Christmas. There, I’ve said it. It’s creeping up on us, isn’t it? Since having children, Christmas has become an even more special time of year, but, having a child with autism means it can also be pretty challenging. It can be a long day (or few days depending on what you do and where you do it!), with lots of people, busyness, new toys, strange food and, most importantly, a possible total change of routine. All of this can lead to sensory overload, meltdowns and even shutdowns for some.
Tink hasn’t really been too aware of Christmas up to now. However, this year, she seems to have really clicked that lights and snow and Santa and lights and decorations and lights means Christmas, and Christmas means presents! The trouble is, almost every advert on TV at the moment has a Christmas theme, so either Tink or we will be completely jaded and fed up with it all by the time the big day rolls around!
And buying presents for children with special needs can be tricky too. Tink is a little way behind her peers developmentally, and many toys and games aimed at 4 and 5 year olds just wouldn’t be suitable for her. This year she’s really into Paw Patrol and keeps mentioning toys from the range, which were the toys my mum friends were buying for their children last year. It can be awkward when friends and relatives ask what to buy, so I’ve put together a gift guide that you could share to give them some ideas for your children.
(Please note: I have not been paid or sponsored to include any links in this post. All links are for illustrative purposes only and are not recommendations of where to buy. Please research products for yourself before buying. All views and opinions are my own.)
It feels a little clichéd, but sensory toys are often a great thing to buy children with special needs. Tink loves anything with lights, and last year received a bubble tube, which she has really enjoyed. This year we are looking at getting an underwater light show for the bath. Other brilliant sensory toys include this MP3 speaker which also projects patterns on to the ceiling – great for aural and visual processing; Sneezy, the tactile dragon, with various textures, colours, shapes and sounds; a Cannon Ball, which is great fun and provides proprioceptive input, as does the Body Sox. Another popular choice is a trampoline. Tink loves hers – it’s one of the best investments we ever made! And she doesn’t even care what the weather is doing; she goes on it in all seasons! And for vestibular input, you can’t go far wrong with a swing. For tactile play, Tink has really enjoyed her Theraputty, which is fab for helping develop hand strength and fine motor skills, and there’s always good old play dough. Small fidget toys are also a great stocking filler!
Now, I know it’s getting colder and outdoor toys don’t always spring to mind when thinking about Christmas presents. But, if your child is like Tink, they won’t care about cold, rainy days. She loves being outside in the garden. This year we got her a climbing frame with slide, which is big enough to keep her occupied, but small enough that it doesn’t take up half the garden. As well as her trampoline, she loves hiding in her playhouse, and it provides a handy place to retreat to if ever she’s feeling overwhelmed (these can often be picked up second-hand in good condition on online selling sites too!). Tink loves digging, so a sandpit was a good buy, and we can fill it with sand or with soil so she can really get grubby! A set of digging tools would make a nice, inexpensive gift too. We bought Tink’s Christmas present early this year so she could have a go in the garden in the summer; the Ped-i-bal bike is brilliant for children to learn how to ride. First it’s a balance bike (that looks like a ‘normal’ bike!), then you add footplates and eventually the pedals once they are balancing well. The bike should last for a good few years too, and they even make one for teens and adults.
Many children with additional needs enjoy and even need to hide themselves away at times; often this is as a result of impending sensory overload, or just because they want to be alone. A tent is a great way for them to do this and there are several on the market, from basic children’s play tents, to sensory dark dens, which can provide a brilliant sensory experience whether you leave them dark or add various lights inside.
It’s fairly inevitable these days that children are using technology younger and younger. I appreciate that they’re not for everyone, but one of the best buys we ever got for Tink was a tablet. We found she really engages with it and has actually learnt so much from the educational apps she has access to – much more than us trying to ‘teach’ her directly. (Tip: buy a kid-proof cover – makes it much easier to grip and they bounce well too!) Something else I think Tink would love is a remote control car, especially one with lights! She loves things that move and remote control toys are good for learning about cause and effect.
Many children on the spectrum have
obsessions special interests in particular things, such as dinosaurs, space, sharks, Minecraft, Lego, or if you’re Tink at the moment, Paw Patrol! It’s worth finding out if the child you’re buying for has a particular interest, as any gift related to this is bound to go down well! Tink loves playing with characters and play sets, so we’re thinking she’ll love the Paw Patrol Lookout set this year.
If you’re buying for a child with additional needs, it’s worth finding out if there are any particular clothes they will, or won’t wear. Tink, for example, only likes tops with long sleeves, so if someone was to buy these, I’d be chuffed! She also loves wellies and is starting to get into wearing costumes. Some children have sensory issues around clothing; it can feel physically uncomfortable or even painful to wear certain textures, sleeves, anything too loose or too tight or with itchy labels, so it’s always a good idea to check before you buy. And if you want to spread a little awareness, you can buy fabulous clothing and accessories from suppliers such as Just Ausome and Square Peg Clothing!
Children with special needs are still children; they all love toys in some shape or form. They may not always be ‘age appropriate’, but it’s much better to give them something they will enjoy regardless of the age it’s aimed at, rather than wasting money on things they just can’t do or aren’t interested in. We have bought Tink various jigsaw puzzles , books and games over the last few years, but she just isn’t interested at the moment, so if you aren’t sure of what to buy for someone, do ask!