Friday 19 November 2021

25 Christmas Gift ideas for autistic children

Buying any kind of gift or presents for autistic children can sometimes seem like an impossible task. Even parents who know their child really well can break out in a sweat at the thought of trying to find something, anything, which will bring joy at Christmas or Birthday time.

We've had over 14 years of experience of this and can confirm it's a whole different ball game to being able to just pick up anything you see on a shelf in a shop and know that the child you are buying for will at least like, if not love it.

In recent years, the rarer the better has been the motto in our house. Present buying has generally only happened with help from Ebay or Amazon, or some random small online Japanese store. Christmas decisions needed to be actioned in September to allow for the long shipping times!

Finding something suitable wasn't always 'quite' as challenging when our autistic daughter was younger, but it has definitely always involved a lot more thought and effort than some people might realise. That's why I've decided to pull together a list of some ideas which might suit autistic children of various ages.

WAIT! Do this first...

My advice before jumping into this list is to ask the parents what they think their child might like or use as a gift. This might be controversial; I know there are those out there who think that presents and gifts should be no-strings-attached. That children should just be happy with whatever they get and say thank you for it. There are some children in general who behave like this, and yes, that includes some autistic children who would be happy with anything they are given, but my guess is they are not in the majority.

For example, from what I remember of my career as a toy buyer, family board games make up a big part of Christmas sales. Most board games don't work in our house. Our PDAer has always struggled with waiting for turns and with following rules set by other people (or the game), and she has also found it difficult to cope with the constant stress of worrying about losing. That said, there have been a couple of 'game' exceptions along the way and you will notice them in my list below.

We have been so lucky over the years that our family and friends have not taken offence at suggestions coming from us. Yes, it takes some of the 'sparkle' and spontaneity away, and can prompt not-so-fun chats about 'budgets' and the like, but on the other hand it reduces waste and money spent needlessly. So in our house we embrace the lists.

How do you approach your special occasion days?

As another side note before we dive into the list, a lot of families with neurodiverse children might need to think about expectations and change from the typical traditions or ways of doing things around the festive period or birthdays. One year, as I mention in my post 'How to help a child with PDA at Christmas', we gave our daughter her main Christmas present on December 13th. If that sounds crazy to you, I urge you to read that post to understand more!

So, on with the list of ideas - I appreciate not all of these will help every child, but if this gives just one person an idea they might not otherwise have had, I'll be happy! I'm splitting the list into six main categories, and there are ideas for all ages in these....

*The list contains affiliate links - I will receive a small commission if you visit a link and buy something, but it won't cost you any extra. The links are all in the titles/names of products or when you click the photos*

Fun stuff

1. Snow Balls. This gift is a great way of getting out pent up energy and involving the whole family in fun times, at any time of the year.
tub full of white fake material snowballs
2. Exploding Kittens. This game is possibly better for slightly older children (7+); the rules are fairly simple though so as with everything, it really depends on the child.
exploding kittens box game
3. Dobble. A classic game along the lines of snap - but with five different ways of playing. This was probably the first game we owned where we realised we didn't have to let our younger daughter win, she was naturally better than us at spotting the matches!
Dobble cards spread out of tin
4. Snow powder. Little granules which expand when water is added - always good as a stocking filler. This could cross over to the next category as it's also a great sensory experience.
plastic tub of Presto snow powder

Sensory Products

5. Mood Octopus. Our daughter used this for a while to show her feelings to teachers or those who she wasn't so comfortable with. Now she prefers to have it on the angry face most of the time because it's cuter!
different colour plush octopus with faces

6. Mood night light. There are so many versions of these with different characters or animals. The kitty went down well in our house.
white kitty shaped night light
7. Bubble tubes. Ours has fish in it, a bit like this one below, and they can double up on the sensory front if people find the low hum when switched on soothing.
blue bubble tube with floating plastic fish

8. Star Projector. These can range in price starting from very small, battery operated models, up to plug in options which give a whole room dramatic effect.
star projector shown in bedroom
9. Fidget toys. So many options under this group - we have a heart popper and the basic Rubix cube but there's a huge list of alternatives. One of the items below has just been added to my online basket - if you're a long-time reader of my blog you may be able to guess which one?!

10. Slime. A great sensory option and there's the option to add your own sequins or glitter to make it more interesting!
1kg purple bucket of slime
11. Lush bath bombs. These were a staple product in our house for a few years. Definitely not cheap, but us parents will sometimes do anything to get our children to wash... However we have also tried these bath bombs from Zimpli (skin safe, drain safe, easy clean and stain free) and can recommend these too:

12. Seamless socks. This may seem like a strange addition but honestly, these socks were lifesavers in our house. Well, OK, that's maybe a bit extreme, but I have purchased many pairs because they were the difference between us being able to leave the house, or not. They are pricey but worth every penny - and although it might not seem like the most exciting gift for a child, some might actually enjoy having a soft squishy present to open and not be too bothered about the contents.
white socks no seam
For children (or adults) who are struggling to sleep at night, there are lots more sensory product ideas in my post 38 helpful sleep solutions for children.

Branded and Character

Within this category there are always going to be many options in terms of characters (often from gaming or a TV series), and lots of different options in terms of items too, such as lights, books, jigsaws or plush toys. It is best to ask first what the favourite character of the child you are buying for is - no point in receiving a Paw Patrol vehicle if you're an avid Octonauts fan, for example.

