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The holiday season, especially gift-giving, can bring about a lot of stress. Questions such as ”what do I buy them?” And “will they like it?” arise all too often. This can be especially true if you’re looking for great gifts for a child with autism.
Coming up with gift ideas for children with autism should not be difficult. While there are some children on the autism spectrum who can recite their gift list verbatim, others simply aren’t able to express what they’d like. That’s where we can help. At Circle Care, we’ve researched for you and will break down the best gift ideas for the holiday season and any other gift-giving opportunity.
What’s a suitable gift for an autistic child?
Before you get online or hit the mall, ask yourself what makes your child unique. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a very complex neurodevelopmental disorder. As such, it can include a variety of social and sensory differences. That’s why it’s critical to think about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to consider their age, social skills, motor skills, cognitive level, and most importantly, what interests them. Often choosing a suitable present depends more on the child’s play skills and interests than on their age.
What are sensory toys for kids with autism?
Children on the autism spectrum respond well to anything that provides sensory stimulation. For the sake of our gift guide for kids with autism, we’ll use the term “sensory toys” as an umbrella term to define and categorize all of our presents.
The use of sensory toys to soothe, entertain, and teach children with autism spectrum disorder is more popular than ever. They are a desirable choice primarily because they stimulate a child’s senses. The stimulation in the brain is closely related to many other skills your child needs, including hand-eye coordination required for throwing a ball or climbing a ladder, motor skills, including cutting and writing, and language development.
Sensory toys are designed to engage a child’s senses, including sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, in a positive way. When your child participates in sensory stimulation activities, they are actively learning, which is critical to their development. Sensory stimulation can help kids with autism improve their focus and concentration levels. It can also calm and relax them.
What to look for in sensory toys for kids with autism?
There are a few set of simple steps that you can take to identify the most appropriate gift for your child with autism.
1. Identify activities your child enjoys, avoids, or needs to improve.
Questions you might want to ask are:
- Does your child enjoy calming activities such as reading in a swing chair or quiet space?
- Or are they sensory seekers? That means their sensory buckets are rarely full and constantly seeking different sensory input types. These types of children may like to climb furniture.
- Do they often cover their ears throughout the day because of loud sounds and have sensory regulation trouble?
- Or do they have a difficult time transitioning between activities at school?
2. Identify the primary sensory system.
There are seven sensory systems, each unique, though there is a lot of overlap and all of the systems work in tandem. These systems include:
- Vestibular (sense of movement and balance)
- Proprioception (it is activated by applying pressure to our joints and muscles and tells us where our body is in space).
- Tactile (sense of touch)
Based on the activities you’ve identified by answering question #1, choose the coordinating sensory system your child is activating. For example, if your child is constantly losing his balance, a toy that activates his vestibular sensory organs might help him.
3. Isolate the environment and its subsequent timing
When you’ve isolated the activities and the sensory systems being used, it’s time to look at what time of day they happen and where? Is there any correlation?
For instance, if your child is particularly anxious during the weekday mornings (i.e., before school begins), this might be part of a pattern. They might benefit from some calming toys while you’re on your way to school.
4. Establish a budget for your toy
Using the example of finding a calming toy for your child, you may be looking for one large item, such as a weighted blanket. Or you can purchase several smaller items that can have a calming effect in different ways. Whatever you decide, make sure you’re clear on a budget before you step out shopping.
What are the best toys for visual sensory learners?
Children with autism are incredibly visual learners. There are unlimited ideas for visual learners that children with autism can access online on their tablets, phones, or game consoles.
However, it is always beneficial to find alternate ways to engage the visual learner without sitting in front of a blue screen for endless hours. Here are a couple of fantastic gift ideas to engage the visual senses.
Many children with autism love the seek-and-find aspect of puzzle building. The key to finding the right puzzle is to keep your child engaged by knowing what themes and colors grab your child’s attention. Keep in mind that not all puzzles are flat 2D puzzles, either! There are some fantastic 3D puzzles. Find bright and colorful puzzles with pictures of their favorite characters or interests.
