Editor’s note: I wrote this post after talking with my son Jack about what it’s like for him to receive presents. He reminded me that all he really wants this year is his Aunt Carolyn’s recipe for her chocolate cookies. He loves them, and last time she brought them he ate eleven of them.
Hello. I am Jack.
I am thirteen years old and I am in eighth grade and I have autism.
My autism is not my fault. I like to tell my mother it is her fault when I get mad at her. I get mad at her when she is strict for me, like when she makes me empty the dishwasher and pack my lunch.
The other day we went to the doctor. He and my mother talked quiet-like for sixteen minutes while I stretched my arms and my legs out on the table with the scratchy white paper.
Is he sleeping well?
Pretty good, almost all night now.
How’s his anxiety been?
Kind of up and down. He has some new things he’s afraid of, and he seems to be talking to himself more often. Not sure this new medication is working.
Okay, let’s adjust the dosage a little, and then we’ll talk after the holidays.
I love the holidays. I love Christmas. I love taking out all the decorations and putting them in the same spots from last year. My favorite decoration is a big candy cane that goes outside. It lights up with red and white colors.
I love to bake cookies. I used to ask people what kind of car they drive and when is their birthday, but now I like to ask what their favorite cookie is. Mine is chocolate chip but only with a certain kind of chocolate chip because I can tell the difference.
I like to think and plan my presents for people. I watch quietly and I notice the things they like and then I ask my mother if I can go on Amazon so I can make orders.
Sometimes she says no because she is remembering when I went on her Amazon and ordered eighty-three DVD’s and they all came in the mail. So now I tell her if it is a present.
For his birthday I ordered my father a meatball maker because he likes to make spaghetti and meatballs with red tomato sauce. My sister Rose helps him. They are very delicious.
For Mother’s Day I ordered my mother a bottle of Kaboom Foamtastic, because I saw on TV that it is designed to safely tackle all of your bathroom’s toughest stains so you don’t need a cabinet full of cleaners. I thought this would make her happy because she is always complaining about how our cabinets are full of junk.
I like very much to give presents, but sometimes to get presents is hard for me.
When someone gives me a present, they get very, very excited and they clap their hands and say fast-like open it open it now Jack hurry see what’s inside. The words are like bees buzzing around my head and they are stinging my ears.
But I don’t like to hurry. I like to take my time and turn it over in my hands and feel how the paper is smooth and shiny.
I know I am supposed to say thank you very much I love it right away as soon as I open it because that is very good manners.
The problem is, I don’t know if I love it yet. I can’t know what to do with the present until I take it home, and see how it fits with me. I have to put it all around my house in different spots, and hold it close to my eyes and then move it far away again. I have to understand it.
The thing is, I don’t care about money. I don’t understand gift cards. A lot of things I wish for can’t come in wrapping paper or under the tree.
I wish I didn’t have autism.
I wish there was no such thing as summer school, or little white pills before bed.
I wish I was normal.
I wish you could come inside of my world and know me.
I wish I could come outside of my world and know you.
I know you are trying. I am, too.
I wish I was better for words. Words are hard for me. I mix up the order of them all the time and sometimes I don’t know what someone is trying to tell me because I don’t understand the words coming out of their mouth, even though I hear them just perfectly fine.
See, in order for me to understand a word, I have to connect it to something I have felt or touched or smelled or heard or tasted. Like when someone says the word campfire, right away I feel how hot the flames are on my face and I taste marshmallows in my mouth. I hear the flicker of the fire in my ears.
With my words and my anxiety and my autism, I feel like I am standing on the edge of a big high mountain and I am alone. You are on another mountain and I can see you, but in between us is only a tightrope that is stretched very thin and long. We are far apart.
If we see each other this Christmas and you are very nice and you give me a present, here are some ideas that might make it easier for the both of us. It will especially make it easier for my mother, who says nothing gives her a bigger stomach ache than watching me open a present from someone because it is so stressful to see the way I act and I might hurt your feelings.
Anyway, these are my ideas.
I know it is hard to shop for someone like me. I have no hobbies. I don’t play any sports. I do not like toys very much.
What I really want is not in the big mall or on Amazon. I want to know you. I want to connect with you through a memory, or an experience, like the time you built your first campfire and made s’mores on a hot summer night in July.
Instead of a new train, or a DVD, I would love an old family recipe for your favorite cookies, or a holiday decoration you thought was special.
I am special.
If you give me a present, try not to make a big huge loud noisy fuss about it. Stand back, and let me take as many minutes as I need to open it.
Don’t be mad or sad if I don’t seem very much excited. On the inside I am jumping up and down and my heart is skipping like it has a jump rope. It is hard for me to get my outsides to match my insides.
My joy is different from yours. But still, it is joy.
Try not to get annoyed if I don’t say thank you right away. I am not being rude. I am processing the box and the paper and the present and you. I am trying to make it all fit inside my world.
In fact, my thank you might not look and sound like a regular thank you from a regular boy. I may not even say the words. But later on, after all the wrapping paper is crinkled up and thrown in the trash—after all the other kids have taken the trains out of their box and danced around in their new ballet shoes—I might come, and sit by you quiet-like. If you are very still for me, maybe I will touch your sleeve.
I am trying to tell you one thing when I do this.
Thank you for crossing the tightrope over to my side of the mountain.