The History of Giving Birthday Presents to Kids

Most parents in western countries celebrate their children’s birthdays by giving gifts, however, birthdays weren’t always celebrated in this way. In this blog post, we take a look at the tradition of giving gifts to celebrate birthdays, how it started, and how it differs in other nations.

Who Started the Tradition of Giving Gifts?

The act of giving gifts goes as far back as the time of cavemen, perhaps even right to the origin of our species. Of course, gifts at this time weren’t the kind of goods we’d like to receive nowadays! Cave people typically gave items from nature, such as animal teeth, perhaps with a hole in to be worn as a necklace.

Over the years, the types of gifts given has changed. Coins and herds of livestock were given as gifts in later years. Nowadays, gifts can be just about anything. For adults, it’s common to receive a household gift such as a candle, flowers or a favorite food item. Teenagers can be difficult to buy for – gifts can range from anything from gadgets and tech to make up or clothes. Great present for boys and girls on their birthday can be anything that suits them. Most commonly given gifts for children are toys and games, although clothes, chocolate and candies and things for their room.

Other Historical Birthday Traditions

In ancient Greek times, gifts were given to those celebrating their birthday as a way to get rid of evil spirits. They also used noisemakers to help scare away the bad spirits – perhaps this is where the use of party poppers to celebrate birthdays came from. In Roman times, gifts were only given to men on their birthday. Women started celebrating their birthday sometime around the 12th century.

Adding candles to a birthday cake is something else we can thank the ancient Greeks for – they started this tradition as a way to honor their gods and goddesses, however, birthday cake as we know it today was developed by Germans towards the end of the 18th century. This was the same time when ‘Kinderfeste’ first started taking place – the 18th century equivalent of a child’s birthday party.

Which Countries don’t Celebrate Birthdays?

Not all cultures celebrate their birthdays the same way. Some people, because of religious beliefs do not celebrate birthdays. Some cultures do celebrate, but with different traditions. In Russia for example, you might be given a personalized pie instead of a cake. Some cultures don’t recognize official birthdays, with many people worldwide not knowing which date or even which year they were born in.

The Future of Birthday Celebrations

Birthday customs and traditions are always changing and adapting, with many popular American customs spreading to other countries. For example, many British parents now choose to do a ‘cake smash’ with their child for their first birthday, a trend which was virtually unheard of just a couple of years ago. One thing’s for sure – birthday celebrations are set to get bigger and better as time goes on.

Behavioral Treatment for Specific Fears and Phobias

Fears and phobias are increasingly common in children. A fear of needles is a particularly common fear that usually starts in early childhood and can result in significant avoidance of  medical procedures in general. A recent NPR story describes a research study published in 2012. The researchers surveyed over 800 parents and 1000 children. In the study, 24% of the parents and 63% of the children reported a fear of needles! This is concerning because specific fears and phobias can lead to avoidance of health-related procedures. Luckily, there is behavioral treatment for specific fears and phobias.

Behavior therapy or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help children overcome their fears. The most effective behavioral treatment for specific fears and phobias is called graded exposure therapy. In graded exposure therapy the child is introduced to the feared situation or object in small steps until they are able to participate in the situation on their own. For example, if a child has a fear of going to the dentist, the treatment can start out with the child reading a book about the dentist, looking at a picture of a dentist's office, and observing a parent participate in a dental visit. Then the situations are gradually increased until the eventual goal of participating in a dental procedure is achieved.

Kids with specific phobias and fears benefit from parent participation in the treatment process. Practice at home will provide faster progress. Depending on the age and learning history with the feared object or situation, treatment can progress quickly or may take more time to break down the situation into smaller steps. Either way, behavior therapy or cognitive behavior therapy can help a child overcome their fears and phobias.

ABA Connect can offer this behavioral treatment as a part of a child's ABA therapy program or with an individual CBT program with a psychologist.

My Child Just Got Diagnosed with Autism, Now What Do I Do?

A diagnosis of autism can be an uncertain time for a family. Many parents are sent into a whirlwind of emotions and left wondering unanswerable questions: Why is this happening? How did this happen? What will their future look like? What do I do now?

