PDA, presents and surprises!

he’d rather go without than be disappointed or let down in terms of his expectations not being met


Mummagrizzlybear is contemplating how to approach the bi-annual headache of gifting ones precious little baby bear  (pda’er) on his birthday and wondering if other mums have to do this?

Babybear has always struggled with birthdays and Xmas. For a long time I just didn’t get it. We first noticed his dislike of attention. He hated everyone looking at him and actively avoided things like participating in plays at school, however we were reassured by teachers who told us that many children don’t like to be on stage. Then we clocked how he’d avoid answering direct questions about preference and in actual fact just pose more questions to questions . I could ask “would you like sauce in your bacon roll?” And he’d say “do I usually?” Couple these with his unusual response to praise, his ultimate need for control and his compulsion to avoid anything new and you might be able to picture the quandary I am in. But none of us I’m guessing can comprehend the internal pain and difficulties this causes my soon to be 8 year old.

Each day I’m asked by someone else ‘any ideas for his bday?’ Each day I’m wondering how to ‘manage’ the day itself. In previous years I’ve been known to accidentally on purpose book a short trip away that falls on his bday so as to safely remove him from the pressure of a large family wishing to adorn him with gifts that  they anticipate will elicit a delighted ‘thank you’ but more often than not caused a meltdown.  

Freshly scarred by a traumatic last Christmas I’m seriously scared by the prospect of marking his birthday this year. Christmas was just too much for him to handle this year as Santa didn’t see it appropriate to re-buy the same gifts he brought the year previous… that’d be stupid right? WRONG. PDA’er wanted an iPad. Not because he hasn’t got an iPad but because that is what he enjoyed getting the year before. He knew he didn’t need an iPad and I’m certain he knew he would not get an iPad, however with every gift he unwrapped you could feel the tension rising. Queue a few inappropriate gifts sent by well meaning relatives who do not know him well enough and he flew off the handle spouting obscenities about the ridiculous ‘baby’ presents he’d been sent and pointless TV Santa had seen for fit to replace his iPad request with! To the untrained eye, this is the ultimate ‘ungrateful little bugger syndrome’ but to us it is the culmination of the anxiety and pressure put on someone who cannot bare to not have things a certain way. Someone who’s expectations are led by experiences and when not fulfilled send him into extreme panic…because different is scary; new is scary. This is someone who struggles daily to participate in the normal socially acceptable pleasantries and exchanges between people on a good day and so you are mad if you are imagining that at the peak of anxiety he’ll muster an appropriate response when he is faced with the scary uncertainty of a wrapped box or worse the unwrapped revelation that it’s not what you hoped it would be!

I promise you he’s not ungrateful nor greedy. In fact he’ll ask for ‘nothing’ because that’s easier for him to bare. He’s generous in his capacity to give to others but struggles massively to receive. He’ll not even accept the offer of a biscuit from a box of he hasn’t first seen it (to inspect it) and second ‘had one like it before’ (to assure him that he likes it). He has sadly learnt that he’d rather go without than be disappointed or let down in terms of his expectations not being met. (Interestingly this is the very point I could never communicate clearly enough to professionals who’d tell me that he’d eat x y or z if I persisted and was consistent…. no he ruddy well won’t… he will cut his nose off but not through sheer stubbornness; it’s more about fear. Fear of the unknown.)

Tactics tried and tested for successful gifting include :

  • giving gifts in a low key manner
  • Planting a seed about what you think the gift might be (but first you actually HAVE to know what it is)
  • Giving combined gifts so that the pressure isn’t solely on him – a ‘share with your brother Xmas pressie’ for example
  • Making suggestions about gifts for practical reasons and practically giving away any chance of surprises
  • No significant surprises allowed at all…. small scale surprises can be tolerated but not the big stuff…thats too much to handle
  • Minimal questioning about wish lists etc , instead subtly make that list each time they mention something random throughout the year
  • Remember ‘small’ gets just as happy response if not better response because it’s less pressure to like a 5quid item than it is to show gratitude for 100quid blown.
  • If there is a specific request which is achievable get them in on the buying process to eradicate possibility of it still being ‘wrong’
  • Remember it’s ‘us’ that want him to like a surprise and completely unreasonable to expect him to learn to like uncertainty.
  • Come up with enough ideas for relatives so they don’t buy  random stuff that ‘normal’ kids his age would like
  • Reduce pressure by allowing gifts to be opened early or late, in private or in company; be led by his mood in any given situation
  • Indirect reminders about socially acceptable responses for when we are given gifts… even gifts we don’t need/want or like! 
  • Talk about exchange options
  • Prepare loving gift-givers for the possibility of the ‘wrong reaction’
  • Remember that gifts dismissed on one day have  been known to become favourite toys a month later
  • Gift things you’ve seen them play with at other people’s places or respond to on the tv etc… familiarity is key

I’m a big believer that if you keep facing the same difficulty it is because you have not yet learnt the lesson intended. Life will keep throwing you the chance to learn the very thing you need to absorb until you do. I know I have not yet learnt what life needs me to know about giving presents to my PDA son… I know this…because I still find it difficult. He finds it difficult to manage himself when receiving gifts and has not yet learnt how to cope with the ‘unknown’…so life will keep throwing the unknown in front of him. 

Remembering I have a responsibility to manage myself also. To keep a lid on my desire to spoil him. To treat him. To surprise him. I must remember that to him this can be torture. Fresh to the top of my memory bank is his reaction when I surprised him with (and filmed for my continual torture) “we’re going to disney” from our campsite in france… *moans* ” but I’ll miss this place; I like if here”. He loved Disney as much as he’d found he could love the campsite which coincidentally he didn’t want to go to either. ‘New’ is scary and I can’t make that better. But i can facilitate safe and positive exposure to ‘new things’ to help build up resilience and tolerance. 

When I chose to have kids…the last thing I thought I’d be stuck on was how to give them a gift! 

PDA changes our lives everyday…. and on a ‘good’ day I might even be brave enough to tell you it changes us for the *better! 

* on a bad day, I’m like any other mummagrizzlybear reaching for a vino bitching in her head about the injustice of parenting being so bloody hard!

Author: mummagrizzlybear

I write for my own therapeutic release of the stresses we encounter as a family navigating the SEN world with Autism and PDA. I am passionate about reducing isolation and encouraging everyone to create a #virtualvillage of a support network so that nobody on this journey of parenting needs to feel alone or inadequate. You can comment on a blog, or drop me an email at mummagrizzlybear@outlook.com or come and find me on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/mummagrizzlybear … whatever you do, please do not feel alone.

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