Father’s Day gifts for NJ’s autism warrior dads
It’s tough enough thinking of gift ideas for dads on Father’s Day. A race car driving experience in the Poconos. A day on a fishing charter.
But when it comes to the tens of thousands of us New Jersey dads whose children have autism, well, see, we don’t get out much. Of my four children, two are on the spectrum. To say it can be a challenge is like saying Elon Musk makes a decent living.
The rate of autism in New Jersey is the highest of all 50 states, with 1 in 32 children now diagnosed with the disorder. That’s a lot of dads who would love to have a special day with their warriors.
So what do you get for Father’s Day for us autism dads? I came up with a few ideas to at least maybe steer your mind in the right direction.
The thing is, we don’t think much about ourselves. We’re often tapped out financially from occupational therapy bills and ABA therapy bills, from speech therapy bills and developmental pediatrician charges. Helping kids with autism doesn’t come cheap. Not all things are covered by insurance. So an autism dad is all in. We’re not thinking much of treating ourselves to better clothes or taking vacations.
Finding babysitters who can handle our kids’ special needs isn’t always realistic. So we don’t travel much. Already you can scratch the airplane neck pillow and the new suitcase off the idea list.
We’re not complaining. We’re just so utterly consumed with things like getting our children to even speak at 6 years old that we’re too exhausted financially and emotionally to think about ourselves. And that’s OK! What autism dads want most in the world is nothing for themselves but for our children to grow, be happy and know we love and support them.
We’d love to be able to take our children with autism out for a dad day to a minor league ballpark or maybe a movie and a restaurant. Something they would enjoy because we are used to thinking about them and not ourselves. Again, when you’re an autism parent you’re all in.
But that ballpark means several hours of strangers in close proximity who often act rude when your child with autism starts rocking or arm flapping or making strange non-verbal sounds. The dirty looks come because they think you’re just raising an unruly brat. I wrote about all this once. It’s not easy.
To all the autism parents in NJ
The movies? Depending on the severity of your child’s autism it’s not likely to happen. People in movies don’t like people who talk. Now pair them with kids who can’t help but kick a chair or scream for no apparent reason.
Us autism dads desperately want to better connect with our children. Getting out in the real world doesn’t accommodate that very well. Anything you can think of that will help them do that is a great gift.
So here are just a few gift ideas for Father’s Day for dads of kids with autism.
Treat dad to a day with his child at Sesame Place. Located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, Sesame Place is the first theme park in the world designated as a certified autism center. Their workers receive extensive training in autism and you’ll never have to explain your child to them and they can anticipate their special needs.
Riv’s Toms River Hub
This is a very special restaurant in Toms River that dedicated itself and its staff to being a place you can bring your child with autism and not worry about causing a disruption for other people. They’ve created a special private dining room available to rent called Chase’s Friend Zone. (This is one friend zone you won’t mind being placed in.) How their website describes it:
“We created Chase’s Friend Zone to support our local families with children on the spectrum. We know that dining out as a family can be difficult and we want our children, and their parents, to feel comfortable and enjoy their experience. We staff the Friend Zone with specially trained staff so we require 24 hours notice to reserve this room so that we can ensure we have the proper staff to fit your needs.”
If this sounds strange allow me to explain. Giving this gift to an autism dad is really giving the gift of peace of mind. Many of our warriors (that’s a loving nickname our community gives children with autism due to the struggles they fight through every day) do something called eloping.
Just as it sounds, they will suddenly and without warning bolt from your side and with no fear of being separated from the parent shown by neurotypical children. If you can’t catch up to them or lose them in a sea of people, the fear we parents have is these kids often can’t articulate their situation and non-verbal kids won’t be able to give a name or an address.
Here’s a wearable tracking device that can really take one worry off an already overflowing plate of worries for dad.
Proud Dad t-shirt
Fathers of children with autism are every bit as proud of their warrior’s small steps of growth as a dad whose kid is a star athlete making honor roll. This "proud dad of the toughest kid I know" T-shirt will mean the world to one of our fathers. Oh, and those puzzle pieces? That’s the autism symbol. Because after all autism is still a puzzle researchers are trying to solve.
Autism Didn’t Stop shirt
Here’s another T-shirt that a dad of someone with autism will love. In pointing out people like Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who were believed to be on the spectrum, this shirt not only owns your status as a warrior’s dad but also gives hope for the astounding autism mind.
This is a great, loud, not to be ignored cap that sends a strong message about dad’s dedication to his child’s future.
Sensory Bounce LLC in locations like Fairlawn and Paramus offers formal sessions or classes with specially trained staff and trampolines and bounce equipment that is particularly beneficial to autism. While any place with trampolines or bounce houses is good for ASD I mention this place because they specialize in it. What’s more, their website says:
“During each session or class, we provide a separate meeting space for parents to network, share common experiences, and gain support from each other.”
So you’re giving dad a good deal of support for Father’s Day as well as their child having a great time.
Giant Sensory Pea Pod
I actually have this in my house. It looks like an inflatable canoe and children with autism love it because it can provide sensory pressure, which helps stabilize them. You can play with your kid in any number of ways with one of these including what I’ve done. Which is tie a rope around it and drag your kid room to room on a high seas adventure. It’s big enough you can climb in with them and trust me they’ll love it and dad will love the snuggle time.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there of our kids with autism!
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.
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