Please, No Stuffed Animals:
Buying Gifts for Children with Significant Special Needs

by Nancy Gillett

Do you have a child with special physical needs who needs a gift on your list? If you do, it may be cause for some frustration. Sometimes it was a problem for me and I was the mom! I think the saddest post I ever read was a mom explaining why she was not giving her young daughter with complex physical issues any presents. My heart ached for that child. No child should go without getting presents!

Trying to think of a fun gift for a child with special needs is difficult and too often people give up or go with something easy. I tried to be understanding when more and more stuffed animals arrived for my daughter while all the other kids received toys that did all kinds of amazing things.

It does not have to be that way. There are loads of gifts that will have even a child with the most significantly impairments smiling with joy. As you are considering different options, keep the child’s abilities in mind. Toys with small parts and buttons are impossible for a child with significant fine motor skills to manipulate. Equally important is paying attention to the age appropriateness of the gift. Please do not give a baby toy to a 12-year-old. If in question, ask yourself this question, “Would I give this gift to any other 10-year-old?” If not, then it is better not to give it to a 10-year-old with special needs.

Gifts Under $15

Grow Capsules
It is fun to watch the sponge creatures make their way out of the capsule when placed in warm water. These are very inexpensive and fun. Some of the more complex creatures may be of interest to some older children.

Punch Balloons
punch balloonsThese blow-up balloons with an elastic band attached are loads of fun. If the child is not able to hold and manipulate the ball, place the elastic band in the child’s hand, and wrap your hand lightly around the child’s hand. Begin bouncing the ball lightly at first, watching the child closely to make sure it is an enjoyable experience. For my roughhouse loving kiddo, the harder and faster we could make it go the better. Just be careful not to squeeze those little fingers. Not only is the child likely to enjoy the gift, he or she will love playing with you.

Finger Laser Lights
laserlightsThese little lights slip on the finger like a ring. Children have a ball making the lights move. If the family has a pet, it is even more fun. Many dogs and cats will chase the light, giving the child a way to play with them.

Crayola Beginnings Tadoodles
Remember what I said about keeping gifts age appropriate? Well, with this one I break my own rule. Although these were created with toddlers in mind, they are the perfect shape for many children with fine motor skill issues. I have tried other markers sold specifically for children with special needs and come back to this type because they work so much better.

Gel Color Sticks
gelsticksCrayons are sometimes difficult for some children because the wax sticks to the page and children find them difficult to manipulate independently. Gel color sticks glide smoothly across the page and are shaped like a small glue stick for easier gripping. My child was so proud the first time she colored with these.

Slime and Silly Putty
The strange textures of these substances make them a fun thing for some older kids. Others do not like them at all. If in doubt about the child in your life, go with Silly Putty. Its texture is friendlier and they come in a variety of colors. For boys in this age range the more ghoulish, the better.

Pricier Gift Options

Switch Toys
If the child you are purchasing presents for is able to operate a simple switch, there are some very fun specially adapted switch toys available.

Some of the common sources for these switches and toys include the following:

iTunes Gift Card
Music is always a hit at this age. The gift card means the child can pick and choose what he or she wants. If possible, offer to help the child get the music downloaded to their listening device and follow through within a few weeks.

Audio Book Gift Card
Audio books allow older kids to keep up with what their friends and peers are reading. A friend gave my daughter the Twilight series on CD a few years ago, and before the month was out the books were making the rounds among her friends at her specialized daycare center. It was a big hit for all the older kids.

Sports Wear
A T-shirt or ball cap with a beloved team logo is a winner for a fan.

Have Fun!

The gift for a child with significant special needs does not have to be complicated or expensive. For me there are a couple of questions I keep in mind:

  • Will this gift bring joy?
  • Will this gift encourage and engage the child?

Have fun thinking and dreaming for this child! If it is a joyful process for you, that will be communicated to the child. True gifts are really about sharing the joy.

Author:Nancy Gillett • Date: 1/14/2013

About the Author

Nancy Gillett was Maddie’s mom for 15 years. She continues to work to help other children with significant special needs and their families. She is founder of the award winning program “Project Mother’s Day” which delivers Mother’s Day to fifty mothers of children who are complex every year, and is author of the blog Caring for Medically Fragile Children.

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