Receiving gifts is usually a joyful event. But for parents of kids with disabilities or complex needs, receiving gifts can be very emotional, and sometimes heartbreaking.
Why, you ask? Well, sometimes when we receive a gift for our child, it’s something he or she is unable to use. Maybe it’s a toy our kid physically is unable to play with. Or maybe it has sounds or lights that could cause a seizure or sensory overload. Each of these gifts serves as a reminder of our child’s disability or needs, underscoring the fact that our kid can’t “have” things that other kids can. Holidays and birthdays are meant to be filled with happiness, not overwhelming sadness.
Let’s make gift-giving (and gift-receiving) fun!
The below list represents options for a variety of kids with diverse needs. If you’re not sure of the needs of the child you’d like to gift, ask the parents. A good question might be – is your kid high-sensory (needs stimulation) or low-sensory (avoids loud noises and bright lights)? Hopefully, you’re aware of the child’s physical capabilities, but if you’re not sure, ask!
If you get it wrong, don’t sweat it. The fact that you tried means the world to us.
1. Magnetic Toys
The Magnetic Mix or Match Jungle Animals set is great for kids who may have a bit of trouble with their hands or vision. The pieces magnetically link, creating an easy experience for a child to build animals of all shapes and sizes! These are also easy for parents to place into a child’s hand to play together, for kids without purposeful hand movement. And, bonus, siblings love these too! $34.97
You may not know that disability-grade equipment can come with long waits and sometimes refusals from insurance companies. Parents are always on the lookout for alternatives! This seesaw rocking chair comes with a belt and offers a nice sensory experience for the vestibular system. $99.99
3. Adaptive Clothes
Many brands are getting into the adaptive clothing game, like Tommy Hilfiger. Adaptive wear represents modified clothes that serve a purpose, such as with snaps at the shoulders or along the legs, to make removal easier, like these Cat & Jack fleeces ($15) from Target’s adaptive line with snaps at the back. If you’re shopping for a kid with a g-tube, Kohl’s adaptive line has options that offer hidden slits for tube entry, like this Disney sweatshirt ($22) and Jumping Beans fleece pullover ($22).
7. Egg Swing
This Swurfer Coconut Toddler Swing works great outdoors and indoors and is one of the most comfortable options available (if not THE most comfortable!). Recommended for kids ages 6m-36m, this swing works wonders for calming and can be leaned back a bit for a comfortable position for kids who need it. $39.99
8. Comfy Chairs
Beanbag chairs are much-loved because they mold to the needs of the child, and are very comfortable. Unlike many other options, kids can’t slide off. This cozy sherpa one from Pottery Barn Teen, $299.
If you know a non-verbal child, they may use “switches” (ask the parents!). Switches are used as a form of communication, such as with the gold-standard AbleNet iTalk (the iTalk2 is shown here, $215), or the more affordable Learning Resources Answer Buzzers, $15.67. A super cool option is the AbleNet All-Turn-It Spinner, $145 – this dice spinner hooks up to a switch so that the user can push the button to “roll” the dice!
10. Ankle Braces
If you have a kid in your life who wears hard ankle/foot braces, parents will be amazed at your thoughtfulness. These soft braces give kids a break in the day, which can be particularly helpful for kids with sensory issues. Recommended for children aged 4-12, $19.99*. For the adult version, recommended by ages 12+, $24.99. *Note, some parents of 11-year-olds prefer the adult version.
Family reading time is always a much-loved activity. There are a host of inclusive books available, which not only make the world more inclusive, but also remind our families they are not alone. Many are written by parents of children with disabilities and/or special needs. Characters can be found with wheelchairs, feeding tubes, vision difficulties, and using communication devices. See our Rare Parenting book lists to make choosing easy!
Kids with disabilities or complex needs often benefit greatly from a variety of classes, such as music therapy, equine therapy, and swim therapy. See if you can find one of these locally, and purchase a gift card. Insurance generally doesn’t cover much past traditional therapy, so this is a great gift!
Likewise, if you know of a children’s museum, zoo, amusement park, bowling alley, or other play centers, this makes a great gift card. Check out their websites or give them a call to learn about their opportunities for kids with special needs. For kids with low sensory needs (too much noise can be difficult), there are some centers, like Chuck E. Cheese, that offer sensory days or hours, with reduced noises, dim lighting, and sensory-friendly arcade games.
16. Give the Gift of Help
Many parents would be very happy with the gift of lending a helping hand. Offer to do specific things, such as babysitting, so they can take a break or take a nap. Offer to fold the laundry, put the dishes away, etc. Make sure to do these things when you come by – it can be very easy to want to use the time to catch up! Stay focused on your gift.
17. Gift cards
If you’re stumped, get a gift card. Parents know shopping can be tricky – a gift card means they can choose something their kid will love! This Amazon e-gift card can be purchased for any amount, and it comes with this cool video! Target’s e-gift cards can be sent by email, regular mail, or text!
18. Give the Gift of Inclusion
This is a reminder to always give the gift of inclusion. Many parents can feel their child is overlooked at gatherings. Oftentimes it’s because of a lack of knowing how to interact with a child with needs. It’s this simple – just try! Approach our child, say hello, and have a conversation, even if it’s one-sided. In the corner of the room, you may see our eyes well up with tears. This is how much this means to us!