Christmas Gifts for Children with Special Needs


This is a toughie. It can be downright hard, because there are so many emotions tied up with the holidays. We have expectations. Christmas is supposed to be a time where we express our love and gifts are a way we do that.

What if the child, who has special needs, doesn’t like their gift? What if they don’t play with it? What if they open it, don’t react, and turn to their iPad instead?

It seems like a little thing but it can hurt. It hurts because Grandma and Grandpa want Julia to love her baby doll like they loved their baby dolls. They want Juan to love airplanes like they loved their airplanes. This hurts Grandma and Grandpa because their gift, their love, was tossed aside. It hurts Mom and Dad because they knew Juan didn’t like airplanes and really wanted a toaster instead, but that’s painful information to share because it shores up that Juan is different. It hurts Juan because he can sense new tension but he doesn’t understand where it came from or why it’s there.

It may seem silly to somebody who doesn’t have a child with special needs in their life, but it’s a very real issue. We want to fit in. We want our children to fit in. We want everybody to be happy, and to share the magic of the holidays that we enjoyed as a children, or to make them better than ours ever were. But a child often doesn’t appreciate the nuance of what we’re trying to do, and if you toss in any sort of disability, it complicates it even more.

What do we do? How do we keep feelings from being hurt?

I’ve learned through experience that the first thing to do is take a deep breath and let the expectations fall. This moment isn’t about us. It’s about the child.

I’m going to say that again, with love and relief.

It isn’t about us. It’s about the child.

We need to let go of the stress and the hurt. We have our own hangups that we carry with us. Set those aside, because it isn’t Julia and Juan’s fault that we feel stress to find the perfect gift, or that our gift has to be bigger than the other set of grandparents, or that we’re afraid our child will feel unloved if his or her gifts are simple. This is our perceived reality that we’re forcing on our sweet kiddo, and it isn’t fair. It isn’t about us.

What does Juan want? What does he really want, not “what do I think Juan should want?”

Here are some gifts that have made a difference in our lives, and I’ll tailor them to Juan and his beloved toasters.

1) The Object

Juan loves toasters with an unholy love. Does the household need a new toaster? Does Juan need a shiny toaster in the kitchen that is just for him? My son loves bread machines, so he received one for his tenth birthday. You’ve never seen a happier child.

2) Things Related to the Object

There are, believe it or not, stuffed toasters. Toaster-themed bedroom decor. The movie “The Brave Little Toaster.” Make him a sweater with a toaster on it. What about a toaster cake? A bag of his favorite bread with a little card that says, “Juan’s Special Toaster Bread” on it? You may think I’m kidding, but something small and dear like that means so much. It means that you see him, you see what he likes, and you support him in liking that thing. You aren’t trying to change him. You’re simply loving him the way he is.

Try giving him a toaster manual. Take pictures of toasters and put them together in a book for him to flip through. My dear friend did that with ceiling fans, and her son had a book specifically designed for him. Perhaps make a short video of your family and friends, waving and saying hi to Juan. Call him by name. Tell him you love him. Show him your toaster and how it works. Show him the buttons and slides and levers. Wipe it down so he can see it become clean and shiny. Make a piece of toast. Smile, because he is special to you, and you are letting him know in a way he can understand.

My brother and sister-in-law did this for my son with their washers and dryers. Everyone in the family got together with their kids and showed him their laundry room. They showed him where they kept their soap and started a load of laundry for him. “Here’s the dial for the water. I’m going to put it on low because I’m doing a small load.” He was rapt, seeing his favorite people doing his favorite thing, smiling at him and using his name. I cried. I’m tearing up again simply thinking about it. It was a 30 minute movie that was just for him, and it’s been replayed often. It might be the most touching, thoughtful gift we’ve ever received.

3) Experiences

Life changes when special needs happen. Things that used to be simple, like leaving the house, become astronomically difficult. Modifcations must be made and expectations adjusted.

Experiences don’t need to be big to be meaningful. Perhaps for Christmas, you can give Juan a card saying that you’ll take him to the store to look at toasters. He can look at toasters as long as he wants to. He can touch them and study the coils inside. You won’t rush. This is his Christmas gift. Just you and an experience he’ll enjoy.

