Finding just the right birthday, holiday, or congrats gift for anyone can be a challenge! If you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder on your list, the task may seem overwhelming. We’re here to help with a few general tips on how-to choose gifts, and the other selections in this publication can jump start your creative juices. But… just in case you find yourself needing more inspiration, we’ve assembled some of our favorite products from Internet sources.
Gift Giving Tips
· Target special interests. The key to finding a great gift is to target the child’s special interests. Kids on the spectrum tend to have little-or-no-desire for gifts outside their area of interest, making other well-intentioned gifts a source of anxiety. Remember that holidays and special occasions are difficult for children with autism because they’re filled with surprises and bring changes to the normal routine. This is not the time to experiment with gifts intended to expand their horizon of interest.
· Think Outside the Norm. Chronological age is not a good gift-giving indicator for our kids on the spectrum. Neither is “what all the kids want.” Our kids follow their own unique developmental progress. They may not have the ability to use, or be interested in, “age-appropriate” items. On the flip-side, if it fits their interest, they may thrive with gifts that are beyond what seems appropriate for their age.
· Honor Suggestions. Do not ignore gift suggestions from parents just because you think they’re redundant. It doesn’t matter if you believe the child already has too many of a particular item. When it comes to a special interest, there’s never “too much,” and sometimes parents (and kids!) like to have the same item readily available in multiple rooms.
· Fun versus Functional. While there are lots of “therapy” type products that could also make great gifts for the spectrum child, including music and other creative type CDs or DVDs, our emphasis here is on fun, rather than “work.” Some of our suggestions have embedded learning – all the better because kids experience the joy of learning without it becoming drudgery. That said, for some kids, the “functional” gifts are the most welcomed, so check with a child’s parent if you’re not sure about the child’s personality and favorite type of gifts.
· Books. Spectrum kids relate to books on such an individual basis that we purposely did not include this type of gift on our list. The sheer number of good offerings is the second reason! If you like the idea of giving a book – and many adults do - check with the child’s parents about interests and suggestions. Many literal minded spectrum kids will not appreciate reading about animals who talk or wear clothes (they don’t really do that, after all…), and some who thrive on details and lists would be absolutely enthralled with one of those mega-compendium trivia books on a specific subject, or an educational textbook on, say, electricity or the solar system. Our kids are unique!
Valentine Gift Ideas to Get You Started
Delightful music gets your kids movin’ and groovin’. This CD was designed by professional therapists and comes with a “travel guide” that provides movement suggestions to improve sensory skills and ideas for creatively adapting the music for games or theatrical performances.
28 Instant Songames CD
Delivering fun musical activities to address sensory issues for kids ages 3-8, these “songames” are creatively divided into animal realms to help develop body awareness, non-stress movement, feeling identification and self-expression.
Totally Kids for Furniture and Toys
You’ll find some truly unique items in this online store – not just toys – but also amazing furniture, such as “Retro Diner” furnishings and a unique selection of children’s beds. Different types of beds include stairway, bunk and loft beds and their styles range from traditional to themes like Sleeping Beauty, Lancelot and Secret Clubhouse. Totally Kids has books, toys and costumes for travel, education and just plain fun. Here are five of our favorites from their toy section:
Combines the fun of blasting foam missiles (adjustable for indoors or outside) with the physical activity of jumping and stomping on the launch pad.
An alternative, nontoxic, all-natural play dough in colors made from plant, fruit and vegetable extracts.
A new twist on classic building blocks – these cubes interlock to create 3-dimensional structures. Made of heavy gauge plastic, the cubes come in different sizes and colors that encourage visual spatial play.
Rush Hour Traffic Jam Game
Commuting parents may need to be open-minded to fully appreciate this game but your kids will love it. Rush Hour Traffic Jam game teaches sequential movement and problem solving in a game where kids set-up the board according to pictures and then slide cars and trucks around to create a path that escapes traffic congestion. Voted one of the “Top 25 Toys of the Past 25 Years” by Parent’s Choice Magazine.
The image says it all! Who wouldn’t have fun with six textured monster pins and a beastly ball? They come in a zippered carrying case for bowling fun anywhere, any time. Great for team skill building, gross motor coordination, and turn taking.
Large, colorful playing pieces are used to build a robot in a fun game that also encourages creativity and imagination.
Thomas’ Great Race Game
Another game that combines fun with learning…and it’s perfect for kids who love Thomas the Tank! Learn numbers, counting, sorting and color matching skills as you earn coal to shovel into your engine to power it across the finish line.
