Buying gifts for kids can be surprisingly tough. You'd think with the millions of options out there, it would be easy to pick up anything and everything--and in some ways, that's true. But finding something meaningful, fun, and useful--something that will really be enjoyed and not just be more stuff--can be a challenge.
And then you get to the bonus round: buying for a child with special needs. What on earth am I going to do now? you ask me. As if it's not hard enough to buy for a typical kid, who wants typical things just like their typical peers; now I need to find a gift for a kid who doesn't necessarily act like his peers, who may not be able to play like his peers, and who might not even be able to communicate like his peers! What on earth do I get that kid?!
First of all, take a deep breath and relax. Quit freaking out on me already. We'll get through this together.
Disclaimer... Keep in mind that Roo is 3 years old. I am going to give you my thoughts on this topic, but it may vary if you are talking about an older child or adult with special needs. I can only speak from three years of experience, after all. :-) Also, some of these suggestions are tailored specifically to kids with Down syndrome. Again, I'm writing from my own experience here.
I'd like to offer you some general buying tips, and then I'll give you a few suggestions from our favorites. Are you ready? You might want to write this down... oh wait, I'm doing that for you. Well, then, have your printer ready or something. Here we go...
Tips & Tricks
- Ask mom or dad. This is a perfect example of how much kids with special needs are like their typical peers. I have 5 nephews and a niece (none with special needs), and I never know what to get them for birthdays or Christmas! Every year I ask their parents (or them, as they get older) for gift ideas. Sometimes we may feel awkward when a child with special needs is involved--maybe you think asking a parent for gift ideas will point out how different their child is. But no, it just shows that you care and want to get something the child will like. Ask away!
- Stick with the chronological age on toys. If you haven't gotten suggestions from Mom or Dad and you're standing in the toy section at Target, buy a toy that coincides with the child's chronological age. Even if the child isn't ready for the toy yet, chances are they will be one day. Buying a toy for a younger age range--again, unless the parents have suggested it--can be risky, because you may unintentionally insult the parents with a message of "I think your kid is just a big baby." Better to help them plan ahead than to assume that they are behind.
- Bring on the bling! Colors, lights, songs, sounds--the more, the better! Sensory stimulation is great for all kids, but especially for kids who have developmental delays. For example, because babies/toddlers with Down syndrome are less mobile than their typically-developing peers, they are likely to play with a smaller amount of toys for a longer time--they can't run from toy to toy to toy like their friends. So a toy that is more stimulating gives them a bigger "bang for their buck" while they're playing.
- Check for the catalog. Toys R Us has a great catalog specifically designed for differently-abled kids. They do a great job of giving ideas AND of explaining the educational and/or developmental benefits of each item.
Great Gifts for Special Kids (and aren't they all special?) ;-)Here are a few of our favorite things we have:
The Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Musical Table
We have an older model (Ours originally belonged to Monkey), but Roo loves it! Before he could stand, we gave it to him without the legs (and then added them later, obviously). This table offers great options for songs and sounds, and it has held up great for almost 6 years!
A case is available for the iPhone/iPod and for the iPad. We only have the iPhone one, and it is heaven sent! Roo loves to play with apps on my phone... and he also loves to throw. This case lets me give him my phone without raising my blood pressure the entire time he has it.
iTunes Gift Cards
While admittedly not as fun as giving toys, gift cards for apps (and songs!) can be a fantastic gift for kids with special needs. Kids love to get on the iPhone and iPad (see the gift above), and there are some great educational apps out there--but not all of them are free. In fact, some can get really pricey!
Roo got this for Christmas last year, and it is great! It is colorful but simple. There are a variety of ways to put the coins in, which provides good fine motor skills practice. There is sorting and matching. And when you're done, all of the pieces can be stored in the cash drawer! Love it!
Kids with Down syndrome tend to have delayed motor skills, so activities like puzzles provide a fun way to hone those skills. We especially love the Melissa & Doug line, like this one...
Balls, balls, balls!
Roo loves to throw, so balls are one of our favorite things for him. But balls are a versatile toy--they can be played with by one person or a whole group; they can be thrown, rolled, bounced, sat on, tossed in a basket, hit with a bat or club; they can be big or small; they are an all-around blue ribbon winner! Two years ago, my brother and sister-in-law got Roo a set of these sensory balls, and I love them (and so does Roo)!
Another basic and classic toy, it's also another favorite in our house. Sorting, matching by shape, matching by color, and more! Kids who don't have the fine motor skills to put the shapes in the correct hole can take the lid off and just practice dropping them in the bucket. And dumping them out is always tons of fun!
Roo absolutely loves playing with Monkey's myriad of remote control cars, but he can really only handle one or two buttons. These remote control cars are great for little ones.
Here are some more great ideas. Some are basics, others are things on Roo's wish list that I can't personally review (yet), but all would be great ideas...
- Color-sorting toys (like this one from Lakeshore Learning)
- A small trampoline with a handle
- Play-doh or theraputty
- Sing-along CD player
- Kid-friendly tablets (Roo is getting the LeapPad Explorer for Christmas, so stay tuned!)
- Foam or wooden blocks
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it's been helpful. What are your shopping tips or gift ideas? I'd love to hear them!