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Gifts To Buy For Your Young Autistic Child
I know that this certainly isn't the first article on the internet on gift-giving for a young child with autism. However, a few years ago my sister gave birth to her third daughter who has autism and that made me the uncle of a child with autism. It has been a unique experience with both good and bad memories, though mostly good as she is a sweetheart. But still--why write this article if it's all already been written before? Because I believe I bring to the table a unique vision for what gifts to give your children as I've been able to sit on the sidelines taking everything in, just watching keenly as all three of my nieces interact with each other.
When your other sisters are older and do not have autism is it important for your autistic child to feel that s/he can keep up with them because they certainly won't be slowing down for her. Therefore it is important that gifts serve a dual purpose on this list. The first is that the child must like it themselves, since they'll be getting the most use out of it. But secondarily--and perhaps just as important--is the idea of finding toys everyone will enjoy playing with so your autistic child can be included with the rest of your children. Also, if you don't find the first few items to your liking, just scroll down and keep looking!
My sister actually sent away in the mail for a set of cups each emblazoned with the names of members of her family. This ensured there would be less dish-washing (always a plus in a big family), and that everyone would know where there own cup was. She initially gave her autistic child a glass cup though which immediately shattered not long afterward. Once she replaced it with a plastic version, however, both her and my niece were very happy.
This sounds more like a practical gift than a toy, but believe me, my niece loves having a cup with her own name on it. And even better, this allows her to slowly learn how to spell her own name! Also, since everyone in the house leaves their cups lying around this makes it so much easier to tell whose is whose. One less sibling argument is definitely well worth the price of a set of cups.
Candy in a Canister
This one may take a little more explaining than the previous item! I'm not a doctor, all I know about autistic children is what I've observed from my niece's own behavior. But she loves latching onto random objects and carrying them around with her wherever she goes. So I bought her a plastic container of miniature M&M's and throughout her entire day she would carry the canister with her wherever she went. Oh sure, she ate some and dropped even more on the ground--but it's almost like the candy was a secondary added bonus to being able to hold something.
I know there's all sorts of candies out there now that are half-toy, half-candy and I think a lot of them would be good choices for children. Though I almost hate to endorse these things since in my day candy was just candy and that was enough because you can't get more fun than candy! But they found a way apparently, and if this makes my niece (actually all of my nieces) happy, then I won't fight the trend.
Any Toy With Repetitive Motions
My niece was much different before she had entered school and had some behavior issues. There were nights where she would stay up into the wee hours, keeping everyone else awake with her screaming and crying. And then a savior came in the form of a plastic ark. It was an improbably impractical toy with no function other than to put balls into its roof and watch these same balls roll down a ramp and collect in a pool below. At that point my niece would retrieve the ball and deposit it into the same slat only to watch it tumble gently down and wind itself around the ramp once more. And still she played with it for hours on end, contenting both herself and us as we finally got a few hours of sleep.
It had no bells, certainly no whistles, and yet it became one of her cherished toys as she was able to amuse herself with it in the same manner that we might watch a television for. As an uncle I don't have a scientific/medical explanation, but I know she likes repetitive toys that she can control herself. And there must also be something satisfying about watching the ball turn and weave before finally returning where it always does.
Animal Learning Games
This gift was initially bought for my 4-year-old niece and it is much like Concentration or Memory wherein you have to flip the cards over one-by-one as you try to match the word with the animal. For instance, if you choose a tile that says 'cat' then another tile that has a picture of a cat you win a point. This game is beyond my autistic niece's abilities right now--however, in trying to include her in the game I found she was very much content with flipping over random tiles and saying the names of the animals on them.
My niece and I helped her, of course, by showing her that a 'c-a-t' was a cat, and we gave her a few points here and there to keep her in the game. But I think the most important part was not the rules, but that it allowed her to feel like she was playing the same game as the rest of us. It's very important to feel included in things like this and even if she can only grasp half the rules she can still play half the game!
Super Smash Bros.
As I've been mentioning throughout this article a lot of what autistic children crave is not playing so much as being involved with the rest of the family. So how is this achieved through Super Smash Bros.? Well, her older sisters will happily play through the game as my autistic niece sits in front of the television, riveted by all the action. What's even more amazing is that she's even taken it upon herself to learn all the character's names and when she sees them on screen she shouts them out. And just so you know, there are 39 characters in the game!
Again, this is not a game she can play herself. But it's very much a game where the whole family can crowd around the gentle glow of the television screen and be a part of the action regardless of whose actually in control. We haven't had as much luck with other games--she enjoys the Legend of Zelda series, though that may be more because her father enjoys it so much--which is still a very good reason. As long as you're spending time with your child it doesn't matter what video game you're playing.
Balloons and Bubbles
These are a bit too small to each get their own spot so I'm condensing them together, which works out well considering they're actually very similar! You give any of my nieces a balloon--that's right, all three off them!--and they're set for a good 30 minutes. Or however long it takes for one of them to break. A little problem with balloons is that they will break and you will have to endure a lot of crying afterward. Still, I think I'll take 30 minutes of peace and quiet for 5 minutes of crying. Also make sure all of your children have their own balloon so as to reduce the chances of fighting. Picking different colors is also a good way to keep everyone using their own balloon as well.
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles! Has there ever been a cheaper way to entertain a child? One bottle of bubbles and both of my nieces just go crazy, batting at and popping them. However, they will never want you to stop so be ready for at least 30 minutes of bubbling around! And if you're like me and find all this bubble-play boring, you can find other creative things to do with them. For instance, I like to blow bubbles onto a sleeping kitty-cat and see how long it takes for him to irritably walk away.
Well, that's about it! You see, shopping for autistic children really isn't that difficult as long as you try to think about how you might use the toy to engage yourself with the child. And it's generally the small things that children appreciate the most anyhow. It isn't about giving them the latest hundred-dollar newfangled electronic gizmo that plays all the fancy games and can be used as a nightlight, clock, camera, and everything in between. It's about giving them something from the heart and then spending time with her while playing together. And er, if all of the above items fail, you can always just buy them candy. I have found that all children love candy.