You can visit a pawn shop and pick up a junky old toaster. You can have a date at your house so he can use your toaster. You’ll make and eat toast together, just the two of you. Or perhaps he can make toast for the whole family. It will be half an hour where everybody sits down and enjoys Chef Juan’s toast. It will be his contribution, a way that he can show his love while you show yours.

Does the child in your life like escalators? You can take her to the mall and ride the escalators for half an hour. Does she like the feel of fabric? Then how about an outing to a fabric store so she can feel every piece of fabric that she wants? Whatever you do, treat it as special because it is. Give her a calendar with the date of your outing circled in red. “This is the day we’re going to do this fun thing together.” Let her look forward to it.

4) Mend Treasures

Perhaps Juan only has five toys he’s interested in, and they’ve taken a lot of abuse. This is a wonderful time to give these treasures some care.

Replace their batteries. Stitch them back together. Fix the wonky eye, the broken lens, the bent rims. Wipe them down. Shine them up. Replace missing parts and make them magical again. Show him these things are important to you because they’re important to him.

I hope your hearts and those dear to you are filled as you share your love. Disabilities can be so difficult and isolating, and the fact that you searched for this topic says so very much about you and your kindness. May you continue to be a joy to those who love you, and a light to the sweet child you care about. Happy holidays. ❤




The Thing No Parent Wants To Think Of



Comfortable? Not at all. Necessary? Absolutely.

It’s something that my husband and I have discussed for a long time. Niko is friendly, gregarious, and just as apt to sit on somebody’s lap now as he was when he was two years old. Kisses from a toddler are darling. From a teenager who can’t read the situation? Not so much.

And that’s just hugging and kissing. Growing up in Las Vegas presents a whole new set of challenges when it comes to sexual situations. I’m sure you can imagine.

I’m glad to be taking the class, but I have to admit I’m doing it with gritted teeth and a fearful heart. But we can do difficult things.

A Different Kind of Christmas Present

Niko, my darling boy, is 13 this year. He has Williams Syndrome, and like a lot of kiddos with WS, he’s difficult to buy for. One year he asked for an escalator, and Santa pulled a few tricks out of his bag for that one. He doesn’t attach to typical things, generally. He doesn’t particularly care about gifts, and that hurts people’s feelings sometimes. They want to express their love through things that he’ll love and value, and unless you’re giving him a dryer or a washing machine, he isn’t really going to care. It’s an aspect of having a child with special needs that we don’t think about until it happen. Christmas isn’t supposed to be a time of ultra-sensitivity and despair. We’re not supposed to feel that gap between us widen.


So Niko’s main present this year was a stay at the Excalibur hotel here in Vegas. It was a night all about him. We bought his favorite foods, which are grapes and goldfish crackers, and ordered pizza.


We rode elevators, escalators, and caught Pokemon. Tomorrow we’re checking out the laundry room before strolling over to New York, New York to watch the roller coaster. It will be a perfect day for our sweet son. I’m so glad he has such great little sisters who are willing to support Niko Day. I know it isn’t easy for them to watch him struggle with day-to-day issues, but they’re good kids who love each other.


There’s something even better. My parents are coming down for Christmas and are inviting him to stay in their hotel with them. He gets to do this TWICE. You haven’t seen joy until you’ve seen Niko jump in the air, laughing and flipping his hands. His delight is so contagious! I can’t wait to see it again. 🙂

A Veterans Day Bus Ride

My son Niko, who has Williams Syndrome, has a few fixations, Washers and dryers, for example. Listening to the same song over and over. Hotels and buses.


The Yardley clan down at the transit center. Yay!

About six months ago, we promised we’d go on a public bus in November. He’s been looking forward to it for months, and has asked about it several times every day. (Anybody familiar with Williams will be familiar with the constant asking and reassuring about future activities.) Since today was Veterans Day and everybody was home from work and school, we decided it was a wonderful time to spend together as a family and enjoy the safety our military has fought for. Thank you so much for all you’ve done, Veterans. We appreciate it so much.


Niko checking out the route.

