Buying gifts for others may be at the heart of what December 25th represents, but the process of doing so may have its drawbacks.
“I don’t like shopping when it’s crowded, crazy, and noisy,” says physical therapist Rebecca Lipinski.
Many of the clients at her clinic, Justabout Pediatric Therapy in Peters Township, don’t either.
In order to offer the young people a less hectic environment, she organized a one-week sensory-friendly holiday market together with the occupational therapists, speech therapists and physiotherapists of her staff.
“We wanted to bring it to them so that they would have the experience of shopping and the benefits of thinking about others, paying for a gift and getting something in return, and then being able to give it on Christmas Day,” Lipinski said. “It was in a small room with therapists they know very well. So if we had a kid with challenges and it was too overwhelming, we could take a break. We know how to work with them so that they get the most out of the activity.”
Among the shoppers was 6-year-old Hope, who expressed much excitement when choosing gifts for her members of her family. Plus, she chose one for herself that represents an oldie, but good.
“I want Charlie Brown,” she said, eagerly pointing to a Charles Schulz Peanuts book called, perhaps ironically, “Lucy Knows Best.”
But that came after the gifts for relatives: a make-up bag and doll for Mom and chocolate-covered marshmallows for Dad. And actually her first selection was for brother Eli.
“Don’t give him dog toys,” Lipinski pleaded as Hope perused a table full of pet gifts. “Please don’t give him dog toys!”
Hope giggled and instead grabbed a Pop It toy, a tray full of brightly colored silicone, similar to bubble wrap but reusable.
In fact, Hope doesn’t really care about dogs at this point in her life.
“But I like unicorns,” she said.
After getting gifts for everyone, she paid Lipinski and speech language pathologist Jocelyn Hrapla with real American currency.
“We really wanted to make sure they could bring cash and pay in cash, and they were given a receipt to take home, to make it as realistic as possible,” Lipinski said. “We try to add a few more activities every year that are very lifelike because we don’t want our kids just sitting in a room doing therapy. We want it to be carried over to real-life experiences.”
Hope rounded off her shopping experience by putting the presents in festive gift bags, while Lipinski handed her sheets of colorful tissue paper and told her:
“You know what you’re going to do with this, Hope, to make it fancy? You have to fix it up. Can you fix it?”
She did, much to her delight.
“Look. Now you can’t see the present anymore,” said Lipinski. “It keeps it a secret.”
With that, Hope was ready to put everything under the Christmas tree except “Lucy Knows Best,” which she wanted to enjoy a little earlier.
“She likes to read, Miss Jocelyn,” Lipinski reported. “She’s in first grade and she can read well, Mom says.”
In addition to the holiday market, Justabout Pediatric Therapy customers also make Christmas cards to send to veterans in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.
“We have a philosophy that all children can do something nice,” said Lipinski, a resident of Peters Township who opened the clinic four years ago.
“It doesn’t matter what their level of ability is, but they can do something to show kindness to someone else and get the feedback to do something nice.”