Finding Gifts for Children with Special Needs: Inexpensive, Creative, and Easy Gifts for Your Loved Ones w/ Disabilities

Hi friends! Hope you’re doing well. Today, with the holidays fast approaching I’m talking about gift-giving for our friends and family with diverse needs. It can be tricky and easy and awesome and hard. So here are 8 tips that may make the search a little easier. Here we go 🙂

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Finding gifts for loved ones with special needs can be hard. I once spoke with a mama who said their first Christmas at home with their medically fragile son (they adopted him when he was 3) was way more emotional than she expected. The first night she went Christmas shopping for him she was so excited. She was buying gifts for her new son! But as she walked up and down the aisles she began to cry. She couldn’t find anything that a child who was blind and deaf would enjoy. She then thought “what kind of toys would he ever enjoy?” Fortunately, by the time she was telling me this story she had found MANY things he loved and the holidays were fun again. All that to say, when a child isn’t “developing typically” – it can be hard to know what to give. I think this is especially true if you are a friend or relative that isn’t with the child all the time.

I also had moments when I couldn’t figure out what to give my daughter, but once I allowed myself to think outside the box ideas came much easier. That massive bouncy ball she loves at OT? Done. We can have one at home. (She SQUEALED by the way when I asked her if she would like one for Christmas. Amazing seeing how excited she was.) The swing she loved at preschool? Boom. Found an affordable one in a magazine and we were able to put it on the porch.

Today, I LOVE scouring through catalogs and brainstorming new possibilities.

I have combined some of these ideas for folks looking for presents for loved ones with special needs- and so without further adieu, here are 8 suggestions- followed by a list of some of the super creative gifts our family has given Abi.

Disclaimer: Obviously these tips are from my personal experience and every individual circumstance is very different. What may work for Abi might be a nightmare for you and vice versa. I do, however, think this list is fairly universal, and if not, hopefully it will still give you some ideas.

  1. Ask the parents: If you are stumped, it’s likely that the parents have a list a mile long of things they think their child would enjoy- (therapeutic toys- assistive technology- etc). They might have seen these toys in magazines or clinics or facebook groups but hadn’t been able to purchase them.
  2. Be Age Appropriate: I have a friend whose very well-meaning family always gives her 6 year old baby gifts. Just because she may have the mobile capacities of an infant DOES NOT MEAN SHE IS AN INFANT.  If there’s a legitimate “baby toy” she may enjoy- that’s one thing. But to choose baby gifts as a reflection of one’s abilities is demeaning. I remember listening to a radio interview with someone who was in an “infant state” for much of his life. Today he is able to express himself and it’s amazing to hear his experience as a person “trapped inside his body.” One story he told really struck me. He said that when he was a teenage boy, his caregivers would park his wheelchair right in front of the TV and play Barney.  They assumed (because he wasn’t talking or signing) that his cognitive abilities were that of an infant. Instead, he was a fully mature teenage boy being forced to watch a child’s show for hours on end. Be aware of the messages you’re sending when you’re choosing gifts meant for a much younger audience. It must be seriously focused on a particular interest for it to not resonate poorly. For example, many people have given Abi baby gifts that make music. WE LOVE THESE AND SHE LOVES THESE. That’s because it doesn’t feel like they are saying, “Hey you seem younger than you are.” Instead, they are saying, “HEY! We know you love music. Here’s a gift that lets YOU make music.” Very different.
  3. Go with the obvious.  I had never once thought of giving Abi a baby doll. I didn’t really play with dolls as a kid and it just never occurred to me. Then one day in preschool, Abi was playing “house” and she was given the task of taking care of the baby. Her teachers said she LOVED it! I ran home, grabbed a doll out of the closet and sure enough- Abi fell in love. I’ve had friends in similar situations experience this same “why didn’t I think of that?” moment. Sometimes the obvious (a train set, stick on earrings, or whatever the case may be) is more well received than you might initially imagine.
  4. Consider interests above abilities: Keep the child’s abilities or sensitivities in mind- but more than that- think of their interests. Nothing is worse than seeing your brother get a cool game and you get a pair of jeans. Gifts should be FUN and age appropriate! For example, if the child shows any interest in music- perhaps you could get them a small MP3 player and a set of cool headphones! If a child’s interest is peaked by screens, consider giving them a fun – age appropriate- educational video. That’s a great way for Abi to learn. YES she loves Mother Goose Club because of the fun music and interesting characters- but she’s simultaneously learning lessons about colors, shapes, and numbers in a setting that has her naturally captivated.
  5. Events: Ask the parents if there is an activity or event the child enjoys. Movie tickets, for example, are a wonderful gift if the child loves going to the theater.  The parent will also enjoy knowing these tickets are waiting for the family to use on a rainy day.
  6. Look at companies specializing in toys for individuals with special needs: If you’re looking for tangible toys- I suggest looking at the TFH website. You will be amazed at the amazing ideas they have. We have had some really great success with them. They provide a number of items that are reasonably priced and geared towards individuals with special needs. That’s where we got our communication buttons… (for $5 a piece!)
  7. Think BIG: Would the child benefit from a swing? Therapeutic swings can range in prices. Some are affordable while others are pretty pricey. Depending on your budget- maybe a few family members could go in on a “BIG TOY” Together.
  8. Assistive Technology Rocks (aka- FIND SOME COOL APPS): Does the child enjoy an iPAD? How about giving them apps? This is basically the same thing as giving someone with a gaming system a new game. Apps can be fun- educational- and incredible therapeutic tools all at the same time.  Abi has three apps that she enjoys and I am looking forward to adding more soon. (Those apps cost less than $2 a piece.) One way to do this is by giving them a wrapped iTunes gift card and then let the child and/or family be a part of choosing the apps.