Interactive and Plush Dinosaur Characters
These fabulous dinosaurs are based on the PBS Kids show Dinosaur Train, but they’re perfect for any dinosaur lover. Featuring Smart Talk Technology, the dinosaurs talk and interact with one another.
Little Dragon Karate
Kids learn karate with large training cards and a PVC mat that provide visual reinforcement. This set comes with a detailed instruction booklet as well as various memory and timed games.
iPad and iPhone
With practical and helpful applications for children with autism, the iPad and iPhone make great gifts that are educational, remedial, and enjoyable. Begin with these web sites to learn more about what’s available and how these products may help your child:
Three videos to watch at the Autism Hangout: “The iPad and Autism: One Family’s Story of Success,” “Announcing Apps for Autism,” and “Apps for Special Needs.”
iPhone Apps Store
Choose one item from three categories (toy, accessory and DVD/CD/video game), they put them in a green, red, yellow or blue box, and send them off to the lucky recipient. While you can build your own box, they also have two ready-to-go boxes specifically for children with autism.
Twist ‘n Write Pencils
For those who struggle with handwriting, Pacific Writing Instruments offers an ergonomically designed Y-shaped pencil that helps fine motor coordination by promoting comfort and extra control. The same design is available in adult-sized pens called Ergo-Sof Pens. Great for stocking stuffers!
Perfect for bath time fun! Floating mother octopus is a water sieve. Her 8 babies are squirting toys with suction cups. Cute, colorful, and fun for children 18 months+.
All About Learning
Looking for a gift that motivates and turns strengths into valuable skills? All About Learning, Inc. offers two exceptional online courses for budding engineers and video game designers:
Integrating engineering theory with their unique LEGO® kit (containing more than 1,000 pieces), your child enjoys building machines while learning about gears, motion, simple machines and problem solving.
Video Game Maker™
Learn how to design and modify arcade style video games, including how to control characters, objects and outcomes, and increase difficulty level. For ages 10 and older, visit the site to be sure your computer meets the minimum requirements.
Weighted Blankets and Clothes
Some people on the spectrum crave the calming and stress-reducing hug of a weighted product, such as a bed or lap blanket, a neck wrap, vest or t-shirt. Here are a few sources. Important Note: be sure to check with the child’s parent before purchasing a weighted product, as the product’s weight needs to be matched to the child’s size and need for pressure.
Cozy Calm products are so soft and handmade to your desired size and color. Neck calmers, lap cozys and matching stuffed animals are also available.
Prince’s Sensory Delights are fashionable, sensory-smart clothes, many of which incorporate weights without looking like weighted clothing.
In Your Pocket weighted vest designs by Abilitations offer sturdy fabric and well-constructed vests that are fun and comfortable. Designed by a mom taking into consideration how young kids play and live.
Sensory Critters weighted products include blankets, lap pads, vests, hoodies, neck wraps, and weighted animals.
For all of our kids learning to dress, these training socks are fun and put your child on the road to succes, with whimsical animal faces that provide visual clues about which side is up and sturdy, built-in handles that make them easy to pull-up. This adorable video of kids using EZSox tells the story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVrqfzLgYu8
Table Top Theater
For kids who love puppets, this beautiful table top theater will encourage them to perform plays they've created while learning to express feelings through the puppets. For kids who absolutely love dramatic expression, there’s a standing-size theatre also available.
Create Your Own Monster Puppet Package
What’s a play without the puppets? Create hundreds of crazy creatures with this fuzzy friend and its interchangeable parts that include weird and wacky eyes, ears, antennae and more. Carrying case included for quick clean-up!
Learning to ride a bicycle is safe and fun when those all important first steps -- learning to balance and steer -- can be accomplished with a glide bike. These "balance bikes" do not have pedals, a chain or training wheels. Instead, they're built small enough so children can "walk" the bike while sitting. Their feet touch the ground and can be used to balance and push the bike forward, until they're comfortable enough to let the bike glide while they balance with feet resting on foot pegs. These bikes won approval from professionals at the Easter Seals/UCP Preschool in Wilmington, NC. They recommend the bike as a therapeutic tool for strengthening, endurance and balance...not to mention the boost to kid's confidence!
Toys“R”Us® Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids
If you need more ideas, tips or inspiration, this year’s annual Toys“R”Us® guide has 60 pages of toy recommendations for children with disabilities.
This article is taken with permission from www.autismdigest.com, where readers can go online and, by signing in, can access free copies of the magazine’s eGuide, which is packed full of more information on holidays and gift giving for children on the spectrum.
Article was amended to fit the present season of Valentine’s Day.