance their social and language skills like never before. To learn more, please visit