The Do’s and Don’ts of Holiday Gift Shopping for Kids with Autism

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a  mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

In a few days it will be December, and the stores and streets are all decked out in glittery holiday cheer. Maybe you’re planning on starting your holiday shopping early. (Though if you’re anything like me, you will scramble around at the very last possible second.) And maybe there’s a child with autism in your life and you’re wondering what to get him or her. It’s always challenging to find the “perfect” gift for anyone, but shopping for kids with autism can be a little tricky. So I thought I’d share a few do’s and don’ts that will make everyone happy this holiday season.

DO ask the parents what the child is currently into—even if you think you know. Kids with autism are kids first. And like most kids, they change their mind often.

DON’T question what the parents suggest (unless they suggest a pony). Kids with autism tend to be very specific. If a kid asks for markers, chances are they really want markers.

DO think about educational purpose. Parents of kids with autism or any other special need do not buy toys or games that don’t serve a purpose. Think about the educational or therapeutic value of the toy or game. And don’t think you need to break the bank with educational toys or go to a specific store or website. There are local stores that offer great options at reasonable prices.

DON’T pay attention to age-appropriate suggestions on boxes or grade level reading on books. When buying anything for kids with autism, it is absolutely critical to think about developmental age rather than chronological age. The other day I was talking to a friend and I told her that Norrin has been asking for the Handy Manny Tool Set. And my friend asked, “Isn’t that a little babyish?” Norrin will be seven in January. And I’ll admit, I thought the same thing too. But if a Handy Manny Tool Set will make him happy, then so be it. It will encourage imaginative play and that’s what we’re currently working on.

DO think about the parents’ sanity. If you purchase a toy with some kind of music or talking—please make sure there’s an on/off switch. PLEASE. And if the toy or game you purchase requires batteries, you may want to include a pack with your gift, just in case.

DON’T think of clothes as an option. Kids with autism often have sensory issues. Specifically, with jeans and shirts with tags—because even if the tag is cut out, it will still not work. What is slightly uncomfortable for us can be absolutely painful for them. And anything with buttons, buttons can be really hard for kids with autism to manipulate.

DO make it easy (for everyone) with a gift card. I always hear that gift cards are so impersonal. Not true. For special needs families, gift cards are always a great option. A gift card empowers the child to make his or her own decisions. If the family has an iPad, an iTunes gift card is a great gift. Many kids with autism use their iPads for therapy sessions and for communication purposes. And the apps required can add up. Remember, you can always personalize a gift card by pairing it with a favorite kind of candy or snack.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much you spend, it really is the thought that counts. So be creative. Think about the child and what the child would like. Because a great gift for a kid with autism could very well be a roll of bubble wrap, new LEGO blocks, a book about insects or an afternoon riding the train.

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  1. by Alysia

    On November 28, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    This is a great do and don’t list! Can’t wait to share it.

  2. by Presley's Pantry

    On November 28, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I love this list, and I learned a few things about the tags on shirts. The iPad is king in our house….. just so interesting to see all that my son knows but doesn’t communicate to us.

  3. by Stimey

    On November 28, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    This is such a great list. Every relative of a kid with autism should read this!

  4. by Eva Smith

    On November 30, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Great list for parents & friends who know families with children with autism.