Thanking Your Family’s Special-Needs Angels

By Michael J. Cameron, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Chief Clinical Officer for Pacific Child and Family Associates

Taking time to recognize and express our gratitude to others for the impact they have had in our lives is good for everyone, especially for families of individuals with special needs. Whether you employ direct service providers, or are a client of one, there are several ways to show your gratitude for their work. These special professionals sit knee-to-knee with children and teach them in circumstances that are sometimes challenging. They help children and their families better navigate the labyrinthine streets of autism.

However, before you select a gift or special something for the “angels” in your life, be sure you understand what they can and cannot accept. Direct service providers have their own ethical guidelines and professional boundaries. Some might not be able to accept meals, gifts or other rewards. When in doubt, just ask.

With Thanksgiving and the season of giving upon us, here are ideas to consider when you want to let your “angel” know just what they’ve done for you.

Send a Telegram

Yes, you read that right. Several companies specialize in sending old-fashioned telegrams, and I recommend We get hundreds of emails every day, so when a message of gratitude takes a unique form it’s even more special. We do this at Pacific Child & Family Associates when someone passes certification exams and they always love the “retro” attention.

Animate a “Thank You”

With, I have a lot of fun creating customized and animated comic strips. You can do the same to let your “angel” know you care. The website allows you to create a comic scenario, import your own picture and even record your voice narrating the action. People generally enjoy seeing a comic in which they are the main subject – so it’s a great way to recognize someone special.

Recently, I created one for a patient named Michael who is very interested in garbage trucks. In the comic, I had him star in a story where garbage men visited him from outer space. He loved it and shared it with everyone in his family.

Create a Video Montage

Pictures are wonderful, but pictures with music and narration are even better. Taking the time to assemble a video montage for a person and present it to them can be enormously validating and rewarding. With tools available on most computers, you can collect digital photos, set them to music and add your own words of thanks.

Send a Real Card

Turn off your electronics, shut the door to your room (office or otherwise), take a pen in hand, and write an actual card to another person. I found tiny glass lady bugs in a local store and I like to insert them in every card I send as a signature gift. And if you want to make it a real gem, put a wax seal on the back of the envelope.

If you don’t trust your handwriting, you can get a similar effect by using SendOutCards, which has hundreds of card options available. You select one, craft a personalized message and the card arrives to recipient within a few days.

The Gift of Learning

As an academic, I have an affinity for investing in a person’s ongoing education. Therefore, I love to send gift cards that allows a person to read an article about the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and receive Continuing Education Units for reading (and taking a test) on an important topic. My favorite site to use for sending gift cards is Foxy Learning.

Give Them a Sparkling Chariot

Take a look at the car your angel drives, and you might notice that they do not have time to have it cleaned. I really enjoy sending a mobile car wash company to do the job. Such companies are easy to find, and will clean your angel’s car at a location that is convenient for them. It’s a time saver and much appreciated.

Put Some Fuel in Their Tank

Speaking of cars, the angels in our lives are sometimes stringing dimes together in order to fill their cars with gas. Fuel cards can help them cover their gas costs and show that you appreciate the time – and miles – they put into their work.

Contribute to Their Collection

It’s always interesting to learn something about the people in your life – even those who work with you professionally. Hobbies, special interests and collections can sneak into professional conversations and let you know a little bit about people.

For example, after hearing that one of my staff members at Pacific Child & Family Associates loves old Dragnet radio episodes, I downloaded a dozen episodes and sent them to him in recognition of his work. Keep your ears perked for something that your angel would appreciate, and then try to find a gift that fits.

Dine Together

The feasibility of this idea will depend entirely on your angel’s professional guidelines, but if possible, invite an angel and their spouse/partner to lunch or dinner. It’s a great way to recognize their efforts, and it gives you an opportunity to tell their significant other how important their work is to you.

Write a Letter to Their Family

This is another idea that might require advance permission, but can be a really touching gesture. I love sending a letter to a person’s spouse, partner, children or mom and dad to let them know how their loved one is impacting the lives of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Angels make the path brighter for individuals with special needs and their families. Recognize the impact that these professionals have in your life, and make sure they know how much you appreciate them.

Dr. Michael J. Cameron, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, is The Chief Clinical Officer for Pacific Child & Family Associates (PCFA), an insurance accepting practice devoted to the delivery of services for children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. PCFA services are provided in homes, schools, and in clinics across the United States.

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