Every year my family asks me what my kids want for Christmas. My teen daughter’s requests have morphed over the years; as she’s grown, so have her tastes. We’ve gone from Barney, to Hannah Montana, to jewelry, to sports equipment, to nice shoes and gift cards. Those last two things are on my list too.
Not only is my 11 year old son, who is on the Autism spectrum, a super-slow grower (we just moved into a size 7 slim!), his taste in toys hasn’t expanded much either. He doesn’t play sports, other than an occasional game of golf, and his interest in trains, planes, roller coasters, music, bike riding and video games is about the same as it was when he was a toddler.
Since we are running out of storage bins for train parts, recently I’ve felt the need to step outside of the gift box, so to speak. These are some of my favorite things (his, too) for special needs kids.
1. Gorilla Gym Indoor Swing
The Gorilla Gym is a great gift for the whole family, actually. My daughter loves to box, my husband and I do Crossfit (and the Gorilla Gym AirStraps would give you a great workout), and my son uses all of his earned free time at school to play on the indoor swing. Whenever he needs a break, he can take five or ten minutes to swing and calm himself. This activity has long been part of his sensory therapy and now, even during the cold winter months, he has a place to exercise and refocus.
2. Bosu Ball
This is another item that the whole family can use, if you can manage to get it away from your child. Not only does my son have an affinity for anything round, he has also sat on a “hippity hop” ball for years while writing, eating, or playing games. The bouncing and squirming helps him concentrate on the task at hand. It’s also been a great benefit to his balance, stability and core strength. Now that he’s getting a little bigger (7 slim!), we’re moving away from the hippity hop ball with Tigger on it, to a more grown-up, Bosu version.
3. Wii Fit U
You may sense a theme here. That’s because left to his own devices, my son would come home from school and play video games. All day, every day. Because he doesn’t play traditional sports, it’s hard to keep him active. The Wii Fit U has been perfect at incorporating fun and movement. Just look at those squats!
Not unlike the concept of swaddling newborns or the Thundershirt for dogs, weighted blankets help kids with anxiety and restlessness. We don’t own one of these yet, so I can’t recommend a particular brand, but I can tell you that the more blankets I lay on my son at night, the more restful his sleep. I’ve taken to placing a hefty, crocheted blanket on him so he doesn’t get too hot, but still gets the sensory benefit. I’m sure he would enjoy a kid’s version and not the one I’ve been putting on him that looks like it belongs on a grandma’s lap.
This strategic game is a family favorite in our house; even when we aren’t playing it I’ll often find my son arranging the tiles into colorful patterns. Not only does it help develop his social skills, this (along with chess) shows him that his actions must be planned. Thinking ahead and good decision making don’t always come naturally to him. In fact, they rarely do. A board game that teaches him this fundamental concept and is actually fun to play? Bonus
When buying for a special needs child, remember to take their individual compulsions and weaknesses into account. You wouldn’t want to buy a noisy toy for a kid who is agitated by sounds nor would you get a rock collection for the child who puts everything in his mouth. Try to find something that lends value in multiple ways, and when in doubt, ask mom or dad for ideas.
Disclosure: I was provided with a Gorilla Gym Indoor Swing and a Wii Fit U for review.