My grandsons, Noah and Aiden, both have autism. Their intellectual abilities range from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Autism and Sensory Toys: What Does "Neurotypical" Mean?
For families of children with autism, "neurotypical" is a common descriptor used to differentiate people who are not on the autism spectrum with those who are on the spectrum—neurotypical being the term used for the majority of people in the world whose brains function as expected. Many children with autism have limited or no ability to converse with others.
In addition, many non-verbal children as well as verbal children on the spectrum can’t articulate their wants or needs. Each autistic child’s brain functionality differs. Some autistic children’s abilities may be comparable to neurotypical children years their junior, some may function similar to their peers with few exceptions, while others may have savant qualities. As a result, commonly used gift buying practices rarely apply.
Shopping for a Neurotypical Child verses a Child With Autism
It’s usually not too difficult to figure out what a neurotypical child might want for Christmas. If they don’t tell you, you can buy them a gift that most other children in their age group ask for or you can use the recommendations suggested by the manufacturers. However, many children with autism show little or no interest in toys or other material things.
It’s not uncommon for any child to fixate on one specific toy or item at some point in their childhood. For some children with autism that fixation can go on for years. It may be impossible to get them to give any of their attention to a different item.
In addition, when people attempt to spark their interests with pictures or verbal descriptions of things they might like, they may stare blankly for a moment and then walk away as they may not grasp the concept of Christmas. Their likes and dislikes differ for each individual. Some kids with autism love hammock chairs. Perhaps, they like having a space to themselves. In order to figure out what to get them, more investigative work may be required.
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How to Figure Out What to Buy a Child With Autism
Parents and guardians of children with autism, often, have a difficult time deciding what to purchase for their child or what to tell others to get them. Throughout the year, they may have tried numerous times, with no luck, to get their child to try playing with a new item. They may consult with the child’s teacher or therapist to find out if the child shows any excitement for things they work with them on.
Sometimes teachers and therapists witness some measure of enthusiasm toward a sensory item used in their classrooms or sessions. For family and friends who want to buy the child a present, parents often suggest getting them clothes. Even then, there may be specific characteristics in addition to size that the gift buyer needs to be aware of.
Some children have sensitivities to certain materials, textures, or colors. For example, they may not be able to tolerate the feel of sleeves on their forearms. Some colors might help them feel more calm than others. Children of all ages may like to see a favorite cartoon character or action hero on their clothing. It’s best to inquire with the parents to find out if the child has any preferences when it comes to clothing.
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What to Consider Before Purchasing a Gift for an Autistic Child
The age of a child with autism should have little influence on the toys chosen for them. Instead, choose toys that match up with the developmental stage of the child. If you're unaware of the developmental stage a child is in, it's best to ask the child's parent or caregiver for suggestions of what the child would like.
Sensory toys such as squishy balls, pin art, picture projectors, and lava lamps or similar devices are some of the most commonly purchased toys for children on the spectrum. Some of the more traditional toys such as dolls or trains may also be the trigger that sparks a smile from them on Christmas morning. If they are able to communicate what they want, by all means, find out from them what they would like.
True Story: How a Christmas Gift Affected a Little Boy With Autism
Noah, a ten-year-old boy with autism, is non-verbal. His doctors compare his developmental stage to be equivalent to an eighteen-month-old child. When he was three and four years old, he spoke a few words and phrases; however, shortly after his fourth birthday he regressed.
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He didn’t speak another word until the Christmas right before his fifth birthday when he received a Diego doll from his godmother. Up until this point, he never played with any of his toys. He would flip the pages of a book or play in water but that was all he did for amusement. The only show he ever watched on tv was Go, Diego, Go.
Finally, after waiting almost a year for him to speak another word, he said it on that Christmas morning. When he opened his doll, he said, “Diego.” He carried Diego around with him for approximately two years all the while saying his name. Unfortunately, he has since regressed again. He grew out of Diego and no longer says his name. However, he has started saying “Mom” and the following Christmas after hearing The Little Drummer Boy sung over and over again, he started saying the word, “Come.” With hope for another Christmas miracle, where Noah loves a toy again and speaks another word, we anticipate Christmas morning.
Christmas Morning in Many Households
Most parents can't wait for their children to either wake up or to wake them up on Christmas morning as everyone takes a turn exclaiming, "Santa came!" They anxiously await the look on their child's face when they open their presents.
However, many children with autism don't respond in the way hoped. Many children with autism count on their routines. Any deviation from those routines may cause them stress or hesitation. Instead of running to the tree to see what Santa brought, they may walk slowly while attempting to go back to their bedrooms. Sometimes, it's better to let them get up and go about their daily routine such as stopping in the kitchen for breakfast first before leading them to the tree.
Parents often find that they have to help their children open their presents. The look on the child's face after opening the first gift or two may be more of confusion than excitement. For many parents, the most they hope for is that something draws out a smile. For others, one word, any word, can mean just as much, if not more than, hearing another child say, "Wow, this is awesome!" or "This was the best Christmas ever!"
Beneficial Toys for Children With Autism Suggested by a Behavioral Therapist
- The best gifts for children with special needs - TODAY.com
These ten toys are effective in both therapy for children with special needs and at home for children of all abilities.
H Lax (author) on December 18, 2017:
Thanks Dianna, Your prayers are greatly appreciated. It's really sad because Noah doesn't play with any toys. He loves playing in water though. He will blast the sinks or tub every chance he gets. If I ever hit the lotto I'm gonna buy him a house with an indoor splash pad. :)
Dianna Mendez on December 18, 2017:
I am sure the challenges of buying just the right gift will be minimal following your suggestions. Touching story on Noah. I pray one day he will be able to communicate his thoughts and feelings with his loved ones.
H Lax (author) on December 14, 2017:
Thank you, Angel. They really are. I bet your 4 year old will have tons of fun building things I know I spent a lot of time building house of cards when I was young. Happy Holidays to you too
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on December 14, 2017:
These are wonderful gift ideas for all children. I bought my 4 year old magnetic building tiles. Happy Holidays :)