While there are many wonderful aspects about the holiday, from the lights to the weather to seeing and being with family and friends, let’s not kid ourselves. If you’re under the age of ten, then the holidays can often be about one thing: presents. However, if you have a child with autism, finding the perfect present is a much more nuanced and unique process.
After all, trying to create a top ten list of the perfect gifts for a child with autism would be futile; what might be an ideal present for one child could be too loud, bright, or distracting for another. Over at the National Autism Resources website, they have compiled a very useful gift guide that is structured around developmental areas that are typically difficult for children with autism. After all, when shopping for a gift, age is not so much as a factor as an individual child’s own personal developmental abilities and thus it is about buying a gift that will help him or her to encourage the development in areas one is currently lacking.
Looking at this thematically, one area to consider when shopping for a child with autism is purchasing calming toys as miscommunication and misunderstanding are common frustrations. While stress and anxiety are common moods, a soothing gift can actually benefit the whole family. For instance, many children with autism enjoy gentle vibrating items like a vibrating pillow, mitt, or roll. Slow, repetitive motion items as well as weighted items are other good examples of soothing gifts to look for, such as a tranquil jelly starfish or a weighted blanket or vest.
Many children and teenagers with autism greatly enjoy sensory toys and products, which can also be pleasant distractions during long trips in the car to see family and friends. If your child is visually oriented, then visual toys like a colorful light-up pinwheel, Strobotops, or a light box can provide hours of distraction. If your child is inclined towards touching, then wooden puzzles and legos are perfect for the tiny builder in your family while living sand sets and tingle therapy can also provide a great degree of sensory entertainment. Keep in mind that often less is more with sensory gifts, so be careful not to get something potentially overwhelming, rather focusing on toys that each provides a certain kind of sensory outlet.
Finally, toys that help to develop social skills are a third category that opens up a wide field of options. For instance, depending on the individual, certain board games can serve as fun for the whole family while covering a variety of scenarios that help kids and teens to master them. Other games can help children to better recognize and understand emotions such as the Empathy Game and How Do You Feel. A child with language delays who is beginning to notice their peers will do better with simple turn taking board games.
So when shopping for a gift for a child with autism, try to think of both areas they excel in and areas in which they could still grow. That way you can buy a complementary combination of gifts that help a child explore his or strengths while building on certain weaknesses.