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The best gift ideas for the holidays for children with autism are the gifts that teach, soothe, entertain and keep a child’s interest for an extended period of time. This might sound like a tall order, but considering your child’s likes and personality makes it much easier to sift through the ideas swimming around your brain – or think of ideas if you are having a hard time coming up with that perfect gift.
Children with autism respond well to anything that appeals to their senses. Apply this knowledge just like teachers do and you will be confident in your gift selections this holiday season.
Teachers have specific methods for teaching. They try to appeal to a child’s learning style when they prepare lessons. “Are my students primarily visual learners (see it, learn it), kinesthetic learners (touch, build, do), auditory learners (hear it, learn it), or like most of us a combination of two or three?” Once they know the answer to this question, they apply this knowledge to engage students in a manner that enables them to retain the information.
How to Find the Gift that Delights
Apply this teaching tip to appeal to your child’s sensory preferences for visual, audio, or kinesthetic activities. Know your child’s likes and find the gift that your child will enjoy for a long period of time, soothe them and perhaps even teach them something in the process of enjoying the gift.
Ideas for the visual learner:
It is no mistake that this is the first category to explore gift ideas on this list. Children with autism are extremely visual learners. There are unlimited ideas out there 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 the need to sit in front of a blue screen for endless hours. Here are a couple of wonderful gift ideas to engage the visual senses.
Yeah, it seems a bit archaic but many children with autism love the seek-and-find aspect of puzzle building. Keep in mind that not all puzzles are flat 2D puzzles either! There are some amazing 3D puzzles. The key to finding the right puzzle that will keep your child engaged is to know what themes and colors grab your child’s attention. Find puzzles that are bright and colorful and with pictures of their favorite characters or interests.
If you haven’t been to a local craft/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.
Ideas for the kinesthetic learner:
Kinesthetic learners need to touch and feel and actually perform a task to learn best. These are your children with autism that love to build with Legos, spin objects, and touch everything that they come into contact with. These are the children who like to get their hands dirty.
Building Blocks & Craft Supplies
Building blocks, Magna tiles, tinker toys, K-nex, Legos, magnetic sticks, or even a box of craft sticks and glue are perfect picks for the little architect. Children with autism who love to build will find a way to stack and arrange and create from whatever materials are available. 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 they prefer substances that aren’t so icky and sticky you can find other types of materials and kits to satisfy your kinesthetic learner. Bean bags, make your own slime, make-your-own project kits are available at craft stores for your hours of play.
Ideas for the auditory learner:
Music is a wonderful 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 useful 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, he/she may have auditory preferences.
These kids will love these gift ideas:
More precisely, Bluetooth headphones to minimize the struggle with chords getting yanked around if your child drops the phone or the tablet they are using. There are many choices out there that aren’t very expensive and the headphones with the padded ear coverings are best for comfort and for 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.
Focus on your child’s interests
The best gifts are centered around the things that your child with autism enjoys. Does your child like horses? Buy gifts with horse themes, images, or stories. Does your child like ninjas? Buy a Lego ninja set, some ninja books, or even a costume to play dress-up with.
If your child likes a certain topic, develop on that and slowly branch out into other topics. This leads to the next tip…
Try to keep things fresh
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 over and over, encourage him/her to listen to a different song to expand their repertoire and interrupt the repetitive behavior of listening to one thing over and over.
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.”
Here’s a big reveal:
If you look back at all of the ideas, most of these items engage most or ALL of the senses. Not one is exclusive to audio, visual, or kinesthetic preferences.
In addition to this, these are not expensive items and they get a lot of mileage if you spend a little time guiding your child with autism through activities with some of these ideas.
If these gifts and activities appeal to them, you might see some of the characteristics of autism-like rocking, hand flapping, or scripting either reduce or dissipate during the activity. High focus activities and soothing activities like singing, building, listening, or painting keep the mind and the hands busy and these things are good tools for teaching children with autism to self-soothe by doing something that they enjoy.
With any gift ideas for children with autism, parents and caregivers should always try to introduce new skills and new interests through fun activities which the child already enjoys doing. Help them to develop, grow, reduce repetition, and improve inflexible attitudes or behaviors by keeping things fresh and interesting.
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 help 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 of the wonderful things that your family enjoys. Set up a consultation with us today!
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