The gift of… nothing

Happiest birthday photo of Ted in six years. (Ridiculous filter appiled in an attempt to hide the mess in the kitchen!)


My children have their birthdays two weeks apart and this year we are doing a joint party in the middle of them, so yeah, my October posts may touch on this theme occasionally (ahem).

In the midst of my slightly angsty reflections on Ted’s birth, I realised mere hours before his special day that I hadn’t bought him a single present. Nor did I have a clue what to get him. After mulling it over, I decided I wouldn’t bother.

That sounds shocking, doesn’t it?

The truth is, I wouldn’t be buying for him. I would be buying for me. It’s a convention. A societal norm. We like to feel special and be treated on our birthdays – but as I can’t even be sure Ted has a concept of birthdays, do the normal rules apply?

Ted at 2
Ted age 2

When it comes to birthdays, Ted knows he hates being sung to and he hates being cheered at when he is presented with a cake he can’t eat and candles he can’t blow out. He smiles when I put a present in front of him and help him rip the paper. Whether he cares (or knows) what’s inside is anyone’s guess.

Hurray for 3!

We are privileged in that there is very little Ted wants or needs. I tend to ask family and friends for books or clothes or sensory lights or some other practical gift that might be put to use in everyday life. Toys are largely unnecessary as he can’t play with them and ‘special needs’ ones often cost a small fortune only to sit neglected on the shelf.

Don’t get me wrong, Ted has some amazing things and people have bought him wonderful gifts over the years that he still uses now. Other people are much better than me at getting him things that mean something to him; like the mirrored jigsaw tiles from a carer who uses reflection to help him enjoy brushing his teeth and who knows how much he loves to look at himself. Thoughtful and practical – my kind of gift.

As there is a more finite pool of suitable presents than for a neurotypical child, and a plethora of grandparents, aunts, uncles, carers and friends who adore Ted, I just leave it to others to do the buying and I refuse to feel guilty about that.

Instead, we buy him a big foil balloon (whose environment-wrecking credentials make me feel guilty enough) and treat him to an experience. Last year we went to Peppa Pig World and at Christmas we got passes to Longleat.

His treat for yesterday – aside from a trip to Waitrose, which is high up on his favourite things to do – was a jaunt on the East Somerset Railway. He liked the steam train, loved smiling at the people in the cafe afterwards and came home to his extended family for cake and silliness.

If I need any confirmation of my decision, Ted’s favourite moment of yesterday was watching me teach everyone to sign ‘Happy Birthday, Ted’ using Makaton.

The more people struggle to pick it up (I’m looking at you, Grandad), the funnier it is to Ted. And that’s a gift that money can’t buy.



One thought on “The gift of… nothing

  1. So much to be learnt from reading this blog post. Not just about being in tune with the individual needs and wants of a child with a disability, but also about generally being ‘other’ focused. Which as a society we rarely are.


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