- Family and Parenting
Choosing gifts for a child with Special needs
Shopping for children with special needs can be challenging
Whether you are searching for Birthday, Christmas or other holiday or gifts for other special occasions, for a boy or girl of any age, there are many things to take into consideration when choosing a gift for children with special needs.
The most important consideration is safety. It is not uncommon for older kids with developmental disabilities to have needs that you would have considered only for toddler years with a neurotypical child. Issues such as putting things in their mouths, choking, climbing, throwing or hitting may not be apparent just from spending limited time with them. You should ask the parent if there are any special safety concerns prior to selecting a gift.
If the child has a sensory disorder (extremely common in kids with developmental disabilities) then you may get the BEST results from a sensory toy. You may need to talk to the parents to find out what areas the child struggles with the most or what types of stimulation they enjoy.
Most toys can be used in different therapies and offer different skills so I have included those details in my descriptions of the products for you. I hope to help you understand the various considerations that most parents of children with special needs must consider when buying toys.
Normally, when you select a gift for a child, you must take gender, age and interest into consideration. Developmental disabilities add more dimensions- developmental ability, cognitive capability, behavioral challenges, physical capabilities and sensory challenges.
Older kids with developmental disabilities may be extremely challenging to buy gifts for- they may need something that is developmentally appropriate as far as safety that would equate to toys for kids 18 months and up yet they have the INTERESTS of an 8 year old, the fine motor skills of a 4 year old and have sensory needs that are hard to fill. You, the buyer, may also need the toy to be affordable and probably with a return or exchange option just in case while making the child happy on their special day. How do you find a toy to meet those criteria?
I do love shopping online! All of these links go directly to Amazon. If you are unfamiliar with Amazon, they have a great "Super Saver" shipping policy- if you buy $25 worth of items with the "Super Saver" icon on them- then shipping for those items is free! If you do find something you liked and wish to purchase it through any of the links on this page I want to let you know that I will earn a small commission. Prices on Amazon fluctuate and sometimes may not automatically be reflected in the modules below (sometimes it takes a day or so).
Here are a few simple things to keep in mind while searching, but most importantly...
Please remember- with a little extra thought, when you give a toy to a child with special needs, you may also be giving them a great opportunity.
Choosing a great gift sometimes requires extra thought for a child with special needs.
If you understand their needs when choosing, you will make their special day even better!
Will the child throw the toy? If so, it had better be either soft or unbreakable. Avoid gifts like snowglobes and rubick's cubes (they REALLY hurt when they get you in the head).
Will the child climb on it? Toys like the Mega Block Incredi Block, kitchens, castles or lego in a large box may be used as step stools for the climbers. If the parent is OK with something they can climb on, be sure to choose something wide enough to prevent it from flipping and without too many protrusions that would hurt to land on. If the child is an escape artist, avoid anything large enough to stand on.
Will they put it in their mouth? AVOID squishy jelly like toys that they could bite into, small pieces etc - choose a toy that is no smaller than the child's elbow- or better yet, yours! With a child that puts everything into their mouth, they may benefit from sensory therapy... this should be left up to the parents and a therapist! You should not give gum, chewy candy, hard candy, grapes, unsliced baby carrots or anything else that you imagine toddlers choking on to a special needs child (unless the child is yours and you know what they can handle!).
Stackable soft blocks for boys with a fun character. Lots of visual stimulation. These can help improve hand eye coordination and balance (to some extent depending upon how the child is positioned while playing).
This soft picnic basket is great to help encourage speech and for social role playing while being soft enough not to worry about injury! This toy also helps to encourage creativity.
Mmmmm, what child does not want to play with yummy deserts? These delicious looking soft toys are great for teaching table manners and "please and thank you", colors and sorting. They are also soft enough to prevent injury during tantrums or stimming.
Kids with developmental disabilities may have an interest that is best described as obsession. You should check with the family to see if there is something special along those lines that the child does not yet have. Also it is good to check with them because they may be working on redirecting the child's interest to something more appropriate!
Melissa and Doug Activity Table
This play table is great for kids who have lots of Thomas toys and no where to play with them with out you hurting some one's foot! With the tracks off the floor, the child can enjoy leaving them set up without anyone having to climb over them or stepping on the trains (which really hurts if you hit the nerve).
The table goes well with any decor AND offers storage space!
Thomas the Tank Engine
This is a great Thomas set for beginners! Simple enough for the child to get the hang of track building and big enough to be fun! Most little boys really love the number one engine!
Expansion packs are great for the little boys who already have the sets- the sets are wonderful but the imagination is endless and more track means more amazing possibilities! Just be sure to find out WHICH set the child has as there are a few- "wooden railway", "Trackmaster", "take along" etc and the tracks are not interchangeable.
Not sure which track to get ? The Play vehicle may be a good alternative! It is a kid sized Thomas so they can hop in and let their imagination run wild! This play vehicle is light weight enough that the child can move it with out assistance, great indoors or outdoors (should be brought in after use though as they blow away). These can easily be collapsed for storage.
