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Getting to Know a Loved One with Different Abilities Through Holiday Wish Lists

Updated: Apr 7

By Karen Kaplan

The season is upon us as Christmas decorations appear in stores, holiday music is played, and family holiday films are showcased. It’s the time of year that parents, grandparents, friends, and acquaintances ask, What’s on Your Santa List?

What does that really mean to each of us? How do our children with exceptional needs respond to these inquiries? Have we helped our loved ones identify what could bring them joy? Have we shown them what a list looks like? Are we teaching how to develop that wish list, that birthday present list, a Santa or Chanukah list?  I think we just need to teach ways to create a list of interests or what may be an enthusiasm. These personal lists can be morphed into birthday wish lists or Santa Lists, as all these lists are about letting others know what person, place, item, or event might bring us joy, fun, excitement, inspiration, or just a feeling of well-being.

No time like the present to get started on a list with your loved one. This list might even help a teacher know what topics to teach. This list might lead your teen to explore volunteer sites and long career opportunities. This list of enthusiasms could lead to identifying social groups of similar interests. It could take you and your individual to the bookstore or library to explore topics. This list can identify documentaries on Netflix or Prime.

But, for now, you can just think about our up-and-coming Chanukah List or Santa’s List, so those gifts placed under the Christmas Tree or Menorah will align with enthusiasms.

Here are list-making questions to ask:

  1. What foods or snacks do you love to eat or drink?

  2. What places do you like going to?

  3. What characters do you like to watch on TV?

  4. What music do you listen to?

  5. Who would you like to see in person on the stage?

  6. Who do you have fun with?

  7. What games or toys are fun to you?

  8. What are your favorite colors?

  9. What clothes do you really like to wear?

  10. Do you have favorite authors or genres of books?

  11. Where would you like to travel to?

Getting to know someone better through wish lists is vital to their growth and your relationship.                  

For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.


Karen Kaplan, MS, is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in speech pathology and audiology. She minored in special education and obtained her speech therapist and special education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges. Karen founded a non-profit, Offerings, which helps cultures globally to understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an annual Autism Awesomeness event. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. Karen has authored three books: Reach Me Teach Me: A Public School Program for the Autistic Child; A Handbook for Teachers and Administrators, On the Yellow Brick Road: My Search for Home and Hope for the Child with Autism, and Typewriting to Heaven… and Back: Conversations with My Dad on Death, Afterlife and Living  (which is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love).


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