    Abi is learning how to play the keyboard with her cheek! So fun! #assistivetechnology

    A post shared by Mary Susan McConnell (@marysusanmcconnell) on

Finally- don’t be afraid to be super creative. My family has been very creative in the past with gifts for Abi- here’s just a few:

  • A kids book featuring pictures of herself! SO FUN! Abi loves being read to so this was perfect.
  • A puzzle with all of the cousins, aunts, and uncles faces on it. Pick up the piece and turn it over to see the name. (This was handmade using a puzzle you would typically see in a toy aisle.) Such a great game for cousins who don’t get to see each other very often.
  • A book with a video of a loved one reading it! Sean’s mother did this and it was so much fun watching the video of her reading the book in YOUR hands! You truly felt like you were reading it together. What a cool gift and experience.
  • A CD of favorite kids songs recorded by loved ones. Sean’s mother recorded her singing some of the kids’ favorite lullabies and at the end she says goodnight to each of the cousins! What an awesome gift to listen to as you’re getting ready for bed. Also- an awesome way to connect with family that lives in different places.
  • Money. (Ha.) Sometimes the best gift is a check with an idea. I had been talking about a fun bouncing/rocking chair I wanted to get Abi and someone gave us a check and said, “Merry Christmas. Get that chair you’ve been talking about. It’ll be from us to Abi.”
  • A ride on a miniature horse! After opening gifts – we drove down the road to a nearby farm and there was an “Abi-sized” horse ready to ride! Such a fun surprise.
  • Fun dress-up clothes!!!! Abi loves to ride horses so a sparkly, pink cowgirl hat was perfect for her! Not only do we get to wear it- it hangs on our bedside post all year round, reminding us of what an awesome cowgirl she is!
  • Art supplies with an easel that fits perfectly atop Abi’s desk. The easel not only makes us feel like a “fancy artist” but it also allows her to see her work at eye-level. The first time we used it, it was snowing outside and we got to paint by the glass door and make wall art all day. So fun and cozy!

There are many, many more awesome gifts we’ve received but I know you don’t want to read a novel…

Alright, that’s all I’ve got! Have fun and happy gift-giving! Cheers!