Christmas Shopping: Self Determination in Action

Last weekend Trent stayed with us at our home as Jason his roommate had a weekend off. Saturday night (six days before Christmas) my husband and I planned a shopping outing to give Trent another year of purchasing gifts for family members. He is 33 years old, and shopping now seems so normal and ordinary, often free from real challenges. In years past I recall responding to this adventure with uneasiness, because Trent’s idea of shopping was getting new clothes for himself. His anxiety in those days increased when I encouraged him to look at gifts for his brothers, his dad, or for mom. I recall ending our shopping trips without successfully making the purchases. He had the challenge of thinking about others in gift giving. Over the years Trent has adapted and matured.

It was bitterly cold, and opened spaced in the Mall parking lot seemed miles away. Trent had cash in his wallet withdrawn from his bank account from his job earnings and monthly SSDI. He also wrote his own checklist for the gifs he would purchase. As we walked through the side entrance of the first store, Trent said, “Get new shirt.” Trent’s step dad pulled him aside and asked him to look at the list and read the names on his list. He insisted that the only shopping tonight would be for those people in his list.

We walked through the crowded mall past all his favorite NIKE stores and people bustling by with small children and strollers. Entering the men’s department, I asked him to look at the items he might want to give his dad. It was too much sensory information. He was drawn to his favorite type of shirts where we redirected and offered him several options so he could then make choices. The list kept him grounded as he checked off each person with each gift purchased. I noticed, as always, Trent participated as if the process supported his capability to shop.

After he made his purchases we strolled down to the food court. Food and drink has always been gratifying getting him through the tasks that he tolerates. A little reward perhaps helps us all.

The next day after church, I suggested that he wrap his presents. Trent touched each gift and smiled as he said the name of the person who would receive it. His self-expression of the enjoyment of wrapping the gifts was evident. While I had hoped I would see his enjoyment during the shopping process, I learned that joy from the experience was still expressed. He was now free to relax and take in the gifts he purchased away from the confusion and chaotic store setting. I suppose as his mom observing the experience now and remembering all the difficult challenging shopping trips that ended before the items were purchased, I appreciate where Trent is and how far he has come in his life. He is thinking beyond himself to giving to others.

Self-determination in action can be seen in these experiences. Using his own earned money, making choices, making purchases, is all part of being a community member, and enhancing quality of life.

I have years of first hand knowledge in exposing Trent to settings in the community. What I can pass on to you, a family member with autism, or other developmental disability is this…through all the challenges, build supports, and pursue exposure to inclusion in the community adamantly. Eventually it will all be worth the effort.

Dr. Jackie