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Holiday Toys and Gift Ideas for Children with Autism

  • Published: 2010-11-23 : Author:
  • Synopsis: Buying the perfect gift for children with autism and special needs can be accomplished by using a little imagination and some tips from an expert.

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Buying the perfect gift for children with autism and special needs can be accomplished by using a little imagination and some tips from an expert.

The holiday season often brings stress to families in general and families of children with autism often see this stress double as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles struggle to find gifts that would be meaningful and fun for the child with autism in their lives. But good finds are all around you if you know what to look for. "Find toys that help the child and their family to connect, communicate and work on skills that are known to be problems areas for children with autism," says S. B. Linton, author of Lesson Ideas and Activities for Young Children with Autism and Related Special Needs, the new book that gives parents and teachers over 350 activities that encourage joint attention, play skills, fine motor skills and more.

Linton recommends that for younger kids, one should look for toys that have a clear cause and effect component such as spinning tops or an electronic toys that speak when activated. The choice of gift will depend on the characteristics or personality of the child you have in mind. For the child that appears to be "climbing the walls," try a trampoline, an indoor climber or a swing. Additionally, large therapy balls or exercise balls are fun for many kids and are now available in many retail stores. For the child who is into touching, feeling and exploring, buying sensory products that promote tactile sensation like a Koosh Ball , clay, moon sand, Theraputty , a water or sand table, or items from a sensory catalog like Integrations or Beyond Play , may work for that child.

For those learning to read or at pre-reading stages, LeapFrog Educational Products offer terrific phonics basics and reading skills through fun play. A basket of sensory input items will be a treasure for some children, their parents and teachers. Sensory toys that light up, make noise or are sticky and gooey are great for some kids. Finger paint and art supplies can encourage sensory involvement which is beneficial to kids who love touching and for sensory touch avoiders. "Avoiders of sensory input need to be exposed to touching the sensory input often, but it should not be forced. The goal would be to try to desensitize them and get them used to touching thing like water, lotion, or shaving cream so that when it comes time to pick up crayons, pencils and markers, the child will be used to having things touch their hands," adds Linton.

When shopping for those great finds, don't forget the good old classics that almost every kid can't get enough of. For example, a Slinky can provide hours of fun, Mr. Potato Head can emphasize body parts and independent play, a shape sorter can teach shapes and visual spatial processing, and play-dough can be used to build fine motor skills. Scented varieties and gluten-free varieties of play-dough are available by doing a quick internet search. Parents and family members looking to teach group skills, turn-taking and follow directions might find the newer Cat in the Hat games to be fun family activities as parents will also enjoy all the interactive and communication building elements of the games.

Videos are often fun sources of entertainment during the holiday season. However, they can also be educational and very important in teaching life lessons. "There are many DVDs out there like Watch Me Learn and Model Me Kids that teach social skills to young children with autism," says Linton.

Regardless of the toys or gifts purchased for the child, the key to remember is to help the child to connect and communicate with others through meaningful activities. "This is what I strive to do in the Lesson Ideas and Activities for Young Children with Autism book. Each chapter provides activity ideas specific to Joint Attention, Imitation Skills, Communication, Self-Help Skills, Independent Skills, Pre-Vocational Skills, Social Skills, Play Skills, Sensory Involvement, Basic Concept Mastery, Vocabulary/Literacy, Fine Motor, and Gross Motor. The hope is that families and educators will see that fun, meaningful activities are right with in their reach and in most cases, right in the same room." is an online resource for parents and educators that offers free teaching materials free training and a free monthly magazine about teaching children with autism. They can be found on the web at

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