We spent $20 on tickets for all five of us, chose a route that would take us to the airport and back (he loves planes), and piled inside.


The Las Vegas Bus is a wonder!

The ride down took about 50 minutes. Then we rode escalators and elevators at the airport for another 45 minutes or so until it was time to climb on the return bus. The kids were good that a stranger even stopped me to say how well-behaved they were. That hasn’t happened before. Thanks, kind sir! I’ll take it!

IMG_6576It was an out-of-the-ordinary holiday celebration, but it was something very dear to our family. The kids are already asking when we can do it again. It might be a new, strange Yardley tradition. The Great Veterans Day Bus Ride.


A new appreciation for the city. It’s different as a passenger.

I hope you enjoyed your holiday and had a chance to be with the people you love. I sure did. 🙂


Frontier Girls and Williams Syndrome


My daughters are members of Frontier Girls, which is similar to Girl Scouts. They earn badges, do activities, and apparently surprise their mother.

This summer Niko and I came to two meetings and taught the girls about Williams Syndrome. We shared this short video. 

We talked about several of the WS characteristics. The girls asked Niko and I questions. It was exceptionally sweet. And then the Williams Syndrome badge was created. Girls all over America can now earn this badge. The troop all received the badge at their Court of Honor, and Niko and I received a special surprise.

Our Troop Leader wrote about it and it was sent out in the Frontier Girls August Newsletter. Once again. it brought me to tears. Please take a second to read about how two very dear things came together for me.

Have a wonderful day, all. Do something kind for someone else. ❤

Here’s a Chance to Help Sweet Wes With His Kidney Transplant


Sweet Wes is very dear to me. He has Williams Syndrome like my son, and is in desperate need of a transplant. I applied to be a donor myself, but was unable to be considered because I’m diabetic. There were many, many bitter tears that night. However, they just found a match (YAY!) but need to raise some funds very quickly in order to help him. Any little bit helps. Also, would you mind sharing the link? Thank you so much!

You can read about Wes (his given name is Wade) and donate here.

Wade’s Story

Wade Edward Sparrowhawk Smith, known by family and friends as Wes, is a wonderful, happy little eight year old boy.  Wes was born in April 2007 with the genetic disorder Williams Syndrome and without his right hand.  At the age of three months, Wes had open heart surgery to enlarge his pulmonary arteries and repair a valve in his heart.   Over the years Wes has struggled with various developmental delays and did not walk until just before his fourth birthday.  Despite all of his challenges he has remained a shining light of joy to everyone who knows him.  His upbeat personality, ready smile and infectious laugh have captivated all who know him.

In November of 2011, after a weekend visiting friends and horseback riding during Thanksgiving break, Wes was struck down by sudden onset kidney disease—Focal Segmented Glomerular Nephritis (FSGS), collapsing form.  After seven months of treatments and despite repeated hospitalizations as well as outpatient treatments, Wes’ kidneys have all but stopped functioning. Now, Wes needs a live-saving kidney transplant. Research has found that with FSGS there is a better chance of survival if a transplant can be done before needing to start dialysis.  Wes must receive a transplant we hope that match can quickly be found!

UPDATE:  April 2015 – Wes was hospitalized March 30th and has gone into complete kidney failure.  After two surgeries, Wes was given a temporary hemodialysis port and a peritoneal dialysis port.  While waiting for the peritoneal dialysis port to heal, he was started on hemodialysis.  With the exception of one weekend break to home, Wes spent three weeks in the hospital transitioning from hemodialysis to peritoneal dialysis.  He is now home receiving daily peritoneal dialysis treatments.  Wade, our son Wes, cannot live without dialysis and without a kidney transplant, he may never have the opportunity to live a normal life, or to even live.

Even with insurance, Wes’ transplant and care is going to be extremely expensive. He has undergone the transplant evaluation at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Along with the travel and relocation to be near the transplant center, there are also co-pays, deductibles, doctor visits, and the costly anti-rejection medications he will have to take for the rest of his life. All of this presents a challenge we cannot meet without your help.

