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Buying a gift for a child with special needs is often challenging. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers want to find fun and exciting gifts for birthdays and holidays, and sometimes they struggle to find ones that work, let alone dazzle.
I know from experience.
My son has autism.
Let me tell you, choosing toys and gifts for him used to make me feel like a total mom failure.
I mean, I was his mom, why couldn’t I find the perfect toy?
Since there is no Special Needs Toy aisle, I was having emotional breakdowns at Walmart. Online toys seemed too expensive or juvenile, and I had no idea who to trust. Shopping was a stressful event.
Something had to change.
I needed information because I knew my son needed help and I did too. I spoke to experts at length; ABA Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and a very dear friend who is a Speech Language Pathologist.
That’s when everything changed.
You see, she showed me how to look at the toys as tools and at play as learning.
It’s not about the toy; it’s about the child.
It’s about what the toy can do for the child. More specifically, what the parent can teach the child by using the toy.
Once I shifted my focus and started thinking like that, the fog cleared.
I began to look at things differently.
We do that as Special Needs Parents, don’t we?
We think outside the box.
Today, I’m sharing 55 Awesome Gift Ideas for Kids with Special Needs: Mom & Speech Therapist Approved.
I worked with my friend, Darlene Gore to create this list. She is a Speech Language Pathologist with 41 years of experience.
We are listing these toys in the categories of Toys to Promote Speech Development, Toys to Promote Movement| Gross Fine Motor Skills, Toys to Promote Motor Skills, and Toys for the Sensory Seeker.
Hey, I know it takes a lot of time and research to find a gift for a special needs child, but seeing them enjoy it and learn through play is worth the effort!
TOYS TO PROMOTE SPEECH DEVELOPMENT
This is one of Darlene’s favorite developmental toys because it does so much for the child! This award-winning light-up rattle promotes the child’s visual tracking skills which are needed later on for reading. When you describe what your child sees when he plays with the NogginStik, you are encouraging language development.
The NogginStik helps teach cause and effect when children shake and bank the rattle.
This developmental toy was created by an Early Intervention Therapist, and it comes with a parent guide to help moms and dads play and engage their little one.
The Phlat Ball is super cool! It’s meant for older kids, but smaller kids can play with it too. Speech Therapists use it all the time with toddlers! Basically, it’s a ball that you can push down on to make it flat as a pancake!Then you wait about five seconds and it pops back into a ball! Kids can learn words like ball, push, pop, more, please, roll, wait, surprise, kick, and mine from playing with this toy.
It’s also fantastic for sensory-seekers and kids who crave deep pressure. SLP’s use the Phlat Ball for turn taking practice since it’s fast and fun.
Sing or recite nursery rhymes with your child in front of a mirror! She learns how to pronounce words by watching you speak, but she may become better at forming them by seeing her own mouth move.
Yes, wind up toys! Speech Therapists love these toys because they create a reason for the child to interact with you!
Kids love to sing! This one records and plays back sounds, encourages him to make sounds!
It’s amazing how much a child can learn from playing with bubbles. I could write an entire post on learning from bubble play! These no spill bubbles are fabulous for smaller kids who may be prone to spilling or pouring! Now to promote social skills like eye contact, catch a bubble on the wand and hold it up next to your eyes. (The bubble makes you more interesting and gives your child a reason to look at you!)
As for language development…When you play with bubbles you are teaching your child vocabulary words like blow, bubble, reach, in, out, up, down, here, and there (and more) in an appropriate context.
You can also teach him body parts when you catch the bubble on the wand and place it on his nose or belly or arm. If he doesn’t say the word right away-that’s ok! He needs to understand the word first. Then you can put the focus on saying it.
Before a child can imitate words he must be able to imitate actions. Bubbles give you all kinds of opportunities for imitating-which is really an expressive form of communication. He can imitate blowing the bubbles, popping the bubbles, and clapping them with his hands! I’m going to stop bragging on the bubbles now, but I could go on and on. I told you it was amazing what they could learn!
FROG IN A BOX
This is a real attention-grabber! Speech Therapists use this toy when a child has a short attention span. They make a BIG DEAL out of the frog that pops out to keep the child interested in the activity.
With this toy, a child can learn words like open, pop, up, in, down, close, and, of course, frog.
Blocks, pegs, and stacking cups are great speech & language toys because they encourage turn taking, social interaction, and collaboration! Speech Therapists love these toys because they give you so many opportunities to engage your child!
You can ask him questions like:
What color is this?
How many have we stacked?
Do you want to use the red one or the blue one?
You can work on turn taking, colors, counting and motor skills.
This is a cause and effect toy.
This is Very Important So I’m Putting It In Capital Letters!
Kids have to understand cause and effect before they are developmentally ready to talk!