If you haven’t been to a local craft or hobby store in a while, the holidays are a great time to revisit one. Grab colorful paints, sponges, brushes, and some poster board or canvas. Invest in a giant set of gel pens, markers, pastels, crayons, or colored pencils. Sit and teach your child how to blend colors, complete paint by numbers, or paint freestyle.
What to buy for the tactile sensory learner?
Tactile or kinesthetic learners must touch, feel, and perform a task to learn best. These are your children with autism that love to build with Legos, spinning objects, and touch everything they come into contact with. These are the children who like to get their hands dirty.
Building Blocks & Craft Supplies
Children with autism who love to build will find a way to stack, arrange, and create from whatever materials are available. Building blocks, Magna tiles, tinker toys, K-nex, Legos, magnetic sticks, or even a box of craft sticks and glue are perfect for the little architect. Give them a variety of options so that they can bring Minecraft to life at the kitchen table.
All Things Sticky
Icky, sticky, gooey, squishy substances are heavenly to children with kinesthetic preferences. They make great stocking stuffers and gifts. If your child loves to touch and squish things, they are prime candidates for Play Dough, slime, goo, or kinetic sand. If you prefer substances that aren’t icky and sticky, you can find other materials and kits to satisfy your kinesthetic learner. Bean bags, make-your-own slime, and make-your-own project kits are available at craft stores.
What to buy for the auditory sensory learner?
Music is a beautiful tool for learning, relaxing and soothing children who have autism. Most of us can remember a time when we learned a song that helped us to memorize states and capitals, multiplication tables, history facts, and all sorts of helpful information. Teachers and therapists often utilize music to teach skills because it can appeal to auditory learners. If you notice that your child with autism appreciates music as a reward for hard work, they may have auditory preferences.
These kids will love these gift ideas:
More precisely, Bluetooth headphones minimize the struggle with chords getting yanked around if your child drops the phone or the tablet they are using. There are many choices that aren’t very expensive, and the headphones with padded ear coverings are best for comfort and blocking external noise.
Invest in a text-to-speech program and show them how to use it. Just like the old reading centers in school where children could go to sit with a book and an audio cassette or DVD (depending on how old you are), children enjoy good stories that are narrated well. Figure out what types of stories will keep your child with autism interested and compile a list that you can work through with your child. Invest in a text-to-speech program and show them how to use it.
How to keep things fresh for a child with autism?
Children with autism tend to become rigid and inflexible in their interests and activities. As parents and caregivers of children with autism, we never want to ignore when a child fixates on one thing to the exclusion of all other things. In other words, if a child listens to one song repeatedly, encourage them to listen to different music to expand their repertoire and interrupt the repetitive behavior of listening to one thing repeatedly.
Our goal as parents and caregivers of children with autism should always be about enriching their lives and teaching them to be curious and explore new things- it’s how we learn. By allowing children with autism to ruminate or fixate on one single item, song, physical motion, or verbal script, we aren’t helping them to learn to communicate and interact with others around them.
Children with autism can be resistant to this at first, but with continuous small doses of exposure to new things, you can encourage some flexibility in your child with autism. You may even use the old “Premack Principle” with your child, which is the “first/then” approach. “First, we will listen to mom’s music, and then we will listen to yours.”
Why is the most important gift of all, your time?
It’s important to remember never to buy a toy that needs your assistance unless you’re willing to help.
Presents such as electronic snap circuit kits or LEGOs might be a lot of fun for a child with autism, but they can demand a more significant time requirement from parents. So if you know that a present you’re about to buy will require adult supervision or input, plan for it. Set a date with the child to assemble it together.
Let the gift-giving begin
With any gift ideas for children with autism, parents and caregivers should always try to introduce new skills and new interests through fun activities that the child already enjoys. Help them to develop, grow, reduce repetition, and improve inflexible attitudes or behaviors by keeping things fresh and exciting.
If you live in the New Jersey area, Circle Care Services is an ABA agency that helps families like yours help children with autism to learn and grow. We teach social skills through ABA therapy and allow children to learn appropriate behavior skills so that they can enjoy being with peers of the same age and enjoy being a part of all the beautiful things your family enjoys. To learn more about Circle Care Services sign up for our newsletter today!