If you have a child with special needs on your holiday gift-buying list, these shopping tips from a mom who's "been there" will help.
Buying for Children with Special Needs
Some good friends recently mentioned to me how hard it can be over the holidays to choose appropriate gifts for the special needs kiddos on their lists, especially if you don't happen to be the parent of a child with special needs. I realized how true this statement was when I thought about how frustrating it can be to choose gifts that my son will like despite the fact that I know him better than anyone. So with this knowledge in mind, I've compiled some tips that will hopefully make shopping a little easier this year if you have children with special needs on your Christmas list.
- Ask a parent. If at all possible, ask a parent. Asking a family member if their child might like a specific toy or book might seem like a surprise ruiner to some but not when it comes to children with special needs. A parent will be able to tell you best if the child that you're buying for has any specific likes, dislikes, aversions, or even things that he or she might find downright terrifying.
- Use your senses. Sensory issues accompany many disabilities and conditions besides just autism. If you haven't been able to chat with a parent beforehand, buying a sensory assaulting toy for a child with special needs might not be your best bet. This would include anything with lots of bright lights, loud noises or music, or toys that move or dance on their own. I could tell you a story about the "Chicken Dance Elmo" doll that ruined Christmas a few years ago. (Thanks in-laws!)
- Incorporate work into play. If you know the child you're buying for well enough to know what he or she may be working on with therapists or in school, aim for a gift that might incorporate those ideas. Something as simple as a large ball or a bean bag toss game can be wonderful for children with gross motor delays and toys or books that play on basic language skills (like many of the Leapfrog products for example) are perfect for children with delayed speech. You can rest assured that a gift that serves the purpose of work AND play will get a lot of use and be just as appreciated by the child's parents. (Therapy toys can get REALLY expensive!)
- Safety first. Try to keep safety concerns in mind as much as possible. Does a certain toy have magnets or small parts? Is it something that could hurt a child if used inappropriately? Although my son is almost four, he still puts everything in his mouth and isn't quite ready for toys with small parts. He also has his fair share of SIB (self-injuring behaviors) and therefore isn't able to play with heavy cars and trucks, trains, and a lot of other items that boys his age are playing with.
- Give the child time. Don't be disappointed by first reactions. Don't take offense if the child you're buying for runs screaming into the other room only moments after opening the gift that you planned for so thoughtfully. My son, as well as many other children on the autism spectrum, have a general fear of all things that are new and unfamiliar. In fact, Brody initially hates every new toy that he receives for the most part. We've accepted this and have just started buying things that we think he might like after he gets used to them. Some of his favorite toys are ones that set off massive tantrums upon their first viewing — although he never did take a liking to Chicken Dance Elmo. (Do you blame him?)
Hopefully this list will provide a little insight and help if you're buying gifts for children with special needs this holiday season or in the new year. The ideas may seem simple. However, I know that if I did not personally have a child with special needs, they are things that I might easily overlook. And if all else fails, I think almost everyone likes books. They're the #1 Christmas buy in this household: Educational, non-toxic if when eaten, and the toddler ones with the soft coating don't hurt nearly as bad as the hardcovers if you end up taking one to the head. Happy Holidays! :)
What brilliant gift ideas do you have for children with special needs?