Buying gifts for a child or teen with special needs can prove challenging. As a Mom to a son who has Cerebral Palsy, I have struggled over the years to come up with gifts that my son can use and that he will find fun and exciting.
My son, BJ, is non-verbal and has problems with his hand function and mobility and that limits what I can buy.
Our lovely family and friends often seek guidance on what to buy him. While I appreciate their desire to buy him a useful gift, it means that I need to have a long list of suggestions to come up with each birthday and Christmas.
Every year I scour the stores for new gift ideas and I thought others may benefit from me sharing the ideas that have worked for BJ over the years. Every child is different in their level of ability and I do find it hard to find age appropriate gifts. Although I strive to give BJ age appropriate gifts, I am conscious that there is no point in it being ‘appropriate’ if he cannot do it or get enjoyment from it.
Keep in mind, it may take more time to buy a gift for a child with special needs but the joy of seeing them enjoying playing. and being able to use the gift, is worth every minute of effort.
I remember this pop-up toy fondly from many sessions with our Occupational Therapist when BJ was younger. There are springs under the little, wooden-people pegs. Isolating a finger is the aim and when you push down on the pop-up toy, it springs out of the container. Lots of giggles and fun can be had with this toy.
SOUND BLOCK PUZZLE
This sound block puzzle rewards children when they correctly match the two parts of the animal. It also comes in a vehicles sound block. The blocks and pictures are large which makes them easy to use. BJ had the vehicle version when he was younger and loved it.
I am a big fan of the Melissa and Doug range of toys. This is a new take on the old matching puzzles. It makes the sound of the vehicle or animal when the puzzle piece is correctly placed in the puzzle board.
I love these tracking puzzles. The knobs on this one make it easier to handle. Building a caterpillar by moving the pieces is a challenge but also fun. There are a variety of themes available in these puzzles.
Maintaining grasp of a pen or pencil can be hard for many children with special needs. In the early days, BJ’s Occupational Therapist made him a little lycra holder for these crayons. The lycra holder had a slit in it which the crayon slipped into and then wrapped around his hand. A little piece of Velcro attached it so even when he let go of the crayon it remained in reach and it was easy for him to start drawing again. Although BJ was never keen on drawing, this gave him the greatest success.
We haven’t used these chubby markers but they look easier to grip than the regular thin markers for someone with poor hand function. They grabbed my attention when I was in the toy shop recently.
When BJ was younger we found it hard to play games that contained lots of components like “game pieces” or cards. His extra movement from his Cerebral Palsy meant things were constantly being knocked off the table or out of place. The Melissa and Doug memory game is a great alternative because the cards are the only removable part of the game and once inserted they do not come out easily. The tiles can be opened to play and when a match is found they stay attached to the board.
PULL STRING TOYS
Pull string toys have been fantastic for BJ. He has had a variety of them over the years. This UFO toy was very popular last year.
POUND A BALL
We have had several pound-a-ball toys over the years. Although BJ hasn’t managed the hammers that come with this game, he has had success with placing the ball in the holes and then putting pressure down on it with his palm. Anything that works on his hand function is a “hit” with me. I thought this was a great version of pound-a-ball because it could be placed between a child’s legs for stability which may make it easier for some to use. It also makes a great sound as the ball makes its way down the insider ladder.
PUMP ACTION WATER GAME
BJ finds pump action toys work well for him. He can’t manage the ones with a trigger, but this water gun is a great alternative and has good size handles for gripping.
I recently read an article that said “every child should have a magnifying glass”. I thought this was a great one that would make the perfect stocking filler. This one has a good handle for grip and the ability to stand on its own.
Bug in a jar with magnifier. I can imagine lots of little people enjoying the bug world magnified. Personally, I like my bugs outside, but little people seem fascinated by bugs.
BJ has good strength in his feet so, with assistance, he can manage these pop up rockets. It is a great reward for managing to stomp your foot. It requires him to look, focus and then target the pump with his foot.
Toys that hover over a child’s hand seem to still be popular this year. BJ has one of these Air Hogs and loves it. These also come in a fairy version. Holding your hand out flat and moving it controls the aircraft’s flight. This is good for someone who has good hand control. It does take skill to keep it airborne and in the right position, but the great feature of this toy is that it doesn’t require good fine motor skills, like many remote control operated toys. Check out the youtube link to see a demonstration of how it operates.
This is built for indoor play. The hover disc can glide on most surfaces and has bumpers so it doesn’t damage walls. BJ finds using his feet works well for him so he has been more accurate kicking the hovercraft than using his hands. The toy also comes in a soccer version.
SUGGESTIONS FOR TEENS
Since BJ hit the teenage years, we have found outings and experiences have been great gifts for him. It is also something the family can “all put in for” as a combined present. A trike ride was fantastic fun for BJ and he loved doing it with his sister and Dad.
BJ has wheel guards on his wheelchair and the design has been a great conversation starter for people we meet when we are out and about. Kids comment and think it is “cool.” Wheel guards would make a great gift. They come in a variety of designs including abstract graphics for older kids.
For teens who love music there are CDs and iPods, but for a unique gift, why not have a personalised song written for them? I recently met the founder of Romance Outsourced (don’t let the name put you off, they do songs for birthdays and other occasions, not just Valentine’s Day) and I think this is a terrific gift idea for teenagers, or for anyone who is difficult to buy for and who also love their music. All you need to do is send the guys at Romance Outsourced some information about your special person, they will come up with lyrics, record the song and then send it to you in an MP3 format. Head to their website for more information –