Friday, 19 November 2021

Good gifts for children with autism (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. 
Stack of brightly coloured presents
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 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 - and this was pre-pandemic!

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*

1. Fun stuff

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 fluffy snowballs
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 card game box

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 card game in round tin
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.
tub of Presto snow powder

2. Sensory Products

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!
plush colourful octopii with smiley or angry faces

Mood night light. There are so many versions of these with different characters or animals. The kitty went down well in our house.

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.

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
Fidget toys. So many options under this group - we have this heart popper and the basic Rubix cube but there's a huge list of alternatives.
multicoloured heart popper fidget toy
Slime. A great sensory option and even better if you choose the one with anti bacterial properties for children who are not happy handwashers!
4 pack of different coloured slime in round pots
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 rainbow bath bombs and can recommend these too:
white bath bomb with rainbow colours inside shown fizzing in water
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.
Pair of white seamless socks
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.

3. Branded and Character

Within this category there are always going to be many options, so here I'm just highlighting a few which my girls have enjoyed. 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.

Lego Harry Potter Night Bus. Lego is a firm favourite with many children and there are different brand sets available as well as their generic options. Harry Potter is definitely an everlasting brand and you could consider other items from this category too, such as lights, books or plush toys.
Purple triple decker bus from Harry Potter movies with lego figures
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.
Plastic Minecraft torch light and blue Minecraft potion bottle lamp
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 Kirby plush soft toy
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.  
For lots of children (but not all!), books are a great option at some point. 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....

Other book suggestions include How to draw AnimePeppa Pig books, or Where's Wally?

Set of 8 wheres wally books featuring boy in glasses

4. Craft and activity toys

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

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.
huge stack of 36 pots of different coloured playdoh
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 with multicoloured basic marble run by Galt
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:
pack of 12 colourful acrylic paint pens

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.

5. Tech

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. 
Boxed nintendo switch console
One of the best gifts she has ever had though is her Nintendo Switch - this has given her years of enjoyment so far. The games for it are a little pricey but have been worth it for her. 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....

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
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.

6. 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. 

I'd better stop here as I've realised this post is getting rather long. I could go on! 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! I've been browsing and found this great post with the Best Wearable Hooded blanket for teenagers - sadly not suitable for our girl, who describes herself as a 'volcano on two legs' but could be a good option for others who love that tactile sensory feel?

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