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  • Writer's pictureSharon Starkey

Choosing Holiday Gifts for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Choosing gifts is always difficult. Now, add into the mix that you have a child on the spectrum. What should I get? Are there certain toys that are better than others? I think the first step should be to consider your child’s preferences. Do they like trains, cars, spinning things, bright things or anything in particular? Does the child have a special interest? Always try to respect the child’s special interests and cater gifts toward those interests. Don’t worry about if the gift seems to be inappropriate for their age. If a child likes Thomas the tank engine and is 16, buy him a coloring book with Thomas or other trains or buy him a train set. The important thing is to cater to his interests. Otherwise, the gift will sit there and never be used.

Think about safety. If the gift has small parts and your child puts everything in their mouth a gift with small parts could be a choking hazard. Also check to make sure the item does not contain magnets or anything that could become magnetized. These create serious health hazards when swallowed.

If you are going to buy a gift that requires adult assistance or supervision, make sure you are going to have time to help or supervise. Science kits and craft kits are great presents but require a lot of supervision and assistance.

Don’t buy the latest rage in toys for the year (unless you child has expressed real interest in said toy)! Often our autistic children have no interest in the latest and most popular toys. Why waste the money?

Ask the child what they want! Often you will get a response, “I don’t know.” This could be because you are asking the question the wrong way. Try rephrasing it. Possibly ask what they like playing with or show them some pictures of items and ask them which ones look fun or which ones they would like to have themselves. There are so many ways to rephrase and reframe questions. Remember to always give them time to process their reply. Sometimes they won’t be able to process the answer right away so be patient and give them time. Don’t make this stressful.

Remember that not all communication is verbal. Watch and see what your child seems to enjoy. Are there specific toys or games they are drawn to at daycare or school? Is there a toy at home that they play with consistently? Is there a specific book that needs to be read over and over or music that needs to be played constantly? These are all non-verbal cues to things they enjoy.

Ask other people what your child enjoys in different environments. If your child is in therapy ask the therapist what they gravitate toward and what they enjoy. If they are in school or daycare, ask the teachers.

Sensory toys are always a hit but many are expensive. You can make some simple sensory toys out of household materials and try them before purchasing anything expensive. There are plenty of websites that offer sensory toys and I will provide some links at the end of this blog.

Think outside of the box! When my son was little, he had a fascination with boxes. He ignored all his toys for boxes. So, instead of buying toys I saved boxes and gave them to him and this made him very happy. It is okay to reach out of the “normal”. Afterall, the idea behind gift giving it to make someone happy. If my son was happy with boxes, why not give them to him? It meant just as much, if not more, to him than a present from the store.

With older children it gets harder and harder to find the right gifts that will be meaningful. When my son entered middle school, he became impossible to buy for since all he wanted were cheap pens and books. He would get those but I also started buying gift cards for him. Then we would go on a “date” and go to the store where he could pick out what he wanted with his gift card. Sometimes this meant several trips as often he had no idea what he wanted and had a hard time choosing for himself.

Finally, I would suggest buying gifts that have therapeutic value. Most of our children have sensory issues. There are all kinds of “toys” to help with these issues ranging from fidget spinners and fidget toys to larger items like trampolines and sensory swings or crash pads. We all know that if you have met one kid with autism, then you have met one kid with autism. Each child has individual needs. With that in mind, I have attached some links below to some good sites that sell sensory equipment.

Helpful links:



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