Let’s Talk About Gift Disappointment for Autistic People

Box wrapped in red, sparkly wrapping paper with a gold bow on top with text that reads, "Let's talk about gift disappointment".

Gift disappointment. I feel like this is a particular struggle for those on the spectrum during the holidays, but it can be difficult to pin down and talk about.

I mean, everybody gets disappointed with a gift once in the while. That’s part of life, right?

Well, yes and no. It IS a part of life, but I think it’s different for autistic people.

See, if a non-autistic person receives a gift they don’t like, they just smile, say “Thank you” and move on.

Us autistics? We absolutely suck at hiding our disappointment! I mean, we are REALLY bad at it, but the reason for that may not be what you think.

I completely understand the concept of “It’s the thought that counts”, but I’ve still been not only disappointed but deeply hurt by gifts, and I think that’s a piece of information that gets left out of this discussion (if it’s ever even talked about at all).

If you’re like me, holiday memories abound of people watching you open presents and getting angry with you for your response or lack of response before you ever even pick your head back up and open your mouth.

“So ungrateful!” “Wow! I’ll certainly never get HER a gift again!” “How snobby can you be?” “Who does she think she is?”

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The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.

Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).

Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:


The thing is, I’m not ungrateful or snobby, but I hardly ever have the expected response to anything, let alone gifts.

My facial expressions aren’t right, or I don’t look enthusiast enough, or my vocal tone is flat, or I forget to say “Thank you” right away. Even if I truly love it, it just doesn’t come across that way.

And, if I get a gift that isn’t “me” at all, all it tells me is that it was bought with some generic person in mind, not me, and I cannot hide the hurt and disappointment I feel. It’s impossible.

Plus, I hate lying, and I don’t see the benefit of pretending to like something lest I get 50 more of the same thing in upcoming years!

Let me give you some examples of gifts that have hurt me and told me the person giving them knew next to nothing about me:

1) Food:

I have multiple food allergies. Never a good idea to get me food unless you 100% know, care about, and believe my allergies.

2) Perfume and other scented products:

I’m very sensitive to synthetic smells, so I won’t even open them. They’ll go straight to Goodwill.

3) Clothing in the wrong textures and sizes:

I think that one speaks for itself.

4) Earrings:

I don’t have pierced ears.

And then there’s the social rule among most people where you can’t ask directly for what you want.

I don’t get many gifts now during the holidays, and I’m fine with that. I feel more comfortable and less pressured to put on an act I know everyone can see right through.

But, it’s not lack of gratitude. It’s the fact that once a year, I used to be plainly and painfully reminded of just how the people who were supposed to know me best didn’t know anything about me at all.

It’s not an unwanted gift, it’s exclusion wrapped in a bow, and that’s hard to handle.

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