4 tips that'll help bring joy to your—and their—world this holiday season:
1. Are relatives asking you which toys your kiddo wants this year? Great! Offering toy suggestions to gift-givers will not only make them feel more comfortable, your child will receive a toy that is appropriate for their abilities. (And you won't be stuck with returns and exchanges.) If you're shopping for a child with special needs, take out the guess work and insecurity by simply asking the parents what the child likes or needs. You'll all be happier this way—trust us.
2. Each child has different abilities, skills and skills to work on. Look for toys that suit your child—not their age. Of course, this is also true for typically developing children too. Sometimes a toy that's suggested for ages 2-4 will suit your 8-year-old, and that's perfectly fine. "Don't get dispirited [by age labels]," Ellen Seidman writes on Parents.com, "If it's a toy that he'll like, that could also do him some good, it's a Good Toy."
3. Go with what you know. For example, you know that your child loves the sound and feel of Velcro. So, capitalize on their passion with a toy like Cutting Fruit by Melissa & Doug, wooden fruit slices that are held together by Velcro and can be sliced apart by the included wooden knife. Why? Because a toy like this encourages fine motor skills, counting, basic fractions knowledge, and food recognition, plus the added bonus of Velcro will captivate your child. Your child is a Finding Nemo fanatic or goes gaga the color green? Seek out what they love, and they're more likely to be engaged.
4. Can't find a gift that's just right? Ask around! Your child's therapists and doctors likely have a long list of fantastic special needs-friendly toys up their sleeves, and they know your child's ability level. Ask friends, ask parents of your child's friends, ask on Facebook.
Or, check out one of these great Holiday 2011 Gift Guides:
Toys "R" Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids
Almost 20 years in the making, this annual resource features toys that encourage play for kiddos with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities. Colored symbols make it easy for you to address particular skills.
Oppenheim Toy Portforlio's SNAP Awards
Search for award winners, including toys that have received Oppenheim's Special Needs Adaptable Product (SNAP) award that will play to your child's strengths (not their disabilities).
Fisher-Price's Toys for Children with Special Needs
Recommendations for children that emphasize play stages—not ages—because all children develop at different rates. Click on a skill to view tips on what to look for in a toy that will address an ability or milestone.
Best Toys for Kids with Special Needs: Holiday 2011 Guide
Ellen Seidman, the clever mom behind the captivating Love That Max blog, compiles an annual expansive list of kid-tested toys. Her guide is filled with photos, explanations about why the toy is helpful for a specific need, as well as feedback and quotes from parents.
The consummate guidance guru, Ellen also offers 7 Smart Tips for Buying Toys with Special Needs. It's a great primer for new special needs parents, as well as friends and family. Her number one rule? Make sure it's their idea of fun.
Very Necessary Holiday Gifts for Kids with Special Needs
Shannon Des Roches Rosa, author of the cute and captivating Squidalicious blog, offers recommendations to help parents and family members fast-track right to gifts that please. She offers advice, personal insight, and a gift list selection that truly runs the gamut.
Let Kids Play's 50 Toys in 50 Days
A growing tally of toys for kids with and without disabilities, compiled by the founder of Let Kids Play, who is an educator, parent of a child with multiple disabilities, and an advocate for inclusion. Her list includes photos and detailed descriptions of each toy.
Time to Play's Special Needs Toy Guide
Divided into different abilities and skills, this list was created by the mom of a son with multiple disabilities, who believes that the best toys aren't always the most expensive ones.
Toy of the Year Awards
Although there's no separate section dedicated to special needs, the TOTY Award-winning toys promote learning, active lifestyles and creativity. Look to TOTY for toys that are innovative and fun.
Happy shopping, happy playing, and happy holidays to you and yours!