Holidays and Autism. Two words that sometimes don’t go well together. The changes in routine. The crowds. The sensory overload. The temptation of cheating on your special diet is everywhere.
And then there are the gifts. Parents of kids with autism know that their likes and dislikes are not the same as those of a typical child. We want to make our kids happy, but we also want to help get them better.
I have good news! There are gift options that do BOTH of these things.
Autism is a wide spectrum. What one kid with autism might like, another may not, but here are some ideas that may just put that sought-after smile on your child’s face on Christmas morning. As a bonus, they will help your child too.
FOR THE MUSIC LOVER & SCREEN ADDICTED CHILD
An MP3 Player
My kid with autism was addicted to screens. Taking the tablet away and giving her an iPod was life changing. She chose her own music and became much more social. Sadly, the iPod has been discontinued, but you can still get an MP3 player for a decent price.
You may also be able to find an iPod on E-Bay.
TO INSPIRE IMAGINATION SKILLS
Any pretend play toy set is great.
I like Melissa and Doug because they are safe, non-toxic toys. Choose a pretend play toy set that matches their interests. If they like to eat, then go with pretend food.
Kids with autism will require modeling to know how to use these toys. Have a friend or parent video record how to use these toys, then the child can watch the recording to learn.
TO DEVELOP FINE MOTOR SKILLS
Crayon rocks for the kid who has trouble with grip and finger strength. These are amazing and were endorsed by our Occupational Therapist.
Each of my kids got a boogie board and they spent hours drawing pictures and writing notes back and forth to one another.
You draw and then push the button to make it erase everything to start all over.
This helps with eye to hand coordination and keeping focus.
Find a skill level appropriate book for your child. I like this one as it uses both ABCs and 1,2,3s.
Ultimate Sticker Collection books
Kids love these because they have their favorite characters, plus they are easy to peel and stick onto their designated place. Find your child’s favorite character book.
Legos are fantastic for developing finger strength. Lego has catered to their target audience by giving step by step instructions to build a set. However, personally, I love the imagination aspect of Legos.
Kids with autism will need some guided assistance in finding ways to make things with their imagination. As a parent, you can construct something then take a picture of it. Then see if the child can copy what you built by looking at the picture.
Legos come in all shapes and sizes. Start with the Lego Duplo as they are bigger in size.
Kids with Autism tend to love, and be very good at puzzles. That is their left brain strong capabilities in action. If you get them a puzzle, you can make it more productive by having them place the pieces with their left hand verses their right. That forces them to use both sides of their brain.
We love any Ravensburger puzzle. And this puzzle of the United States has been a fan favorite at my house for years.
TO DEVELOP GROSS MOTOR SKILLS
This scooter by Micro kickboard is fantastic because it doesn’t require a ton of balancing but is still fun and fast.
There is a micro mini (for smaller kids) and a micro maxi (for larger kids).
Mini trampoline with a handle.
Kids love to jump. Jumping helps with constipation and lymph drainage too. It also can help them regulate themselves if they are feeling overwhelmed. This one is nice.
Working on core body strength will help with everything from posture to focus. Make it more challenging by tossing a ball back and forth while standing on the wobble board. Don’t underestimate the importance of core body strength.
This one is cute but pick what works for you.
Monkey bars work on brachiation, which helps fine motor skills. I had a very smart functional neuro-chiropractor say to me “if you want to improve handwriting, work on monkey bars!”
This portable slack line of monkey bars is just what the doctor ordered!
Here is a tip: If the child cannot do monkey bars yet, don’t fret. Practice hanging from one bar for up to 30 seconds. Then graduate to 60 seconds.
This is a portable slackline monkey bar kit.
Horseback riding lessons
Experiences are wonderful gifts. If you can find a place that specializes in horseback riding for special needs kids, this can be a gift of a lifetime.
Hippotherapy is amazing for developing core body strength.
TIP: If you give an experience as a gift, use a picture of the experience as the gift along with a calendar that they use to count down the days until it is scheduled to happen.
TO DEVELOP HAND TO EYE COORDINATION
A mini ping pong table
Visual tracking of a ball can help kids learn to track objects and anticipate where they are going without too much interference.
We love this mini-ping pong table.
Creative Spherical Magic Cube
For the kid who fidgets, this fun addictive puzzle will keep kids busy for long periods of time. Match the colors.
TO DEVELOP SOCIAL SKILLS
Charades for Kids
This is an awesome game that can get them socializing and acting out words.
They learn turn taking, patience and thinking about how to move their body to express what a word means.
Many kids love Disney Characters.
This game helps kids learn to use adjectives to describe a character without using their name. Both fun and silly.
Teach to Talk DVDs
For the kid who likes to watch TV.
These DVDs are funny and engaging while teaching your kid to better communicate their needs and wants.
Teach to Talk DVDs have many levels so you can work your way up.
TO ENCOURAGE CROSS HEMISPHERE BRAIN ACTIVATION
Piano is amazing for incorporating both sides of the brain. The majority of kids with autism tend to be very left brain strong and right brain weak. Encouraging both sides of the brain to work together can be beneficial for the child.
Read more about how piano can benefit kids with autism here.
SENSORY ITEMS TO CALM THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
For those kids that love sensory input AND for those kids that dread it, this Kinetic sand is good for both. It doesn’t get your hands messy and molds easily.
TIP: Don’t let them play with this over a carpet.
This is a great stocking stuffer.
Oddly, this electric toothbrush may entice BOTH your sensory avoider and your sensory seeker to brush their teeth. Now, wouldn’t that be a blessing?
A weighted blanket can make those that crave deep pressure sleep more comfortably. Truly a present for both parents AND the child.
There are many places that sell them including Etsy. Here is a popular site that has been selling them since 2011.
This Sensory Sox product can be extremely calming for a kid with sensory needs.
It comes in several sizes and is well priced.
CHEMICAL FREE FUN
Playing with make-up is fun for girls.
This is kit by Klee Kids is safe and non-toxic.
It is also sparkly and cute.
Indoor Snowball Fight
Have some fun with this indoor snowball fight because laughter is the best therapy.
I hope you found some ideas that work for you. The trick is finding what they love and expanding on that idea. Expand on it with books of their desired topics, toys with favorite characters and anything that will help them engage with you.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.