For all children, playing is the way they learn. This is especially true with children with autism. Playing with toys can also teach parents how to connect with their special needs child. When you make a thoughtful choice for your gift, they will always know that they are loved. That support is worth a lot. If finding gifts that encourage the appropriate learning and development seems like a daunting venture, you’ve come to the right place. It’ll be easy and fun with these 7 tips that will help you choose the best gifts for autistic kids.
Tip #1: Every Kid is an Individual. Consider the Child’s Unique Interests
There is no one size fits all approach to accommodating a child with special needs. That goes double for playtime. You want to find a gift that has meaning for the individual. This promotes confidence and reaffirms that he or she is loved just the way they are. Find out what this individual thinks is fun.
Some kids with autism don’t play with toys at all but don’t let that stop you. Are they interested in fans or vacuums? There are lightweight cordless vacuums that are pretty quiet and easy to use. Maybe a bunch of silk scarves to play with, other clothes or costumes for playing dress-up. Real tools for gardening or building can teach and empower the child during playtime.
Tip #2: Encourage Physical Activity
Gross motor skills are essential not only to stay in shape but in developing all the other social and emotional skills. I think we can all attest that nothing cures anxiety or boredom like a session of physical play.
Kids with autism will benefit from anything that gets them running, swinging, spinning, hanging upside down, rolling around. Depending on the level of development, ride-on trucks and cars, or bikes and scooters provide great exercise. A safe trampoline or balance beam promotes spatial awareness.
Riding lessons have therapeutic benefits, including sensory, emotional, cognitive and language skills. There has been a revolution in Equine therapy. Introductory riding lessons or even just pony rides make great gifts for autistic kids.
Tip #3: Get Tactile
A wide range of sensory stimulation can soothe, entertain and inspire all at once. Play-doh is a classic toy that calms and activates fun. My mother put drops of lavender oil or other safety verified essential oils in the Play-doh, which would create calming aromas as the child plays.
Finger paints are great and you can mix things like shaving cream into finger paint to give an added texture. Playing in water is always fun and teaches motor skills. Consider a water table, or just measuring cups and buckets to play with.
Tip #4: Help Encourage Development of Fine Motor Skills
Once a child has moved past early development it is important to continue encouraging fine motor skills. More advanced toys like this are awesome! Model cars or trains which also require precise painting or decals. Jewelry making is a great art form that can lead to social development or even a small business later on. Robotics and Lego sets promote fine motor skills as well.
Tip #5: Get Social
Sports are a great way to teach social skills and it doesn’t take much to encourage a child in their favorite sport. A new soccer goal or basketball. Games that play along can be good too.
If you are sure that noisy toys are okay with the parents, look for games that utilize a lot of positive language like “Do you want to play?”, or “Oh, that’s okay”. Those repetitious voices often annoy us adults, but the message of good sportsmanship is worth it.
Board games are great at teaching healthy competition, structure, and fairness. Games with a timer are great at promoting learning.
Tip #6: Toys that are Not Toys
One fun aspect of choosing gifts for autistic kids is that you can get creative and leave the cliche gift ideas on the toy store shelf. Consider putting together your own custom fun box of cool stuff. Cardboard boxes, baking powder canisters, coffee cans full of beans, rubber bands. Consider an old fashioned washboard or telephone.
Of course, there are always the classics like a whoopee cushion or a Frisbee. Handheld vibrating massagers have been found to calm and grab the attention of children with autism.
Tip #7: Extended Term Projects
One of the best things about gardening is that it makes you wait. There are great starter garden sets that provide everything you need to plant some herbs or lettuce.
Another example of a project that pays off over time is a butterfly hatching set. You feed the caterpillar and then eventually release the butterfly. The lessons being taught here are endless; nurturing, development and growth, delayed gratification, long term consequences.
Models that require waiting for glue to dry, painting projects all have the added benefit of maintaining focus and then letting go.
Tip #8: Foster a Love of Music
Ok, I’ll admit I am biased on this because I love music. I believe music is the greatest gift to give or receive. Plus, what better way to get moving than to dance to some groovy tunes?
A love of music will encourage a lifetime of social interaction and is a great attraction to attend public events. Toys that play music to dance along with can be really fun.
Some great starter instruments are the kazoo, harmonicas, or hand drums. The mouthpiece of a trumpet can be an affordable and surprisingly versatile little instrument too. For more advanced players, consider a plastic trombone or a ukelele.
If that seems like too much, a simple to operate radio with knobs and push-buttons will offer access to music. Finally, do some research and buy them some tickets to a fun outdoor concert.
Wrap Up (pun intended)
Hopefully, this has given you plenty of ideas for how to choose gifts for autistic kids. If you are unsure, don’t be afraid to ask Mom and Dad. They know best.
Children with autism may have special needs, but the most basic needs are universal. Give them your love, let them play and be kids, and offer the support they need. The gift you give will pay you back many times over.