I specialise in writing about autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, and related conditions.
What Do I Buy Autistic, Developmentally Delayed, and Sensory-Seeking Children for Christmas?
As the parent of a five-year-old autistic son, I know how hard it can be to find a present for a child with autism, or any child with a developmental delay or other special needs. My son is often much more fascinated by the cardboard box or bubble wrap that the present is wrapped in than the actual gift itself, so finding toys that interest him is a never-ending quest.
I have been to many websites that recommend this toy or that and, to be honest, I know many of those toys just won’t appeal to him. Every child with autism is just as individual as any other, and although I understand that (in theory) he should be really into puzzles or a sandbox or a present specific for a child with autism, in reality, my son just doesn’t run with the flock. He will completely ignore many of these toys.
Of course, there are many sites that promise that their expensive toys for children with autism are what you need. But if you, like me, are on a strict budget, then here are some suggestions for similar gifts that cost significantly less.
1. Spinning Top
This toy never fails to interest my son. Yes, just any good old fashioned spinning top will do. In fact, in many cases, it does not even need to be a real spinning top at all. The more spinning objects there are the merrier for him. The one I have chosen here at this link has the added bonus of lighting up as well so we get two of my son’s favorite activities at once i.e. spinning and flashing lights.
He also tends to prefer the more substantial ones rather than the little wooden painted ones but that’s just his personal choice. In the past, I have picked Spinning Tops up on eBay but I have also gotten them in Educational Toys stores, Bargain shops and on market stalls so you can spend as little or as much on them as you like. The choice is yours.
I would be lost without my son’s trampoline. It is his number one favourite way of working off frustration and pent-up meltdowns. He has an outdoor trampoline already that he has to go on when he gets up when he comes home from school. It’s a big part of his daily routine and he always has to have a good bounce on his trampoline after his walkabout in the back garden as soon as he gets home from school.
However now that these dark, blustery winter days have set in here in Ireland it is now not always possible to let him go outside and of course, he doesn’t agree. So what if there is a gale force wind doesn’t that just make it all the more exciting he protests? It is also being suggested that this Christmas we could be snowed and boy it’d be a long holiday season without a backup plan. So here’s a mini in-door trampoline that I saw on eBay that’s under $40.00. It is just ideal for the Christmas holiday season and it may even save your sanity too. It is thankfully also versatile enough to pop into the trunk of the car and carry with you during your Christmas visiting trips.
3. Ball Pits
Ball pits provide hours of endless fascination. I have chosen two images of Ball Pit and a Ball tent here as both are ideal depending on your child's age and their level of Sensory Difficulty. If your child has Autism you might prefer the tent because this can also be a useful place for your child to go to when they are feeling overloaded or in meltdown mode too.
I have yet to meet an autistic child who is not fascinated or at least moderately interested in a Ball pit. It’s a great entertainment for them as well as well as helping to relieve stress by providing sensory input towards part of your child’s daily Sensory Diet. It’s also an added bonus that they can play with the Ball Pit themselves or with others depending on what’s needed at any particular time.
Also once again they are easily portable for transportation over the holiday season.
4. Lava Lamps and Ooze Tubes
I was amazed when I realized that Lava Lamps and Ooze tubes were considered to be Sensory toys for Autistic children. Back in my own childhood, I had no idea at the time that I was the typical Aspergers child. Yet I too was always extremely fascinated with all of the above. So when I realized that Lava Lamps and Ooze Tubes were classed as the perfect toys for my son I quickly suggested last Christmas that a Lava Lamp would be a perfect Christmas gift for him. However, in hindsight, I have to admit that I was much more enamoured by the lamp at the time than my son was.
That’s another important aspect to remember when buying toys for children with autism especially those who also have developmental delay or multiple sensory issues. The suggested age on toys isn’t always appropriate for them. I find these days that my son is taking out toys that he got two years ago and starting to play with them now i.e. his toy age is about two to three years even though he has just turned five.
5. Educational and Vocabulary-Building DVDs
While there are a few DVDs my son likes (just delighted though that he got over the phase of repeating the same first two minutes of certain DVDs over and over again e.g. Bob The Builder is still in my nightmares most nights as is every teddy bear like character from the BBC Series, In the Night Garden), DVDs of your child’s particular chosen program of current fascination will undoubtedly give you some solace over the Christmas break. It may also have the added bonus of saving your sanity at times when you just need downtime yourself. But if you think you might want to comfort yourself even more by actually having a DVD that your son might actually love to watch that is also teaching him something beneficial then I have found that the collection of Bumble Bee DVDs was just great for this purpose.
There are a load of different sets to choose from within the Bumble Bee collection depending on what level your child is at, and some come with picture cards also if you want them. Many of them have won awards for helping pre-verbal children gain some skills. Some of the sets come with Picture cards too or not depending on what you need.
It is best to have a look through the whole collection first and then pick a set that best suits your child’s stage of communication.
These are all gift ideas that I personally have bought and I still have many more to come in future articles, so watch this space.
Enjoy your gift buying and as we say here in Ireland, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Scott A Oswald on December 10, 2016:
I Love this list. It's just as good as autisticgifts.com or autismspeaks.org!