The Best Toys and Gifts for Autistic Children
Gifts and toys should be unique and match a child's interests
Children with autism vary in how profound their respective symptoms are. Every child is different, but many children with autism share similar characteristics.
It is not uncommon for children on the autism spectrum to have fixations on certain objects. For example, as a toddler, my son's was fixated on Hot Wheels. Every day, he would line them up along the edge of the kitchen counter. This was done in a specific pattern, and he immediately knew when a particular car was missing. Great behavior would add another car to his convoy.
These fixations and actions bring children great joy and interest. So what may be an odd gift for a typical child may be a grand treasure for a child with autism. Case in point, my son's current fixation is Legos and vacuums. It is not uncommon for him to request a new vacuum for his birthday or Christmas.
Tip: Fixations can lead to stressful tantrums when a child does not get a specific item that they want. Begin to develop positive cause-and-effect outcomes by rewarding your child for good behavior and desired growth. Beware, don't make a promise you can't keep. This will cause great distress for the affected child and may hinder communication and social growth.
Puzzles make a wonderful gift for a child with autism. Characteristically, children with this condition enjoy patterns and systems. It may take a bit of research to find which particular style of puzzle best suits the recipient. Try to find a theme that the child has an interest or fixation in.
- Theme-based puzzles (animals, airplanes, butterflies)
- Geometric shapes
Tip: Take a photo of the child or of yourself making various faces. Use exaggerated expressions for happy, angry and sad. Then, have your local photo studio make the images into a puzzle. This will help encourage greater understanding of emotions and the child will be able to make a personal connection.
Pattern Blocks and PuzzlesClick thumbnail to view full-size
An ABA Session with Blocks
Blocks and Builders
Blocks - Toys such as blocks can provide hours of entertainment. Children love to create patterns and stack various pieces into interesting creations. You can use blocks as your own personal ABA (applied behavioral analysis) tool. Have playtime fun with your child while also building focus and encouragement. Take a look at the video to get an idea of how blocks can be utilized.
Lego - Lego building bricks are another fun toy for children. The easy to connect pieces promote creativity for the avid builder and imaginative mind. As your child gets older they may prefer Lego kits of specific items. For example, at thirteen, my son currently prefers Lego kits of airplanes and spaceships.
Baby Bumble Bee Videos
Bumble Bee videos were a favorite item for my son when he was a toddler. In fact, even at thirteen I'll occasionally catch him watching one of his old videos. There is just something about Bumble Bee videos that several children with autism find appealing. The videos play beautiful classical music while flashing numerous flashcard-type photos and videos across the screen. The narrator has a mesmerizing sing-song voice that repeats the words as they flash across the screen.
A quick Google search of autism and Bumble Bee videos will provide you with numerous testimonials from parents and teachers. Many have found these videos to encourage speech and vocabulary development in children on the autism spectrum.
The video collection ranges from actions, numbers, and standard sight words.
iPod or iPad
iPods and iPads are a great option as a gift for children in the autism spectrum. There are several useful apps that will help promote their social and academic development. There are also several entertaining apps that will bring hours of pleasure and focus. Consider apps and images that focus on your child's interests; i.e., cars, dinosaurs, or in my child's case - vacuums. In fact, the new iPad 2 comes equipped with iMovie. You can utilize this great app for creating personalized videos. Below is one my son and I created. The fact that he is excited and narrating is a far cry from his early nonverbal days. Therefore, an iPad is not only a great toy, it can be an excellent tool for encouraging communication and learning.
Create personalized videos with iMovie
Take photos of your child performing various daily activities. Upload these images to your Power Point or Keynote program. Add clear titles and short sentences describing the actions. Save each slide as a new image and create a book. There are several online companies and local photo developers that are equipped for making custom books.
Here are a few online companies available with this service.
How about a gift card to a child's favorite restaurant?
In the end, choose gifts and toys that promote focus and interest for the child. Find the unique elements that they may find interesting and consider it as a potential gift. However, one can usually not go wrong with puzzles, blocks, Legos, or videos. You might even want to consider an iTunes gift card as a gift. Some apps can be costly,
Enjoy the gift of giving.
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