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Aspergers and Inappropriate Gifts and Comments

Well, it's December again and there's bound to be a lot of gifts and socialising, so it seems appropriate to talk about Aspergers and inappropriate gifts and comments...

A lot of people think that those with Asperger's syndrome are insensitive when it comes to gifts. In truth, I think we're actually trying too hard.

One of the things that is drummed into our heads from the time we first start giving and receiving gifts is that "it's the thought that counts".  Consequently, I try very hard when writing cards or choosing gifts, to put a whole lot of thought and personalisation into them. I consider giving soap or other "non-specific" items to be a failure on my part. It means that I haven't put adequate thought into the gift.

Sadly, I think that while lots of people appreciate this level of thought, I end up offending many more people than I would if I just handed over a novelty soap.

Have a look at this clip from the Big Bang Theory; it shows Sheldon, a character generally considered to have Asperger's syndrome, giving a colleague a gift.

In this case, the misstep is fairly obvious; Sheldon is using physical characteristics, such as race, to determine appropriate gifts.

In reality though, the line between giving someone something useful and insulting them is a lot harder to see.  Here are a few things that I've personally done.
  • Giving a person with sight issues an audio book. I thought this was a really insightful choice. I personally love books and I know that I'd be lost if I couldn't read.  I spent over my limit to get an audio book because I thought it would show that I had given the gift some thought.  I didn't see it opened because I'm usually the type of person who leaves a gift quietly and escapes but I assumed that it had gone down well.  It wasn't until I was talking about gifts this year that my wife heard and said; "you did WHAT!!!"  Apparently it wasn't a good thing.

  • Sending a Card Joking about ChristmasMy Christmas cards tend to be very chatty and friendly but since I write like I think, sometimes I write too much.  Again, it was my wife who picked up on the problem after I'd already sent the card. I thought I'd made a joke but I very nearly ended up cancelling Christmas.

  • Taking Bawdy Humour too far
    During my teenage years, my mother and I always enjoyed bawdy jokes but one year, when I couldn't find anything else to buy her, I went a little too far. You can imagine the moment of surprise when she unwrapped a book about safe sex - complete with a condom stapled to the front cover.

  • Given Someone a Compilation without Listening to it
    One year, shortly before Christmas, I decided that I'd had enough of Christmas carols, and I compiled a CD full of politically incorrect songs, starting with South Park's Awesome "Merry F***king Christmas".  I downloaded a whole heap of funny sounding songs, assembled them on CD and gave them out to people.  It wasn't until a day or two later when someone asked "have you listened to those CDs?" that I began to get worried.   It turned out that some of those songs were so bad that I still can't let my thirteen year-old listen to them today.  

Tell Someone about your Ideas
It's in my nature to be secretive about gifts. After all, everyone likes to give surprises - though many people are less enthusiastic about receiving them.  I guess the most important information in this post is that you should find someone that you trust and tell them about your gift - or your message - and why you think it is suitable.

It might save a lot of agony later on.


HC said…
The audiobook one really surprises me. I thought audiobooks were not such a "special" thing nowadays.
-- said…
"Giving a person with sight issues an audio book."

I think this is such an appropriate and thoughtful gift! I can't unterstand your wife's reaction. And I don't have Asperger's. :-)
carolyn said…
Agreed! The audio book is a fantastic idea- i dont have aspergers either. My daughter 8, does have aspergers and i love the thought that goes into her gifts, i.e- a stubby holder for her dad so, 'he can drink his beer at home with us instead of having to go to the pub' ha! Priceless!
Unknown said…
I can totally recognize with the other thinking things and absolutely hate giving gift cards etc. I guess in this way I am lucky I have very few people in my life.
mb said…
Hi Gavin. My partner of 4 years has just being diagnosed as Aspergers. Right now I myself am struggling to come to terms with what this all means. I have done a lot of reading and a lot of stuff out there is very negative which doesn't help. I just wanted to say that your blog is amazing and I'm so glad that there are blogs and people like you that have taken the time to put a positive perspective on what it is like for you and your view of world. I have sent my partner the link to your blog and can only hope that he reads and can relate to what you have shared and that it helps him realise that he is not alone in how he sees the world. The reason I have commented on this post particularly is that there have been a lot of tears from me trying to get my head around all of this but the bit you wrote about the Christmas compilation that you put together really made me laugh out loud. Please know that I wasn't laughing at you but I just thought it was awesome and so sweet. Thank you.

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