The holidays are a wonderful time for making memories and spending time with your children. One of my favorite things to do is to look at toys with my boys and talk about what they might ask Santa for that year. As a parent of a child on the spectrum, I’m always interested in the toys that he tells me he would like to get. My typical child can go through any toy section and name about twenty things that he would like to have; his brother, though, with all of his challenges, is harder to pin down.
If you’re the parent or friend or relative of a child with special needs, you know the struggle of trying to figure out the right gift for that child. Hopefully, this guide can help you find the perfect toy to wrap up this year.
The hardest part of shopping for children with special needs, whether the issues are cognitive, behavioral, or physical, is figuring out what toys will work for them. Think about where a child is in terms of ability and then go from there. If you’re shopping for a child who needs to work on sensory integration, you can go for toys like Play-Doh or other tactile toys. If the child has a speech delay, you can look for toys that encourage language, like stacking blocks or pretend play sets. The goal is to find toys that fit what the child can do and encourage growth in the areas that might need work.
The retailers listed here all have toys for children with all types of special needs. I encourage you to look beyond age or gender and consider toys or activities that fit the individual child and his or her needs. These sites should help you with suggestions and ideas for doing just that.
Vendors That Specialize in Special Needs Toys
Different Roads to Learning – This site features not only articles and other sources of information for parents and others who work with kids on the autism spectrum or with any sort of developmental delay, but also has toys and tools, including apps, that encourage and build on all types of abilities.
Fat Brain Toys – Fat Brain sells all types of learning and educational toys for children from birth to young adulthood, but their store also features a guide to picking out toys for any child with special needs. The guide covers a range of challenges, from ADHD to vision impairments to paraplegia. Explore their site for ideas about gifts for anyone, child or adult, with challenges.
Melissa & Doug – Melissa & Doug makes toys for all children, but they also feature a menu option which allows you to hone in on toys for special needs children as well. We particularly like Melissa & Doug’s line of toys because their pretend play items, like cupcake and ice cream kits, have encouraged both of our boys to play together and to pretend, which is great for my child on the spectrum. It encourages him to practice all sorts of social skills as well as practical skills, like food preparation.
Target Toy Guide for Differently Abled Kids – More and more national retailers like Target are practicing more inclusion in their approaches to both advertising and merchandising. This guide from Toys’R’Us has suggestions for kids with all types of challenges as well as tips for both selecting toys and playing safely.
Learning Resources – Learning Resources is another website for finding educational and learning toys for all children; they also feature a section for shopping for children with special needs. They even feature a section where you can select toys based on how your child learns. My son is a visual learner so I like to browse through that section and look for toys that allow us to work on his reading or math skills as visual learner.
Stuck for Ideas?
Regardless of the type of delays or challenges a child faces, the goal is to look for toys that have meaning to the child. If you’re a parent trying to think of something special Santa can bring to your home, talk to your child’s teachers or therapists about the toys or activities that your child enjoys most. If you’re a family member or friend who wants to pick up a gift for a special child in your life, talk to their parents about the areas that child needs to work on most and seek ideas for toys that encourage those skills.
The holidays are magical for all children and their families. Everyone looks forward to opening presents and finding something fun and exciting inside. Sometimes finding that gift can be a challenge, but hopefully these sites and guides will help you find the right toy for that special child in your life. Happy Holidays!
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Jennifer Kelly grew up in the Birmingham area, but migrated to Huntsville for graduate school and put down roots after meeting her husband, Jamie. In addition to being a mom to her two boys, she is a tennis ninja, trivia nerd, freelance editor, and aspiring writer. You can visit her at The Sir Barton Project, a blog about her upcoming book.