Some questions are easier to answer than others. First, knowing which specialists are available to help can bring peace of mind. Some services are evidence-based, versus “fad treatments” or experimental treatments with no research supporting their use or effectiveness. Evidence-based treatments are interventions that have been supported by peer reviewed studies that have been replicated, often through years of research. When a provider tells you they can help your child with autism, don’t be afraid to ask them, “Can you tell me about the research supporting your services?” and “Is your treatment recommended by the National Institutes of Health for treating people with autism?”

Children with autism often receive a variety of support from different sources; evidence-based services include ABA therapy from a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), speech therapy from a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), ongoing care from a pediatric neurologist, and possible treatment with a doctoral psychologist or psychiatrist.

Wow, that’s a long list! Does my child need all of those services?

The answer is each child is different, and your child’s needs will change over time so it’s best to know what options are out there! Some services may require more time than others. ABA therapy, or applied behavior analysis therapy, typically ranges from 10 to 40 hours per week depending on a child’s needs. The programs are intensive, which requires a higher number of therapy hours. Research indicates a lower number of therapy hours does not produce meaningful outcomes, hence the greater time requirement (Granpeesheh et al, 2009).

Search for ABA centers in your area to learn more.

Speech therapy with a private SLP typically ranges from 1 to 2 hours per week. Many provide in-clinic and in-home services. To find a private speech therapist, search for speech language pathology clinics in your area. Public schools in Texas also offer speech therapy, typically about 30 minutes per week. Contact your child’s teacher and school psychologist to see if they are eligible to receive services at school. If they are currently not eligible, inquire if the school can evaluate them to see if they need support (they can!).

Pediatric neurologists provide initial diagnoses and ongoing screenings or check-ups one to two times per year. If additional diagnoses are warranted, they can evaluate your child and refer you to recommended specialists if need be. Neurologists can diagnose developmental disorders, seizure disorders, brain injuries, and nerve-muscle disorders.

Psychiatrists and licensed psychologists can also provide a diagnosis of autism. Psychiatrists can provide treatment through medication if severe behavioral issues (such as severe self-injury or aggression) persist in spite of intensive ongoing behavior therapy. Licensed psychologists can provide a variety of therapy options, including PCIT, or Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. PCIT is a type of evidence-based therapy that teaches parents effective ways to engage their children to produce meaningful behavior change and skill acquisition.

Collaboration is Key

Hands down, collaboration among all specialists will result in better outcomes for your child. Encourage your child’s team to communicate on a regular basis! For example, BCBAs or speech pathologists can attend doctor visits with the neurologist or psychiatrist to discuss specific behaviors that are observed during day-to-day therapy. Doing so will give doctors more complete information and allow them to make the most informed decisions. Also, BCBAs can include recommendations from a psychologist in their skill acquisitions programs and individualized behavior plans. The two specialists can also discuss if other evidence-based treatments are needed, for instance in a child has multiple diagnoses that require a variety of behavior therapies.

Moving Forward

In addition to knowing how to navigate through the sea of specialists, many families benefit from reaching out to one another. Parent support groups that connect parents of children with special needs are a great place to find compassion and understanding for a process that can be emotionally taxing. Further, many states have conferences, such as Texas Parent to Parent Conferences that provide parents with information and foster connections with other families. You’re not alone, don’t be afraid to reach out!

Learn more about reducing stress in your life with these simple techniques and tips.

Enjoying the Holidays with a Child on the Spectrum: Visiting Santa

By: Caroline Roesel, MEd, BCBA

Parents want their children to experience the “magic” of the holiday seasons and partake in as many activities as they choose. This can be challenging with a child on the spectrum who may want to partake in holiday activities, but have behaviors that may preclude them from doing so.

Parents who want their child to visit Santa Claus may worry about their child feeling anxious in large crowds, having a hard time waiting in line, and sitting still in Santa’s lap (without crying!). This is overwhelming enough to make caregivers give up before even trying. By using a few principles of behavior and planning ahead, your child could master the skills needed to have a great experience visiting Santa.

