In this season of gift giving, you’ll find many wonderful resources floating around the internet that provide gift ideas for children. However, among all of this information, I wanted to offer a different perspective – specifically, things to keep in mind when buying a gift for a child with special needs.
1. Don’t get stuck on the recommended age numbers printed on a box.
-“But it says recommended for ages 2-4, we can’t possibly get this for a 6 year old, can we?”
Don’t get hung up on these numbers! Kids develop skills at different rates, and for children with special needs, it’s more important to choose activities they are developmentally ready for, not just what their age suggests.
(I should probably mention that those age recommendations can be important to avoid a young child choking on small parts, but other than that – get them something they’ll actually be able to play with!)
2. Don’t take offense if a child doesn’t react to your gift the way you hoped.
-Opening a gift in front of someone can be a social pressure that a child might not be comfortable with.
-Getting something new might not be appealing right away. It might become their favorite toy later, once they have a chance to explore it on their own terms.
-Sensory preferences might impact how a child interacts with a toy. Loud noises can be aversive, various textures can be difficult to handle, and lots of visual input can be over-stimulating.
-Delays in fine motor skills might make it difficult for a child to put pieces together. Visual motor delays might make it difficult to follow the printed instructions. Multi-step directions can be overwhelming. So a child might be super excited for a new toy, but have difficulty asking for help when things are too tricky, or they might become frustrated by the fact that they want to play but can’t quite master the task right away.
-A child might use a toy in a different way than you intended. Maybe you bought a cool Lego kit that you want to build together, but they find joy in simply sorting the pieces into categories or colors.
3. If a parent recommends something out of the ordinary, just roll with it.
-Yes, some kids just really want a whole collection of staplers, and that’s ok. Maybe they collect picture frames, catalogs, or books on very specific topics. You might feel strange offering something as a gift, but the child might light up as soon as they see it.
4. Technology is cool, but not always the best choice.
– I get it, that Leapfrog thing allows them to know all of their letters at like 18 months, but frankly, from a developmental standpoint, my OT friends and I would love to see kids actually playing. You know, like using imaginations, manipulating real objects, back and forth play with peers…
-Many parents are already trying to limit screen time for their children, and getting a new/exciting gift that promotes MORE of that might actually be a headache for them.
5. Keep allergies, medical restrictions, or contraindications in mind.
-There’s nothing worse than being given something that looks absolutely amazing, only to find out you can’t really have it. Some children are incredibly sensitive to certain allergens or ingredients, so you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t giving something that the parent will immediately have to take away.
For example, some kids can’t even touch gluten, and spoiler alert, – gluten can be hidden in SO many things you’d never expect (i.e. Play-doh brand, certain glues, soaps, etc.). Flashing lights or vibration can induce seizure activity in some children, and some sensory input might negatively influence muscle tone or arousal level. Regardless, it’s worth checking in with a parent to make sure.
With all of that in mind, I hope you have the opportunity to brighten a child’s day this season. Happy Holidays to all!