It’s that time of year. Make your list. Check it twice.
Except, when one of the kids on your list has a developmental disability or other special needs, what do you get?
It’s our 3rd Christmas with Allie, and each one has been a bit of a struggle. I don’t really know what she’d like. Certainly no one else knows what she’d like. Shopping for kids with exceptionalities isn’t easy. Every child comes with a unique set of likes and watch outs – many of which the parents have never articulated. The age guides on the box are no help. And tired special needs parents often don’t really know what to tell you.
This year, I set out to make sure that I found Alma something great. I also set out to help guide friends and family shopping for Alma or for other kids that aren’t typical, to gifts the kids will love and the parents will appreciate.
Here are my 5 tips, in no particular order:
1: While no one wants therapy for Christmas, ask if there’s something the child is working on and see if you can find a toy that makes learning or using that skill fun. Alma has just started taking some independent steps, so toys that get her up and moving would be a great motivator. This Skip Hop Explore More Push Owl looks like a fab choice. It seems sturdy, she’d love the owl and it looks like a smooth push so she won’t get discouraged as she’s building this skill.
2: Ask about “Watch Outs”. As an example, Allie is very “mouthie” so everything goes in. This means she’s really only safe with toys that are listed for children under 3 or have no small parts.
Giving us toys that she’ll grow into just means more to store – and stare at with disappointment that she’s not there yet. The perfect toy is one that she can use now, but can also grow with her – even if toys with small parts are never safe for her.
Alma loves animals. She makes the little sounds…she waves them around. So this toy, the Melissa and Doug Animal Rescue would be a great choice.
She can play with the little animals and make vroom-vroom sounds with the car now, and eventually use it as a shape sorter.
She would also enjoy this Janod wood hedgehog. Though the numbers are still a little beyond her grasp, she would love the bright colours and having pieces to bang together.
Other toys in this category would include blocks, a baby doll with no small accessories but outfits to change or other toys that will eventually lead to imaginative play.
3. Find out what the child likes, then figure out how to deliver in a way he or she can enjoy it. Alma’s absolute favourites are pulling things in and out of other things, listening to music and helping with chores. I had to sit down and think pretty hard about that. Not because these things aren’t abundantly clear, but because I always find myself saying “Well she likes X but…” so I inadvertently steer them away from things she’d love instead of towards them. Let the parents know you’ve heard what the child enjoys and you’ll find a way to give them something they’ll love (now) and will safely enjoy. When I allowed myself the same leeway, I found lots of things to add to Allie’s list.
Like this awesome Melissa and Doug Pretty Purse Fill and Spill. She would get hours of entertainment from it. We could take it to appointments to give her something to do and it’s cute to boot.
Then there’s the Melissa and Doug Let’s Play House kit. Not only does it have things that she can take in and out, but it will also give her realistic tools for when she’s mimicking chores.
She already has a number of musical toys so I couldn’t find one to add to her list, but she sure would appreciate someone else doing the legwork and finding something new.
4. Try and come up with something that would engage a sibling too. Allie and her brother are 3 years apart, but the gap keeps widening. I love it when she has a toy or an activity that works well for her, but her brother can enjoy too. Once they get going, they have a lot of fun together, but it’s hard to find toys that keep them both busy safely. And let’s face it, speech, gross motor skills, fine motor skills and social skills all develop faster when you’re modelling someone else. And lucky for kids with siblings, they have the best role model right in their own home.
I came across these Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Sets and was instantly intrigued. These blocks appear to be safe size-wise and would definitely capture both their attentions. Plus, it’s another toy we can take on the go. Bonus!
This KidKraft Mega Ramp Racing Set would also score high marks with both of them. It looks stable, which is idea for little miss – her balance isn’t great so toys with a larger base give her more confidence to explore. And there’s a racing ramp, which can help satisfy her brother’s competitive nature. Is this a toy I would choose for him? No, he’s likely mostly outgrown it. But if it’s there, and she’s playing with it, I also know he wouldn’t be able to resist joining in the fun.
5. Ask what else they need. This seems like a no-brainer, but I never seem to take stock of all the little things that would make a big difference for me, and benefit Allie in the process.
Like hair clips… because she throws them out of the stroller when we’re walking along. Something like this would be amazing.
She also needs leggings. Since she’s still mostly knee walking, her tights, leggings and pants sometimes only survive 3 wears before she’s snagged holes in the knees. Love the geometric pattern on these Babylegs.
Then there’s the lunch bag that I’ve been meaning to get for a month. And if you think this is a ho-hum gift to give, you haven’t seen this soon-to-be-released Skip Hop Zoo Lunchies unicorn.
She also could use some new cream, and this Matter Company Substance Baby creme is my favourite baby cream but it’s kind of fancy so I rarely splurge.
When I sat down to really think about what Alma could use for her own good, but still be safe, that she’d really love and that maybe her brother would love too, I realized there are lots of great gifts out there if I ask the right questions and have a good think. This means there are lots of great gift ideas for any child on your list who’s needs aren’t necessarily met by reading the ages on the box.
And, when you give one, don’t watch the child, watch the parent. Because you, taking the time to ask questions, to understand their exceptional child better and find a gift the kid will love, is the greatest gift you can give them.
All the gifts featured here are available at well.ca and, with the handy Wishlist feature, I was able to compile an easy way for friends and family to find exactly what I think she’ll like or give them the inspiration they need to find something new.