Monday, December 8, 2008


Holiday shopping for a child with ASD can cause stress and anxiety for both the gift giver and the parents and child receiving the gift . . . But it can be done successfully with a little planning!

Relatives, especially grandparents, often want to gift a child with the latest, greatest electronic gadget or another toy that might not be appropriate for your child. On the flip side, parents of special needs children, as focused as we are on helping our children gain the skills they need, do sometimes lose sight of the fact that our kids are, at bottom, kids, and that, like all children, they need to have fun!

Aim for gifts that strike a balance – fun toys that encourage teachable moments! But how do you do that? The following are some suggestions to get you started, but this is by no means a comprehensive list and not all suggestions may apply to all children. Remember, you know your child best. I have focused on websites/catalogs because getting out to the store can be difficult and many sites/catalogs are offering free or reduced shipping and other special offers.

I hope that these ideas help you during this holiday season and throughout the year.
Happy Holidays!

Kim Mack Rosenberg
NAA-NY Metro Chapter

The Wish List
If kids can write “wish lists,” why can’t you? (And if your child is interested in participating he or she can help too!)

A list to relatives/friends of many appropriate toys for your child can be a real help to family members purchasing gifts. Look at this list as an opportunity for them to learn more about your child. We have to assume that Grandma or Aunt Sue or brother Bob wants to do the right thing – they may just need guidance from you on how to make the right choices.
Include gift suggestions at many different price points so gift givers have a variety of items from which to choose.

By providing family members with useful information in advance, you will reduce everyone’s stress level – the gift givers have choices that are appropriate for your child and you have less worry about receiving inappropriate toys (and what to do with them)!

Some helpful hints . . .
Look for toys made by reputable manufacturers
Look for “green” or eco-friendly toys, especially for children who still mouth toys or frequently put their fingers in their mouths
Check the US Consumer Products Safety Commission website for updates on recalled toys.
Ask grandparents and others to avoid inexpensive “dollar store” type items more likely to be contaminated with lead and other toxicants
OTs , PTs, SLPs, special educators, and other therapists are great resources in developing a toy wish list for your child – ask them for suggestions of readily available toys that any child will love but will still help your child meet his or her goals (for example, one year one of our OTs suggested Moon Shoes -- a totally typical toy that helped my child with his balance and coordination)
Try the toy finder resource at
Identify your child’s interests first then look for toys in that area or similar areas of interests that meet your child’s developmental and sensory needs. Many interests can be tied to different developmental levels. A few examples:
If a child likes building things but lacks the motor skill for small blocks, try big cardboard or foam blocks, which are lightweight, safe, and easy to handle. More dexterous children might enjoy unit blocks or similar block sets. For those with well-developed fine motor skills, more complex building sets are available, such as K’nex (for older children) or sets that allow the assembly of buildings like the Empire State Building. Similarly, lego-type blocks are available in many different sizes and, in some cases, with characters that children enjoy. Bumpity Blocks or Bristle Blocks can also be fun to build with and offer sensory input.
If a child likes trains, there are trains from preschool toy manufacturers for early development; Plan Toys, Thomas the Tank Engine, Brio and similar wooden rail sets for slightly older children; and more complex, more realistic looking sets for children who are ready for them (note that there have been some recalls on certain Thomas products in the past few years -- check the CPSC website for the latest information)
If your child likes robots, there are robots for little kids and much more sophisticated robots (even kits!) for older kids and many choices in between (such as robots that kids can build from chunky “gears” pieces and then operate)
Creative play toys are available at many developmental levels (cooking sets, crafts, tools, etc.)
Puzzles are available in many sizes, piece numbers, styles (insert puzzles, framed jigsaws, regular jigsaw puzzles, and even globes)
Dolls are available in all shapes and sizes, as are dollhouses
For many children, especially those who perseverate on lights or sounds, it may be necessary to discourage the purchase of toys with these features or “disarm” those features, if possible
Similarly, toys that “do all the work” for children may not be appropriate to encourage purposeful and interactive play
Unless your child is interactive when playing with them, computer games/video games can encourage isolation and also discourage physical activity, an important need for our children. However, these games can be important skills-builders if computer time or game time can be controlled
Each child’s temperament and play style with these games should be taken into account when considering adding such games/toys to your wish list. For example, is your child one who will react well to a 30 minute “computer limit” and transition to another activity or is that sure to bring on a meltdown every time?
A good video game choice for many children is the Wii from Nintendo, which has many family games that encourage group play and many games that encourage physical activity and motor control (the Wii Fit board has yoga and balance activities for example, and the Smooth Moves game requires a fair amount of motor control)
Waldorf sources are great for toys that encourage creativity – several of the websites below sell Waldorf toys or just google “Waldorf toys” for many resources
Encourage problem solving toys -- stringing beads, puzzles, hidden pictures
Toys that encourage physical activity are great -- our kids need exercise and many physical activities can help our children develop strength and coordination and may help meet their sensory needs as well. Some suggestions: trampolines (even mini ones), moon shoes, romper stompers, scooters, skates, Hyper Dash, Twister, hippity hop balls. Simple balls (or textured balls for added sensory input) are an easy way to promote physical activity and social interaction
Art can be created by anyone at any skill level using all kinds of materials
If your child enjoys music, there are many musical toys, instruments, and CDs that might be appropriate and, for children who tolerate earphones/headphones, an iPod can be a great gift for music on-the-go.
Toy stores and others (such as Discovery stores) often have bins of smaller toys that make great “fidgets”
The appropriateness of toys with cartoon characters/themes also is very child-dependent:
Some older children still gravitate toward characters that are intended for younger children, whether for reasons of security or because the toys are developmentally appropriate for the child. Grandparents and others may be reluctant to buy an older child a toy clearly intended based on its character for much younger children and, if you sense that this will create more issues than it will solve, perhaps it is better to buy these toys yourself.
If your child seems interested in age-appropriate characters, and you are comfortable with those characters, such toys can be used to encourage interactions with age appropriate peers (on the playground, for example) who might think your 8 year old’s Ben10 Alien Force toy is cool.
Books, books, books! For readers or non-readers alike, look for books that capture your child’s interests. For older children who struggle with reading, has some books with more sophisticated topics but easier-to-read text. Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s vibrantly illustrated books with simple but fun text that teaches are great for many children. I also like David Weisner’s wordless but sophisticated picture books, which parents can use to encourage children to identify objects or even tell their own story. These are only a few ideas -- the possibilities with books are endless.
General Toy Sources (for many popular characters)
Amazon: Eco-Friendly Toys, Green Toys
A Toy Garden
Back to Basic Toys
Bits and Pieces
Handcrafted Waldorf Toys: Blueberry Forest
Constructive Playthings
Discount School Supply-Colorations Wheat and Gluten Free Dough (National Geographic) (Toys to Grow On)
Museum and Zoo gift shops have a great selection of toys, many with an educational twist. In the NYC area, consider: the Museum of Modern Art (, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (, the Museum of Natural History (, the Aquarium (at Coney Island), and the Central Park and Bronx Zoos
ASD Toys/Educational Materials (toy selection for differently-abled children categorized nicely into auditory, fine motor, tactile, social skills, and other useful categories) or from the main page choose “shop our ads” and look for the catalog for differently-abled children

3 comments: said...

Please add landbridge Toys to your list.


Kim said...

thanks so much for this link -- you have a great selection of toys! Kim

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