Managing Crowds:

If your child is overwhelmed by large groups of people, contact Santa’s place of work and ask when there are typically less people. Smaller crowds are more common when Santa events first open; if you can arrive a bit before the event opens, you will likely encounter shorter lines.

Most children have toys or treats that help them cope when they are overwhelmed. Bring these items with you to the event. Watch your child; they will likely demonstrate “warning signals” that let you know when they’re growing uncomfortable. When you see these warning signals, give them their toys or treats. Do no wait until they are having a tantrum to try and calm them, this may inadvertently teach them “When I have a tantrum, I get cool stuff.” Not the message you want to send!

Contact Santa’s Helpers:

Many Santa events often have a contact number. You can call to let the event workers know that you’re coming and you have a child with special needs. Tell them if your child would be more comfortable with certain changes, such as a speedier Santa visit, standing next to Santa instead of sitting on his lap, or giving Santa a list of desired presents instead of telling him verbally. People are happy to accommodate when they can, so don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Practice at Home:

If you want your child to take a picture with Santa, but are worried they will not tolerate sitting with him, practice taking pictures with different family members and family friends before you go to the event. Have your child go through the motions of sitting on someone’s lap and smiling at a camera. Try and practice this as much as you can 3 to 4 days prior to seeing Santa. The more comfortable your child is in front of the camera, the more likely they will be to say “Cheese!” on the big day!

Children with ASD can be a part of holiday fun and festivities. With a little planning and practice, caregivers can help their children with special needs to partake in the fun!

5 very simple tips for getting the kiddos to school on time

Getting to school on time and consistently on time can be a constant struggle for some families.  Running around the house, searching for lost articles of clothing and trying to mix something up real quick for breakfast and lunch can turn into absolute mayhem.  So, how can we all prepare for a more relaxing morning while also preparing for school?  Here are some very simple tips that can help alleviate a stressful morning so we can get our children off to school...on time!

Be prepared

Prepare for the expected!  Sometimes unexpected situations happen that are out of our reach, which is ok.  However, we can prepare for what’s expected to happen that day, right?  Do what you can the night before.  Have in mind what you might want to do for breakfast and lunch.  Make sure clothes are picked out and ready to go.  Also, try to wake up before the kids do to give you some extra time to prepare for... well whatever.  Is the car filled with gas?  Do you have everything you need to make lunch?  What’s the weather prediction for the day? Be prepared!

Get organized

Organization is an important characteristic to have in everyday life, especially when trying to get the family ready for their day.  School items and any other items that will be needed for the day should have a designated area somewhere throughout the home to promote easy access to necessary items.  Having backpacks packed and ready the night before, clothes laid out the night before, and everything needed to make a solid breakfast and lunch will only make the morning less stressful for everybody! So first, prepare, then organize!

Get into a routine

A consistent schedule should be set for weekday nights and mornings.  Try to have a set bedtime and a set time to wake-up, for everybody in the family!  This will help designate an everyday routine for everyone.  Will you pack lunches that night or in the morning before the kids wake?  It’s up to us to set our routines, so do what works best for you and your family!  Prepare, organize, and get into a routine!

Set up an environment for success

Incorporate specific items in the home that might improve on-time behavior.  For example, the addition of more clocks throughout the home could possibly help with school tardiness.  Also, being prepared, getting organized, and setting a routine will help improve an environment for success!

Reinforce on-time behavior

Reinforce behaviors you expect from your children that will promote on-time behavior.  For instance, if the family makes it to school on time for a week, maybe cook a special breakfast one morning for everybody.  Or, just letting children know they are doing a “great job” sometimes helps!  Again, do what works best for you and your family, but try to reinforce positive on-time behavior in some form or fashion!   


So to wrap up, this is really about planning and preparation, which we are all capable of doing, right?  Don’t forget to discover a schedule that will establish a consistent routine.  Last, remember to set up an environment for success and reward behaviors you wish to see.  These 5 tips should help us improve our mornings, which hopefully moving forward, should improve the rest of our day!   


J.B Hewell M.Ed, BCBA