Guidelines for Choosing a Gift for a Child with Special Needs

By Diane M. McCullom

Walk into a gift store this holiday season, and chances are, you’ll be overcome with more items than you could possibly imagine—the hottest toy trends of the season and all things merry and bright. This same overwhelming sensation can be quite stressful for parents and those shopping for children with special needs. So what are some guidelines for finding that perfect, yet appropriate, gift for the child with special needs in your life? Here are a few questions to ask yourself when shopping:

Is the gift multisensory? If it’s a toy, does it respond with lights, sounds or movement to engage the child? Does it have scent, texture and contrasting colors? Sometimes these things can be overwhelming to children with sensory disorders, so depending on the specific needs of the child, these may or may not be positive things.

Does it provide open-ended play? This means the gift has no definite right or wrong way to use it. Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration? Is it adaptable to the child’s individual style, ability and pace?

Does it meet the child’s individualistic needs and abilities? Does the gift allow for personal creativity and making choices? Is it developmentally appropriate?

Is it practical in terms of safety, durability and adjustability? Does it fit the child’s size and strength? Does it have adjustable sound, height, speed and level of difficulty? Is it easy to keep clean and store? Could it fit on a wheelchair tray?

For specific gift ideas, check out Toys”R”Us’ toy guide for “differently-abled” kids that categorizes items by different skill sets. For more than 20 years, they have offered this one-of-a-kind resource that provides parents and caregivers with gift recommendations that aid in the development of children with disabilities. With thousands of pins popping up under the search phrase “gifts for kids with special needs,” Pinterest is also a fantastic resource for finding gifts specific to the needs of each child.

Get creative with your gift buying and don’t forget to have fun with the process! With a little research and preparation, you can find the perfect gift and make Christmas special for these uniquely special kids.

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 21 states.

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