Keep It Simple Over the Holidays

Filed Under (Acceptance, Development) by Estee on 23-12-2011

Every year I get asked, “what does Adam want for Christmas (or Hannukah as we celebrate both). I’d like someone to come and take a look at our basement and ask that question again. I’m about to divest years of collected toys and games that therpaists and teachers told us to buy; all in the hopes that it would trigger some reciprocal play or learning in Adam. The same is true for all children. Children are marketed to (and young parents) that every toy will give our children some developmental edge. While I do find many things cool and some even helpful, I believe autistic children are special targets to such marketing ploys.

This is what I bought for Adam this year:

Two 2012 monkey calendars — both identical so we can write out his week and he can predict his day. So he will use one at home and one at school.

One small game of tick tack toe because he is enjoying simple games now with others.

One book. An illustrated Alice in Wonderland.

No more. As I divest the things that we’ve accumulated over the years to clear out our heads, I am also trying to make room for creativity. We are so eager to see a typical response in our autistic kids that we buy, buy, buy. We don’t believe that boredom for the autistic child is as valuable as it is for the neurotypical one.

When I leave Adam alone, I often find him playing with a plastic monkey we bought at the jazz festival this past summer. Or he’ll pull out some favorite books or another toy that he’ll begin to explore. As Adam cries when he’s really frustrated, and after I’ve checked that he’s safe, I leave him to his own devices. I am trying to help him develop his own “struggle muscle,” and not rush in to save him. This helps him now to self-regulate, and it’s working.

It’s best to leave, says Kim John Payne, M.ED and author of the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids, just a few toys and books on the shelf. It avoids stress and confusion. Store some away, and give away more. I know he’s talking about neurotypical kids, but he does make a lot of references to ADHD and learning disabilities too. As we think of typical kids so we must of autistic ones — we must believe that as Aristotle said, every person as an essence. We are all meant to become something by our intrinsic nature. We can’t develop that nature if parents constantly buy toys to entertain kids. They need to be left alone. Aristotle used the term “telos” to describe it:

“An acorn carries its telos within, from the beginning. Beyond our genetic gifts to them, beyond what they absorb from us and their environment, children seem to arrive with something of their very own, a telos, or intrinsic nature. The essential nature, apparent from the beginning, also points to their future, as an acorn suggests an oak. Our children come to us with a deep destiny — here again, some say spirit — that needs to be heard. It must be honored.” (p.33)

It all makes sense to me as Adam is an anxious child and the more visual noise or distraction, the more confusing it must be to even approach a toy and explore it. In addition to recently enjoying the monkey and books (Adam has a wide array of interests), he has taken to climbing on his bookshelf and swinging from the rope used for his OT swing — a sort of Tarzan manoever that takes me back to my own childhood. Oh how he has fun doing that! He made that game up on his own, with a high surface and a small piece of OT rope.

“Simplification protects the enivornment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of the self. You needn’t be a therapist to realize that most kids are quirky, aren’t they? The truth is we all have our quirks, our personalities and idiosyncrasies. We tend to be more tolerant of them in adults, perhaps because we think of adults as ‘fully formed’ and children ‘under construction’ and thus more malleable. Why simplify? Over the years, I’ve come to see how a child’s quirks or tendencies can be exacerbated by cumulative stress.” (p.26)

We have guests over tonight and Adam enjoys that. I’ve had a lot of people over to our home because Adam enjoys people and he’s in his familiar environment where he is able to relax and particiapte more than going to someone’s strange house. Tomorrow we’re at his grandparents like we are every year. We have a quiet Christmas, our small family. We just want to be together and we don’t need stuff to prove our love. I’ve moved from being an anxious parent to one who is really beginning to see how much Adam needs and enjoys my time. No thing can replace that. No thing can also replace what he imagines for himself.

Happy holidays to everyone. I hope you have a very simple and peaceful one. Adam and I will enjoy our New Year… giving our things away.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.