13. Lego Harry Potter. Lego is a firm favourite with many children and there are different character branded sets available as well as the generic options. Harry Potter is one example of an everlasting brand often popular in the neurodivergent communities, Minecraft is another. 

14. Minecraft potion lamp and Minecraft torch lamp. Minecraft is another big favourite brand with longevity and you can't go wrong with something fun and useful like this. It's always worth checking what items the children may already have though.
minecraft torch toy and lamp shaped like potion bottle
15. Kirby plush soft toy. Nintendo rules in our house and Kirby is a firm favourite. There are plenty of other options, such as Mario or Animal Crossing characters - if your child is anything like mine though, they won't want the most popular character, they will more likely crave the obscure, super rare ones. Sigh.
pink plush kirby toy
16. Pokemon is a brand which is adored by many autistic children and adults - in fact the creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, is said to be autistic too.
purple cover of pokemon handbook
17. Books - for lots of children (but not all!), books are a great option. Our daughter would not have considered any book a good gift until she received the Pokemon Extra Super Deluxe Essential Handbook and then Pokemon strategy guides like this one....
pokemon sword and shield guidebook

Other book suggestions include How to draw Anime, Peppa Pig books, or Where's Wally?
wheres wally collection of books

Craft and activity toys

18. Kinetic sand. Many happy hours spent at our house over the years, playing with different colours and different accessories that go with this.

19. Play Doh. Another well used product at ours - and although there are plenty of kits which make great present ideas, sometimes it's the basic Play Doh itself which makes the best gift.
pyramid of 21 play doh tubs
20. Marble run. There are so many marble runs to choose from but we started off with this basic set so it didn't take up too much space:
Box for Galt marble run
21. Paints. Our daughters used to get through huge quantities of paint when younger and it was always a treat to get new colours or glitter options, or acrylics as they got older. Colouring pens or art sets could work well too but many houses end up with far too many of these so again, it's always worth asking. These acrylic paint pens look great:
acrylic paint pens in 12 colours
Our autistic girl would have struggled to find the patience for any kind of specific arts and crafts sets but they could work well for some, especially if on a theme they love such as animals.


It probably goes without saying that most children these days love a bit of 'tech'. Especially when they get to the teenager stage. Phones and consoles probably feature highly on many wishlists. Our younger daughter doesn't have much interest in fancy phones as she's never out alone or with friends.

22. Nintendo Switch - One of the best gifts our daughter has ever received; this has given her years of enjoyment so far. The games for it are a little pricey but have been worth it. We've hit a block this year because there are no new games that she wants being released in time for Christmas, so it looks like we might end up having Christmas in Spring....

23. Bluetooth wireless headphones were a fairly recent discovery for us. Airpods have been brilliant for me but Sasha prefers her over the ear ones - this is the pair she uses and they work well:
pink wireless headphones
24. Another big tech hit for our girl who loves to create digital art was her Apple Pencil - remember to check which version is compatible with your iPad.

25. Gift cards

This goes back to my point about asking the parents, or trying to understand what the child would really appreciate. For some autistic children, there is a love of Fries so strong that nothing else matters, and a McDonalds gift card would make them happy. Sadly, we don't seem to have those available here in the UK... you could design your own though! Or maybe a Lush voucher for them to choose bath bombs. Or Robux, or credit on the Nintendo or App Stores, or even an Amazon gift card, if they're not overwhelmed by the choice. If they're at the stage where they are mature enough to go shopping themselves and hand over a gift card, that's great, but even if not most parents will do their best to involve them in the process of using the gift card and understanding where it's come from, if that's possible.

My original list stopped at 25 items but a couple of the lovely readers over on my Facebook page (please do come and visit me there, I do more frequent updates!) had some extra ideas so I'm adding them here:

Coverless duvets

This is definitely on the list now for our daughter! Lots of options but I think she might like this Stars coverless duvet (I found a gorgeous rainbow one that I would have liked, but I'm thinking that might be a bit over the top for a teen?!)
Bed with coverless grey and white star duvet on top

Den Building Kit

I'd never seen these before but I wish I'd had one when my girls were younger. Would have beaten trying to balance sheets over chairs! There are several different options but this 91 piece Fort Building kit looks like a good deal.
kit showing poles that are joined together  with ball joints to make den large enough for child to sit in

And finally, an item that has been a repeat purchase in our house that I forgot to mention when I originally wrote this list. Also recommended to us via Facebook a few years ago (thank you, whoever you are!)

Air Dry Clay

There are 24 packs of colourful air dry clay in this set, along with a project book giving ideas. Soft and squishy, non-toxic and takes about 24 hours to dry hard so that gives plenty of time for minds to be changed or finishing touches to be added!
24 brightly coloured packs of clay and a few creations, car, owl, present

Shape Shifting Box

These look amazing - a 3D magic cube that transforms into over 70 shapes. This Shashibo Sensory box is award-winning and features 36 rare earth magnets. Lots of different colours and patterns to choose from.

Hopefully if you were, like me, thinking 'what on earth am I going to get this year?!' this list may have helped a bit. If anyone has any ideas for a 14 year old girl who doesn't go out much, doesn't like make-up or stationery and the like, and doesn't know what she wants, feel free to share with us! 

Pin image showing a group of the gift ideas unwrapped

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