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How To Buy Gifts For Special Needs Kids

Updated: May 9, 2020

It’s the time of year when bloggers start creating all. the. gift guides. You’re guaranteed ideas for parents, children, teens, grandparents and your hair dresser’s dog! You can support small, local, handmade businesses or your favorite international sweat shop! The options are endless!!!!

Seriously though, knowing that many folks like to shop early, I wanted to pull together some useful suggestions (on top of all that earlier snark) on how to shop for the special needs children in your life (with, just to be clear, tons, and tons of affiliate links). Through the years we’ve received some great gifts, and some that, while very well-intentioned, could not be enjoyed at all. I can’t speak to the individual needs of every child and diagnosis, but hopefully I can provide some good general guidelines. (Other special needs parents are invited to leave their suggestions in the comments.)

First, parents, create a wish list for your child of things they want and things that you know would work for them. Wish lists make gift giving a million times easier. I have a whole write-up on creating and sharing Amazon wish lists HERE (it’s updated and current).

And shoppers, if you don’t ask for suggestions, or shop from a wish list, include a gift receipt in the box. If the toy isn’t going to work for the child, let the family easily return it with no guilt.

Consider asking friends and family to all donate towards one large item, or if you know a family needs a certain piece of equipment, set up a fundraiser for them. Check out Kiddie Pool at the Adaptive Mall for an easy way to raise money for specialized equipment.

Now for some ideas.

1. Tools that allow a family with children of all abilities to do things together. For us, that means playing card holders so the boys can join in family game night, or specialty flotation devices so we can enjoy the pool or beach. Ask what would make family time less stressful.

2. If you’re handy, consider modifying a battery operated toy to make it accessible for a disabled child. Adding a push button control allows those with limited mobility to work toys with otherwise complicated controls. Read a how to HERE. Or read about a cool switch adapted Nerf gun.

3. Toys that integrate with a app. Controlling a toy via a touch screen can be much easier for some children vs a traditional joystick or RC controller.

4. Consider purchasing tickets to a museum, or event at a venue, you know to be accessible. Check your community for performances geared to kids with autism. Our local movie theaters have plenty of wheelchair seating so we love Fandango gift cards.

5. Sensory Items – Lots of kids benefit from sensory items. I just discovered the Sensory Theraplay Box; a fresh batch of sensory goodies sent to your home every month! For other ideas, check out the Fun and Function website.

6. Weighted blankets are popular to help children with a variety of diagnosis. I love the wide selection at Mosaic Weighted Blankets. Plus they sell DIY kits.

7. If you want to purchase clothing, be mindful of any sensory issues or physical limitations of the child. More and more retailers are offering clothing suitable to children that can’t tolerate seams and tags, or struggle to get dressed due to low muscle tone or wheelchair use. This post lists several great brands.

Lastly, when in doubt, just ask, or go with an Amazon gift card. Remember, gift giving isn’t about making yourself feel good (though that can be a side effect). Ideally, you want the child to enjoy your gift and through it realize your love for them. If something isn’t suitable, take it back happily. When you insist on buying things you think they need or you ignore suggestions so you can surprise them with toys you’re certain they’d want, the child will very quickly come to realize whose feelings truly matter. We can expect children to be polite in receiving gifts, but you cannot demand they wear a shirt that irritates them or play a game that is developmentally inappropriate. On the flip side, if they ask for something that you think they could never use or enjoy, consider buying it anyway (unless their parents asks you not to). Their family may find a way to modify it for the child’s use, or the child may enjoy using it in a way you can’t imagine. For example, my sons love Legos even though they can’t complete sets themselves. And my youngest son has a laser tag set that requires some creative sibling cooperation, but all the kids love shooting each other (and screaming, and running around the house, and crashing into things and generally raising my blood pressure).

What have been your child's favorite gifts? Or what is your child hoping for most this Christmas?

Kelly Mantoan is a wife, mother to five, and founder of 'Accepting the Gift'. You can learn about her and her family at her blog This post originally appeared there.

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