If you buy Christmas gifts for someone in your family who has autism, you may be wondering to yourself, "Self, what's a good gift this kid will really like and their parents will appreciate?" Well, as you might know, I'm the parent of a child with autism and I have some tips for you and some gift suggestions as well.
The most important piece of advice I have for you is this; You don't have to shop at some "autism store" to find toys that are suitable. These days I'm seeing certain toys marketed specifically to children with autism. Trust me, it's a marketing gimmick. My son has never had autism-specific toys.
My son is 10 (as of Christmas 2012) and his name is Braden. All kids have different interests and excel at different things, autistic kids included. In order to buy a good gift that's really going to be a hit you need to know the child. Obviously, I don't know the child you're buying for so the following are guidelines.
First, as a rule, don't buy anything that has a lot of small parts. Parts get lost, sucked into the vacuum, distributed around the house, etc. Parts make for an assorted mess. And with autistic kids, the parents are probably going to be the ones cleaning up that mess.
That said, there's one exception to this rule. If you know the child with autism that you're buying for enjoys building things... Lego's are great. Why? Lego's are so versatile it's ridiculous. I don't think better toys for children with autism exist. And they make these things for all ages so it's no problem finding Lego's that are age appropriate. If your child likes pirates, Lego makes 'em. If your child likes space ships, Lego makes 'em. The latest movies, the latest cartoons, and whatever else. Lego keeps up with the trends like no other company. There's a reason they're so popular with children and even some adults. When in doubt, buy Lego's.
Second, the parents will appreciate if you don't get anything that's noisy. No air horns. No trumpets. No kazoo's. Parents of autistic kids hear plenty of noise all the time and they don't want their kid having some new Christmas present that adds to the craziness. Plus, some children with autism are sensitive to noise.
Third, don't get anything messy. Give paint kits to the other kids you gotta buy for. Let them make the messes. Autistic children make plenty of messes without the need for a new "Mess-Making Kit" at Christmas time. Ever heard of smearing feces? Uh huh. They don't need anything to encourage them to write the letter "B" in poop. However, if you know the kid is an artistic autistic you might consider a good drawing kit of some sort.
Fourth, don't get anything that shoots. Don't even think about it. This includes Nerf toys. Just say no to Nerf guns. The little darts are soft, I know, but children with autism don't need anything that shoots. That's a disaster (and a bodily injury) waiting to happen.
Now that you know what type of gifts to avoid, what kind of gifts should you consider? I know a boy who loves ANYTHING Disney. In that case you can't go wrong, just make sure you don't buy him something he already has like a life-sized Cinderella doll.
Children with autism like to be creative and have fun like every other child. Color Wonder Markers only write on a certain type of paper, so they don't make a mess and can't be used to write on walls or any other surface. There are lots of options for accessories and fun kits for Color Wonder Markers. That might be an idea.
If that special child has an iPad, you might consider getting an iBallz or Big Grips case to protect it. Both cases are solid and the best protection an iPad can get.
Another very practical yet fun gift is giant foam interlocking letters. A teen with high functioning autism probably won't get much out of these, so use discretion! But my son got some of these for Christmas a few years back and they were golden! They were great for teaching him letters, spelling, and pronunciation. Plus, they're soft and they're large. Great for gross motor skills.
Speaking of practical gifts, videos are always great too, especially educational videos. My son loves Word World videos. In Word World everything is a word. So the animated sheep is made up of the letters S-H-E-E-P. You gotta see it to know what I'm talking about. The thing I like about this show, as a parent, is that it's not just mindless entertainment. My son is learning as he's watching. That's cool!
Books are always a good idea too. These kids gotta learn how to read! My son likes the Llama's in Pajamas books. In this video he's actually reading one of those books. That's rare footage too. It's been a while since he has done that. I never see him reading these days.
OK, a few more suggestions that are SURE to be a hit.
- For $11 there's the music of Linda Conrad that deals with issues like biting, hitting, etc. It's very catchy music for autistic children that encourages them to behave appropriately. I'm telling ya, you'll find yourself humming these tunes as you walk around the house. It's available right here through Autism Epicenter. Give it a listen, no charge.
- Remote Control cars are great for eye:hand coordination. They range in price from cheap to ridiculous. Drop a little change and you can get a decent one that a child can moderately abuse and still use. Here's one from the movie Cars 2.
- And while we're talking cars n trucks, Bruder toy trucks are awesome! My son has two or three of them and they're made better than most toy trucks these days. They're plastic and they're quite nicely detailed.
- For autistic girls, presents like a Melissa and Doug magnetic dress up set would be much appreciated by parents and you can bet the girls would love it!
- Help that kid tell time. A watch with a clean, simple watchface like this one for a girl or this one for a boy can really help.
- Also, let me put a little plug in for Autism Epicenter's own beautiful crystal autism awareness bracelet. Any autism mom would love it!
- Toy animals can help with imaginary play. My son loves his toy animals, especially when Dad gets involved and makes the lion fart!
OK - There you have it! That should give you a pretty good idea about what to buy for the autistic child in your life. Right about now you should be saying to yourself, "Self, I'd be wise to consider this advice and these suggestions. After all, this is put forth by the parent of a child with autism."
I was thinking the same thing.
Additionally, rethink the idea of 'developmentally appropriate.' Your child may be ahead or behind the age number[s] on the box. Go with your gut instinct. You know what your child can and cannot or should and should not be playing with.
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