by Veronica Cordell
From the time our children are diagnosed with ASD, we hear and read a lot about their egocentric view of the world. We’re encouraged to believe they lack both sympathy and empathy for others. From my children’s early years, I have always wanted to make sure that they were shown that giving to others is simply what you do. I truly believe that even if a child has serious theory of mind issues and can’t imagine themselves in another person’s situation, they can be taught that giving is a fundamental part of life.
From age three, I helped the twins sort and donate their toys and books each mid-November. I expected the annual holiday onslaught of new play goodies from grandparents and other relatives, which was awesome. Even I wanted new play goodies! I was tired of playing with the same toys and reading the same books.
I took three laundry hampers and labeled them “Keep”, “Give”, and “Garbage”. I admit that the “Keep” hamper had to be emptied and refilled more than the others, but I liked that the children were making their own decision about what was important to them. I liked that my nonverbal son enjoyed the game and laughed every time we tried to toss it in a hamper and missed.
I liked that the shelves would have some space for new gifts and that the play space would be less cluttered, an essential for my kids with ASD who felt overwhelmed when everything’s right there in front of them in a jumble. They needed one or a few toys at one time, not a big ole mess o’ fun.
I remember how many hours it took to unwrap gifts when they were young. They wanted to play with each thing after they opened it. They had no interest in finding out what was in the other packages, and they seemed to feel really bewildered that they were expected to rip the wrap. They’d learned early on that ripping things was a big no-no. Half the family was taking a nap by the time they got around to the second gift, and the other half fell asleep during the very careful unwrapping of the second gift.
Now that the twins are teens, we don’t really have “toys” to donate, so we’ve moved on to clothes and DVDs. We still have books, too. I’m so thankful we always have too many books. Fortunately, we can also unwrap gifts in seconds flat, and with everyone verbal, almost too verbal at times, napping isn’t usually an option anyway.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, we will go through our belongings and give our unnecessary items away. This year, many of our books and DVDs will go directly to the new Autism Site Knoxville (ASK) center to stock the recreation room. I hope that some of you will do the same. ASK needs wooden puzzles, blocks of all kinds, board games, building sets, books for all ages, play rugs, sensory items like weighted vests and squishy seats, preschool toys and children’s furniture, including a train table. These items will all be made available in the play spaces at ASK for all children to use.
For those of you who are able, please consider donating gently used or new items or a gift card from Walmart or Home Depot to help get ASK stocked and ready. On Giving Tuesday, December 1 from noon-7pm, ASK will be at Menchie’s in Bearden (234 Brookview Center Way, off Northshore) collecting these items to “Stuff Our Stockings”. Menchie’s will also donate 20% of each order that day to the ASK fund.
If you can’t make it, you can also make a donation at the bottom of our website AutismSiteKnoxville.org. The donation goes to Artistic Spectrum, Inc., the parent organization of ASK, and the funds will go straight to the new community center and its programs.
Whether or not you are able to donate, I hope you will come use the recreation spaces and donated items at ASK when it opens early 2016. It is a place for everyone with ASD, a place for parents (a massage chair has been donated for the quiet room!), a place for families, and a place for learning, fun, and support.
Veronica Cordell is President of Artistic Spectrum, Inc., the 501(c)(3) organization launching Autism Site Knoxville. She is also an autism parent (times two).