Some kids are easy to shop for. They have their wish lists all made out and ready by Thanksgiving and there are stars next to the items that they would particularly like. They are consistent and forthcoming about their likes and dislikes, and when Christmas or their birthday comes around, you know exactly what will make them gasp with delight. Some kids are… well, not like that. There have been years when I scrolled Amazon for hours before I found a gift that would even have a chance of making my disabled son happy. It shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does, I suppose, but many of the common toys and gifts available just don’t fit his needs. There have been years when I considered wrapping up a banana because that was the only thing that I could think of that would make him unequivocally happy! I have gradually started thinking outside of the box, realizing that while they may not fit my traditional idea of a child’s Christmas present, there are still many gifts that can bring him joy.
In the spirit of spreading Christmas cheer, I’d like to share some of the “off the beaten path” gifts that have been winners for our child who is difficult to shop for. There are many lists available for sensory items or gifts aimed at specific needs, so I’m not including those here. These are simply some gifts that have been enjoyed in our little corner of the world.
1. A personalized photo book
This was such a hit with my son, and I think it would appeal to many different ages. I chose the simple route of grabbing the least bad photos of our family from the past year and scattering them randomly in the book, but I have seen parents get very creative and make a story featuring their child. You could also create a personalized ABC book with items or people from your child’s life. What made this book particularly special to my super-outgoing son was that I overcame my social anxiety for a brief second and asked his teachers and therapists for photos to include in the book. He loved it so much that it is now an annual gift.
2. A blanket featuring your child’s favorite thing
My kid loves to be cozy. He loves snuggling and super soft things. For a long time, I thought of a blanket as a cheater gift. Maybe it was something you gave to your cousin or somebody that you didn’t know very well, but it just didn’t seem special enough to gift to your own child unless you made it yourself or something. I was wrong! Apparently nothing makes my child happier than a super-soft blanket featuring his current favorite thing (astronauts? zebras? bananas?). Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I am confident that you can find a blanket with just the right thing. This same idea could be applied to a lot of different items. Perhaps your child would enjoy some wall decor, clothes, a pillowcase, or a backpack clip featuring their special interest.
3. A page a day calendar
The beauty of this gift is that it lasts all year! My son loves routine, but it always needs a balance of variety to prevent it from getting stale. This past year, I got a page-a-day calendar for myself featuring various scenes from nature. By the second week of January, I had forgotten about it, but my son had not. Every single morning he flips the page, announces the date, and chats about the picture. I feel like it’s a mini OT and speech session all in one. I wish there were more of these available aimed at kids, but some that I have found feature Disney scenes, baby animals, Sandra Boynton cartoons, and jokes.
Many different rosaries bit the dust during my son’s prayers before I finally thought to try a combat rosary. Meant to be indestructible, these allow my son to fully participate in family prayer time. I think he would also really enjoy illustrated rosary cards.
5. A magazine subscription
My kids love receiving mail, and this is another one of those gifts that just keeps on giving throughout the whole year. I love that my son gets a happy little surprise once a month. You might need to search a little for a magazine that fits your child’s particular interests. My son does best with simple, uncluttered pages and has enjoyed Click, Chirp, Ranger Rick Jr. and Babybug in the past.
6. Games that encourage all of my kids to play together
My kids have great imaginations and a variety of interests, but sometimes I find that I need to specifically encourage them to find ways to include my disabled son. He has difficulty entering into their pretend play and doesn’t have as strong of an interest in playing with toys. I’ve had a lot of luck in encouraging sibling play with board games! It works for my son because there are specific rules to follow and objectives to achieve. There are so many awesome games out there, but ones that we have enjoyed include Crocodile Hop, Eye Found It, Chutes and Ladders, Ker Plunk!, Zingo, Pop Up Pirate, Elefun, and Shopping List. All of these are relatively sturdy and have been fun for kids with a variety of interests and abilities.
I almost didn’t include this. It seems so trivial, I know. But this has honestly brought more giggles and entertainment to my home than almost any other gift in our family’s history. It’s just as simple as it looks: you squeeze the penguin (or dinosaur or reindeer or…) and eventually the ball pops out. It’s an extremely satisfying pop and half of the fun is chasing the little (but not too little!) ball all over the room. It requires a bit of hand strength, but my son had just as much fun squeezing it over my hands before he was able to do it independantly. Don’t be surprised if this humble stocking stuffer steals the show!
Jane Stanley is a wife and a mother to five children. She reads, writes, and homeschools in Central Virginia.