Here are some gift ideas for autistic adults. Autistic kids grow into autistic adults, but most autism-related gift guides focus on what to get for the kids. What do you get the 30-year-old autistic person in your life for Christmas and birthdays? Check out these helpful ideas.
Gifts autistic adults actually want
This post is written by an actually autistic adult. I’m not claiming to “speak for everyone”, as is usually what comes up anytime someone doesn’t relate to everything or anything written at all. However, I base my recommendations on what I see and hear autistic people talking about, and what I’d like myself.
Here is a collection of gifts my cousin gifted me in the past that made my entire month:
Exactly what they ask for
Giving meaningful gifts means giving people things they like — not what you like or think isn’t “lame”. When you give a gift to a neurodivergent person, it can be the difference between them feeling seen and validated, or them feeling ignored.
As an autistic person, I feel as though people spend more time tuning me out every time I share anything about myself because they find me “annoying” when I’m trying to connect with them. Too often, I’ve told people what I want and like — only for them to gift me the opposite or something they wished I liked.
I’ve been gifted with:
- Candles (even though they know I’m afraid of lighting them)
- Clothes I don’t like (because they think my clothes are “inappropriate”)
- Dog-themed things (even though I love cats)
I’ve given people a list of a few things that were super simple to find or extremely accessible (sold in Walmart and Amazon), and received things off the list instead.
Most recently, I was given what someone got via a workplace gift exchange and regifted to me:
- Rose-scented lotion, with ingredients listed in Korean
- Rose-scented candle
- Cheap jewelry (exact type of metals used is untraceable)
- Random other goodies thrown together
Even if you “mean well” with a rose-themed gift, how do you think that’s going to be perceived by someone who can’t stand roses? Gifts like lotion, metals, perfume, skincare products and anything else containing strong ingredients must be carefully considered when the receiver has allergies.
It doesn’t matter if you think the gift is lame, wrong or childish
I once asked my aunt why she refused to just give me a gift card or cash instead of an object. She replied saying that it’s impersonal, so I asked, “Isn’t buying a gift that I don’t ask for or enjoy impersonal? Isn’t it also a waste of money?” She called me ungrateful.
Non-autistic people don’t perceive life experiences the same as autistic people. All my wants, dreams and priorities revolve around my special interests.
When someone refuses to gift me something pertaining to my special interests, that’s invalidating.
A relative once told me he couldn’t justify giving me a gift card because I would “spend it on something pointless, like marbles”.
Whatever negative notions you have of an autistic person’s special interests doesn’t matter. Someone else’s interests don’t have to match up with yours.
Don’t ask for an autistic person’s wish list if you don’t plan to buy them anything from it. This gives them a false sense of predictability (safety) and gets their hopes up. Many autistic people do not like surprises. A ideas is to gift what’s on their list.
Fidget & sensory tools
Autistic and similarly neurodivergent adults love fidget tools. Autistic people don’t stop having sensory needs just because they turn into adults.
When gifting fidget tools, choose the ones that match their sensory needs. Keep in mind that sensory needs and preferences vary. Autism is a spectrum, like the color wheel. A sensory-seeker and sensory avoider can be the same person, too.
Suggestions based on stimming preference:
- Auditory stimming: Listening to the same song on repeat, tapping or clicking to create the same auditory output are all examples of auditory stimming. Try fidget cubes, which offer a variety of sounds, silicone pop-its, or an audiobook or music subscription.
- Movement stims: If they stim by rocking, swaying, or jumping, try jump rope or gamer floor chairs that can rock back and forth. There’s also a balance board-type exercise gadget and the contraption that prepares future surfers that could great for autistic adults who prefer minimal, balanced movement in place.
- Olfactory: Know an autistic who smells everything? Try candles, wax melts, or scented markers.
- Oral stim: An autistic adult who always has their fingers, food (e.g. lollipops), pen, pencil or other objects in their mouth is likely stimming. Try their favorite snacks, chewable fidgets and jewelry (if you know their chew level), gum, candy, or popsicles.