In order to ease the financial burden, a fundraising campaign in Wes’ honor has been established with HelpHOPELive (formerly NTAF), a nonprofit organization that has been assisting the transplant community for nearly 30 years. All donations are tax deductible, are held by HelpHOPELive in the Mid-Atlantic Liver Transplant Fund, and are administered by HelpHOPELive for transplant-related expenses only. Please consider making a contribution.Thank you for your generosity and support.


Mel Charlton-Smith (Wes’ mom)

A Typical Day Living with Williams Syndrome

0424150809This photo breaks my heart and makes me smile at the same time. It stirs up emotion.

This is my beautiful, guileless son, who has Williams Syndrome. He’s crying in the bathtub after I told him his behavior wasn’t up to par and he wouldn’t earn a trip to McDonalds unless he improved.

His emotions are always so close to the surface. He wants to do what’s right, and he tries to please. He spent the rest of the morning giving me kisses and proving how good he could be.

We have challenges every single day. I drop into bed utterly exhausted at night, every night, and have for the past twelve years. But I wouldn’t change this sweetheart for the world.


Discussing Williams Syndrome with Sarah Chorn


I introduced you to Sarah Chorn a while ago. She wrote a stunning review for Pretty Little Dead Girls that just touched my heart. But she’s done even more than that! Sarah interviewed me for her wonderful column Special Needs in Strange Worlds, which runs in the SF Signal Magazine. Sarah’s column helps raise awareness for not only diversity in genre fiction, but she specifically emphasizes special needs. She invited me to talk about my feelings of diversity in fiction, and we discussed my son, Williams Syndrome, and how he has influenced my writing.

I thank her so much for the opportunity to discuss something so exceptionally dear to me. Please read it, if you have a chance, and get to know a little more about Niko and WS.  🙂

I was also delighted that the Williams Syndrome Association ran the interview on their Facebook page. That made me so happy!

What This Abused Man And My Son Have In Common

There’s a video going around. I won’t post it, but you know the one. A couple of teens beat up a mentally disabled man in Newark, Delaware. They knock him to the ground. Hurt him badly.

That man on the ground is Coran. He has Williams Syndrome, just like my son.

photo 2(7)

Here is our story.

Here’s more information on Williams.

Of course I’m heartbroken and afraid. This is the kind of thing I worry about Every. Single. Day. My son was physically abused by a teacher when he was four years old. That changed our lives and opened my eyes to the world that we truly live in. It’s ugly, but we can make it beautiful.

I have a desire to be more proactive in comforting and soothing. To not only step in when there’s a crisis, but also to actively add something positive to my area of world. I have a project coming up called The Joy Rock Club. I’ll tell you more about it later, but it has to do with my idea that small things lead to great things. Minutes = Novels. Tiny acts of kindness can cheer somebody, who in turn can hopefully cheer somebody else. Let’s stand against the tide, my friends. Counteract what we can with our Care Bear Stare.


If anybody would like to send a card or goodie box to Coran and his family, the Delaware police department said they would make sure he gets it.

Attention Det. Sendek
C/O Coran
3601 North Dupont Highway
New Castle, DE. 19720

Let’s stop bullying. Let’s not participate or merely stand by. Let’s be proactive in not only stopping the bad, but also equally active in spreading happiness.

You guys are awesome for that. 🙂


Two teens were arrested and one turned himself in. They were charged with misdemeanors and released to their parents. You can read about that here.

A misdemeanor? They’re videotaped attacking the same person TWICE, and if this isn’t a hate crime, I don’t know what is. Also, yesterday in the same town, a 12-year-old with cerebral palsy was assaulted by teens while in his wheelchair. Let’s pray it’s the same group of kids because I’d hate to think there are more monsters running around.

I, along with others, am writing a letter to the governor of Delaware pointing out the severe medical problems that people with Williams Syndrome experience, and how seriously this beating could be affecting Coran’s health. I’m asking him to take a long, hard look at this case and stand up for those who need protecting.

If you’re interested in writing him, the contact link is here.

Also, here’s a link from The National Bullying Prevention Center about bullying people with disabilities. It’s wonderful to read and share. Now let’s go out there and be the front line between bullies and victims who can’t stand up for themselves. Because you know what? I can stand up for you, little guy. And I’m willing to do so.