Finding gifts for autistic children may seem daunting at first, but there are many wonderful options to consider. Thinking in terms of sensory input, cause-and-effect and opportunities for imitation and interaction can help make selections easier.
Selecting Gifts for Autistic Children
Buying a present for a child with autism is the same as buying a present for any child. The item should be thoughtful, personal and age appropriate. Since each child is unique, it is impossible to suggest toys for autistic kids using a cookie cutter approach.
The first step in the process is to observe the child to see how he responds to various items and situations. The child's behavior provides insight into toys that may benefit him. A nice place to start is to evaluate self-stimulatory behaviors, or "stims". These behaviors are very important because they help the child regulate herself and they are very motivating.
Common self-stimulatory behaviors include but are not restricted to:
- Hand flapping
- Shifting from one foot to another
- Mouthing objects
- Climbing into cushions
It is easy to recognize that the behaviors are closely linked to the senses. For example, a child who burrows into cushions on a couch is seeking ways to engage the prioperceptive (body positioning) sense while one who rocks back and forth is engaging his vestibular system. The behavior addresses a need, just as a person may shake his foot rapidly or bite his nails to relieve tension.
Engaging the Senses
Once you determine the senses that require attention, you are ready to explore what type of gift benefits the child. A child who flaps her hands may need physical and visual stimulation. Behaviors are integral to the selection because they communicate what sensory needs the child has. Some gifts can be used for sensory integration therapy for autism.
- Visual sensory input
- Bean bag
- Rocking horse
- Molding clay
- Finger Paint
- Squish balls
- Musical instruments
- Electronic toys
- Bop It
- Wind instruments
- Scented putty
- Scented bubbles
It is important to note that toys often address more than one sense. Blocks can appeal to visual, auditory, and tactile senses, depending on how they are used during play. Many toys for kids with autism help develop fine motor and gross motor skills.
Play is an opportunity to develop necessary life skills. A slide can help a child learn how to take reciprocal steps and a puzzle can promote fine motor skills. Children benefit from engaging activities that are naturally conducive to the development of new skills.
- Fine motor
- Blocks, Legos, stacking cups
- Lacing toys
A good rule of thumb for fine motor activities is to make sure that the item is very motivating. A child who loves cars or trains will be apt to play well with car stringing beads rather than typical lacing activities, for example.
- Gross motor
- Jump rope
- Hula hoop
Sensory integration and the development of motor skills are very important aspects of successful play for many kids on the autism spectrum. Communication and social skills are important as well.
Neurotypical children naturally acquire language and they play effortlessly in most cases. Children on the autism spectrum often have to learn language intellectually, the way most people learn math or a complex foreign language. This applies to imaginary play as well.
The autistic mind is often literal, both with communication and with social interaction. Many kids on the spectrum have to be deliberately taught how to engage in pretend play. Some activities for autistic children encourage social interaction as well as imaginary play.
Social Skills and Communication
Social skill board games for autistic children are ideal for developing social skills. The nature of the games makes them conducive to communication and reciprocal interaction. The child has to reference other players and follow through appropriately in order to play successfully.Cause-and-effect is an important element in building communication and social reciprocation. Activities are available for every different levels of ability.
Building on Skills
Success is a great motivator and children who are given an opportunity to engage in activities that work with their strengths are more likely to enjoy the task. Skill sets can be used as a launching point for the development of new skills. Consider some of the skills that many children with autism possess.
- Visual memory
- Rote memorization
Look for activities that use the child's skill set as a motivational tool.
Toys for Autistic Children
The big question is where to find toys for children with autism. The good news is that you can find appropriate gifts at any toy store. You can take the guesswork out of the process by exploring options that outline how the toys help kids on the spectrum.
- Discovery Toys is an excellent resource that helps shoppers to select according to the child's specific needs.
- Toys-R-Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Children is a nice resource that organizes items according to skills.
- Different Roads to Learning sells autism teaching tools, toy and activities.
Children on the autism spectrum are like other kids. They love to play, even if their approaches are significantly different. Finding gifts for autistic children may take consideration but it is well worth the effort.