- Tactile needs: Autistic adults who love touching and feeling everything might enjoy receiving fleece blankets, bumpy things, or certain sensory tools.
- Visual stimming: If they like counting ceiling tiles, looking at certain kinds of art for long periods of time, or arranging things a particular way, try art museum or gallery tickets, sparkly things, mirrors, marbles, sensory jars, or lava lamps. Bubbles are also great!
Special interest gifts
Receiving gifts pertaining to my special interests is a validating experience. You might not want to give these kinds of gifts; however, gifts are about the receiver, not the giver.
Special interests come in many shapes and forms. One of my special interests is my cat, so I’d be delighted to receive items she uses regularly as gifts, including cat litter since it’s so expensive, and even cat toys or food puzzles.
Special interest-related gifts include:
- Themed objects of it (e.g. cat-shaped things, Taylor Swift perfume, etc.)
- Books, posters, and movies of it
- Accessories, like buttons, pins, and bags
- Shirts or sweaters, especially band or brand merch
While I don’t support food being a reward, I think the right foods make wonderful gifts, especially as an adult responsible for my own food.
I’ve been gifted 1500 fortune cookies because a relative had access to a restaurant bulk ordering company, 10 pounds of SunButter, and even a basket of Japanese candies including Pocky, Pejoy and Yan Yan. To a non-autistic person, I know exactly how “ridiculous” this looks, but to me these were wonderful gifts.
The fortune cookies lasted me a month, which means I definitely enjoyed them. If you’re thinking, “I don’t want to buy them a bunch of snacks,” then find out what foods they love eating on the regular.
Finding my samefoods in stock is hard. Every Walmart has been sold out of Onyos, which are basically off-brand Funyuns, for months. Many autistic people eat the same brand of food, whether that’s generic or name brand, and struggle when it’s not in stock.
Food is also more expensive lately, making many people’s samefoods that much more precious.
Never hide a real gift in an autistic person’s samefood branding. I was once gifted a plushie in a honey teddy grahams box. To make up for the weight, they added bags of chocolate chips. Someone took a photo as my face fell upon opening the box, and people laughed at it for years until I secretly tore up all the copies. The “joke” was my love of honey teddy grahams, but it wasn’t funny.
Non-autistic people find same gifts embarrassing, and I don’t understand why. So what if I already have that graphic tee or the same two red sweaters? If you buy me the same water bottle I use it everyday (and I only have one) I think that’s AMAZING!
Listen, non-autistic people: samegifts are NOT a problem.
I’ve heard “I don’t have anything for her now that ____ got her this,” too many times throughout my life. Like, that’s not a problem.
What is a problem is when my favorite graphic tee has holes in it or is dirty, and now I can’t wear it, when that’s the only shirt I wanted to wear that felt right. There is a problem when my water bottle is in the dishwasher and I have to use a regular glass.
I buy the same clothes in bulk, or at least sets of two, because they’re so rare and hard to find again. Loss prevention follows me around because I walk through an apparel section like I’m engaging in organized retail crime (ORC). I’m just autistic, doing autistic things.
I’d rather someone gift me three copies of the same graphic tee that looks like one I already have, than a random gift they only hope I’ll enjoy.
If only 1-2 same gifts are on a wishlist
If only 1-2 same gifts are on a wishlist and can be repeated, unlike one-time gifts (e.g. laptops), this most likely is an autistic person saying YES when asked, “How many do you want?”
That’s a sign that they want multiples of those few items.
Gift cards and cash never fail
Gift cards and cash aren’t impersonal gifts. Quite the opposite.
Giving an autistic person money directly honors their autonomy to choose what they want or need the most. Giving gifts is about the receiver, not the person giving the gift.
If you feel uncomfortable gifting an autistic adult something they want, like or ask for, remember that it’s not about you. You are allowed to feel uncomfortable gifting something unconventional, but that’s your problem to deal with.
By imposing your own gift prejudice onto the autistic loved one in your life, you could be invalidating them.
Above all, listen when autistic adults tell you things. Remember things about them that they share with you. Respect their interests, even if you don’t like the same things.