Room decor may be another way to go, just be sure that the child is not likely to peel these off the wall and stick them across their mouth or chew on them when unattended in their room. A child who really loves Thomas will not see these as stickers on their wall, but turning their room into their dream world!
These are great portable Thomas sets! The tracks fit right inside the buildings along with the trains! Perfect for kids who either travel a lot or spend a lot of time at Hospitals as they are so incredibly portable!
Melissa and Doug Folding Castle
Any Princess would enjoy playing with this beautiful castle! Beautifully decorated with hand painted accents! Let her imagination run wild!
Help the little Princess learn self recognition, and complex coordination with this hand held princess mirror. She will be able to practice her facial expressions and moving her hand while seeing mirror images while feeling like royalty!
Little girls love dressing up. You really can't go wrong with a princess costume! Dressing up encourages self care skills and creativity with role playing. These costumes can be incorporated into a therapy routine for social skills, speech and dressing!
You are not simply giving wall stickers here, you are giving a magical fairy tale kingdom to be ruled by the fairest princess in the land!
Help encourage fine motor, dexterity, hand eye coordination and creativity with a fun princess castle! This can also be used during in home speech therapy!
This phone can really help to encourage speech! Toy phones are commonly used in speech therapy because children are often interested in mimicking the behavior of talking on the phone- some kids however, need a more special phone.
Millennium Flacon Storage Case
This Millennium Falcon Storage case can help keep the Star Wars figures off the floor and even comes with some of it's own figures! This case is the perfect addition to any young Star Wars fan's collection!
I can't actually look anywhere in my house and not find something Star Wars. Every product below IS in my home! It was a Thomas obsession before, oh how I miss Thomas! The one bright side to these intense interests is that they seem to last longer (5+ years- and even then it does not always go away completely!) than the average fad in neurotypical kids, so we do get a lot out of our investment!
Please remember to keep it age and developmentally appropriate! Not all kids can have small pieces because of choking risks. If you are not sure, then play it safe and get something that they can not choke on!
This one is lots of fun, it encourages creativity and offers lots of fine motor practice- even after it is built! This one was a bit easier for my son to put together than the above set.
With these super cool wall stickers the child can feel like they are surrounded by their favorite characters! Great for encouraging imagination! They do glow, but the glow is very subtle. If you give these you may want to add a flashlight as well to help charge them more intensely.
If the child has tactile aversions this may help with desensitization. It is important to learn how to tell time, sometimes having a cool character watch helps to pique their interest and make learning more fun!
Dora the Explorer
Soft and cuddly, great for kids who love Dora but tend to throw. Also great for kids who travel a lot, have anxiety or need puppets to speak- Dora might make a nice transition from a regular puppet if the child is hyperfocused on her.
Great for bath time! Bath time can prove to be difficult for kids with developmental disabilities. A kid who LOVES to bathe and loves Dora will enjoy playing with these but a kid who views bath time as traumatic and horrendous may actually find some relief or distraction in these Dora squirters, making life a little better for everyone!
Cuddly Boots toy- great for encouraging speech and helping with feelings of anxiety. A great companion to the Dora Beanie!
This encourages creativity and some fine motor skills. It may encourage speech if singing while playing is demonstrated to the child or with some role playing like Elvis "thank you very much" at the end of each song.
Really encourage speech with a Dora microphone! These are used very commonly in speech therapy but sometimes it takes a special character microphone to get the child interested enough to participate (or at least stop throwing the mic).
Cars Desk with pull out Storage
Any child who enjoys sitting and coloring or writing will appreciate having their own little desk! If the child is difficult to get to color or write, simply offering a desk in the design of their favorite movie or character can make all the difference!
This adorable desk even has pull out storage under the seat!
Encourages vestibular stimulation and creativity while the child walks around the island (or two islands linked together)! Bright colors for visual stimulation as well! This is an amazing sensory product- a must have for kids with autism!
Depending upon the severity of the disability, the child may receive the most joy from a sensory gift! There are toys that are specially designed for kids with both physical and developmental disabilities that stimulate the senses! Check if there is anything specific that the parents have been wanting to get or if there is anything that they believe the child would truly love!
Quiet toys! - please oh please
Aside from not wanting to offend the child's potentially sensitive hearing, please remember that Mom and Dad have to live with the gift as well. Sometimes kids with special needs can to be a bit.... noisy with their toys, they will find the toy that makes noise and make it do that for hours and hours on end.
Eventually the parent may get tired of hearing it and have to take it away for a few minutes, this could trigger a nasty tantrum, more stress for the parents leading to more stress for the child. Please leave those choices up to the parents as well!
More importantly though, Because of the repetitive behaviors, the child is exposed to the sound more often than they would be otherwise, which is a potential health problem as the child may hold the toy close to their ears while making it do this- over time this can cause hearing loss.
Books are great for all kids, if the child can not read yet, then hopefully the parent will read to them! Try to find one that matches the child's interests that you do not normally see at the local grocery store (they are more likely to already have the books available at their local stores)