Holiday Gift Guide
Are you a bit stressed about finding great gifts for the people you love on the spectrum this holiday season?
Buying a toy, gift, or Christmas present for a child or teen on the autism spectrum can be challenging. To help make your gift-giving easier, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when purchasing gifts for your loved ones with autism:
Focus on the person’s interests and preferences
The key when selecting gifts is to remember what makes your kid unique.
Research shows that incorporating preferences into your kids learning and play environment, can reduce behaviors and can increase certain skills.
For example, if a child likes swimming, activities involving water play may be a hit ( water tables, sprinkler toys, water beads, grow capsules). Alternatively, if a child is sensitive to loud noises, a toy fire truck with a siren may not be appropriate.
Focus on developmental-appropriateness
Many toys come with age recommendations, and while these recommendations are helpful, they might not always lead you to the perfect gift. A rule of thumb when purchasing a gift is to consider both the age and the development of the child for whom you are buying a gift.
When looking for the right gift, focus on what the child can do. Keep these two questions in mind:
- Will they enjoy it?
- Is it socially appropriate?
Be mindful of behavior excesses/triggers
Some kids engage in behaviors that put them or their loved ones at risk of harm.
For example, individuals with sensory-seeking behaviors may benefit from gifts that redirect their behaviors in more appropriate ways. For example, if a child rocks back and forth, a swing may be a great way to meet their sensory need.
Additionally, certain objects can trigger behaviors in some kids with autism (e.g., loud noises, highly preferred items, phobias, etc.).
Focus on toys that encourage interaction with others
Social deficits are a defining characteristic of autism, which means that when gift-giving, try to purchase gifts that encourage social interaction. While almost any activity can be turned into a social interaction, certain activities may be more conducive to social interactions than others.
Focus on expanding their repertoire
Kids with autism sometimes have restricted or limited interests (a kid only wants to talk about cars or only wants to play with dinosaurs). In order to help expand their repertoire, try finding activities that are new, but similar to current interests.
For example, if a child’s favorite activity is playing with PlayDoh, kinetic sand or slime may be an appropriate gift to help expand their repertoire because it is similar to their current interest, but slightly different.
Ultimately, gifts that will provide them with new experiences may act as potential new reinforcers and may significantly enrich their learning environment.
Consider Buying a Calming or Sensory Gift
Many children, teenagers, and adults under the spectrum enjoy sensory toys and products. They can be pleasant distractions when traveling to visit family or simply for use at home.
Sensory items can also be very calming. For example, lamps, Tighty Sheets, or cocoon type beanbag chairs all provide soothing input to the body that can help your kids unwind.
Many toys provide sensory input that is enjoyable. For example, fun sensory toys may vibrate, have interesting textures, play music, or light up.
Be careful not to pick a toy that can be overwhelming. It may be better to get something that provides one type of sensory stimulation- such as play putty, a musical item, or light up item.
Fidget toys and stress balls are popular right now. They make great portable focus helpers that can help manage stress and anxiety. We like fidgets that are durable and quiet. Quiet fidgets work well in the classroom, in a car, or at a restaurant.
Have some fine motor fun!
Fine motor skills are so important. We need them to hold a pencil correctly, use a spoon, and get dressed.
These skills develop by exercising the small muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists. Why not make "exercising" fun with fine motor toys.
Gifts that encourage preschoolers to develop handwriting, fine motor, and school readiness skills will prepare them for a great school start. Blocks, toys that work on patterns, sequencing, or matching and sorting not only develop fine motor skills, they also prepare preschoolers for the concepts of reading.
Giving an appropriate toy or gift isn’t easy. Sometimes, it can be quite difficult, if you consider how sensitive some kids are towards light and sounds; how they perceive the world around them.. So if you are looking around for a gift for children with autism, we highly recommend that you first consult with their parents, as they’ll know what their child is comfortable with.
We hope our guide will help you find the best gifts for your loved ones this season.