And this is THE toy to use first!
First, it requires simple motor skills to operate. It offers tons of learning possibilities. But if your child seems to be fixated on flipping the car at the top of the ramp…and doesn’t seem to notice that the car is going down the ramp…then he has not mastered cause and effect. He’s not ready to talk…yet.
Lauri Tall Stacker Pegs are a fantastic toy to focus on pattern recognition and matching, as well as fine motor strengthening and pretend play!
We love these blocks from Melissa & Doug! They focus is on your child’s creativity and skill, not loud colors or other distracting features.
Before I get to the next toy on the list I want to tell you something.
Before I knew about the importance of Pretend Play, I wouldn’t have given these a chance.
Pretend Play is very, very important for your child’s development.
He can learn new words (promoting speech development), build social and problem solving skills, build fine and gross motor skills, gain self confidence, and increase concentration.
All by playing with you!
You just have to remember that we have to teach our kids how to play. Be patient and guide her through it. You may repeat those steps a few times, but I promise it’s worth it.
This adorable set of blocks is full of learning potential.
You can engage him by asking questions like “Where’s the cat?” and allow him to select the animal.
Teach him to imitate an action by knocking on the door!
Play a social game by playing peek-a-boo by hiding the animals inside the blocks.
You can promote language development with this toy by focusing on words like block, up, fall down, cat, dog, colors, bird, and the names of the objects on the blocks. You can also teach size words. Try things like “Let’s find the big one” or “That one is small.”
These would be perfect to use in Sensory Bins!
You can read about SENSORY PLAY HERE.
Pretend play helps your child learn to talk.
If dad feels uncomfortable with a doll, try a boy doll or even a stuffed animal.
The accessories are important to build up the options for play.
The first thing you’ll want to do is show how to feed the doll, hug the doll, and burp her. Explain what you are doing!
When you feed the baby, say “Mmm mmm mmm.” You may feel totally ridiculous, but you’ve got to get into it. Be loud. Be fun. The more you do it, the more your child will want to play! You have to make playing with this doll seem like the best thing you’ve ever done in your entire life!
Now, you may be asking how this helps with speech development. I did too. Here are just a few language concepts that a doll can help teach and support!
Body Parts: Eyes, Nose, Mouth, Ears, Hands, Fingers, Tummy, Elbows, Knees…Sure, you could just play that song over and over again and try to keep up with it, but labeling this vocabulary helps teach your child that “mouth” refers to that thing on their face AND other faces
Clothing: Shirt, Shoes, Pants, Socks, Jammies…Dressing the doll also helps with fine motor skills!
Emotions & Feelings: Hungry, Thirsty, Tired…
Verbs: Drink, Eat, Sleep, Sit
Social: Taking turns, pretend play with other kids, nurturing and caring
Mr. Potato Head is a classic! Just look at all of the opportunities for learning there are here! You’ve got body parts, emotions, pretend play…all while you are interacting with your child! Check the box for social interaction!
My son has a love affair with water. He loves this toy because it allows him to watch the water drip drip down into the tub. I love it more than a flooded bathroom!
Do-A-Dot’s have become a favorite around here.
Art is a fabulous way to build language and fine motor skills.
Nathan is working on handwriting now and these are great practice because they are a nice fit in his hands.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, this paint washes off the walls and your body quite easily with soap and water. I know from experience.
TOYS TO PROMOTE MOVE | GROSS + FINE MOTOR DEVELOPMENT
This is Darlene’s favorite! It is one of those games that can help build skills in just about every area!
TOYS TO PROMOTE MOVE | GROSS MOTOR SKILLS
Gonge River Stepping Stones help kids improve balance and coordination. They are also fun and functional-you can stack them up for easy storage!
The Teeter Popper is on the list because it is one of our favorites. If your child likes to be on the move, then he will LOVE it! While he’s enjoying rocking, rolling, sitting, or standing on the Teeter Popper he will be working on core leg strength, balance, and stability.
The Squishy is the ultimate stress ball. Thanks to my nine year-old daughter, we have five hundred of these just because they’re cute. But the thing is, Nathan LOVES them! The bright colors are very appealing and they are slow rising so it’s fun to “squish” them into a tiny ball and watch them rise!
Why not multi-task? I saw these and thought they’d be great for sensory AND teaching colors, fruits, and counting! P.S. They’re budget friendly.
This is the Official Fidget Spinner. I know there are many out there that do not last!
Darlene and I hope you have found something special for your child on this list of toys. We are working together to create more posts like this to help you with your special needs child. Learning through Play is something that is extremely important for any child, but is especially crucial for kids like my son, Nathan, who is on the autism spectrum. If you would like more information for your special needs child, please contact us for more information!
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Heather Burnett is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Word to Your Mother Blog (amazon.com).