Monday, December 04, 2006

Best Toy & Gift Ideas for Special Needs Children

remember it very distinctly. I was standing in the Toys R Us store trying to find “one” toy that I could buy Dear Son for Christmas. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford more than one toy, it was rather that with his disabilities, there weren’t any toys that he could do himself, that we didn’t already have. I walked around for quite some time, when I got stuck in one of the aisles behind two young boys fighting over all their toys. They had an entire cart full of toys and were begging for more. Somehow, at that moment, life didn’t seem too fair. I just needed one toy, that didn’t require the use of your hands, your fingers, that didn’t require you to be able to sit, to be able to roll over or to use your voice. I needed something that didn’t flash or vibrate (since he had seizures and these could bring them on). I wanted to surprise him, to make him smile. I was, after all, Santa.

Many of the toys I saw, didn’t work for one reason or another, or I had already purchased them. Most of my family, preferred to give me money, so I could select the toys. Typically, this would mean a two hour shopping trip, only to come home with a few five dollar toys, but nothing exciting or of any consequence. I should also explain that some of the challenges parents of special needs children face, is finding toys that match their “developmental” age especially when their “chronological” age is much larger.

I decided to put together a list of Dear Son’s favorite toys over the years, in hopes that I might be able to assist other parents of children with severe disabilities, in finding toys for Christmas. I will also show you a picture when I can and tell you what types of things you should look for or what made this particular toy a favorite.

To give you a little history, Dear Son is severely developmentally delayed (retarded), has no use of his hands or arms, is non-verbal, can not walk, can not talk, can not feed himself and is totally dependent on someone. For many years, Dear Son could not roll over. As time passed, he was able to walk on his knees and roll over. Today, he can do neither.

Wooden Rocking Chair- We purchased a wood rocker at a furniture store many years ago. We happened to find this rocker while we were looking to purchase some dining room chairs. Dear Son was getting fussy in his wheelchair so I put him in this child's maple rocker while we purchased our chairs. The rocking chair worked so well, we purchased it for Dear Son. What was great about this rocker was that it had a tall back, which supported his trunk and the back of his head. This rocker was made of maple, but was still light enough for him to scoot around the house on the carpet with it. He took his feet and scooted side to side to move it and then loved to lean forward and look out the window. I liked it because he could get around the house easily and independently. It was much better than sitting in a wheelchair all day or lying on the floor. We’d take this rocker to family outings or simply when we went somewhere, like to see fireworks on the fourth of July. It’s the only seat he was able to stay in. A regular chair didn’t work because he would fall off the chair and because he couldn’t move the chair around the room. Many physical therapists have never heard of a child using a rocker to get around in like this, but once they saw him, they agreed it worked. From a therapeutic standpoint, the rocker also helped his balance. He still uses a rocker today, only he can’t get around in it like he once did and it’s now much larger. I found some child rockers at this website. I like the one pictured Dear Son was that he could use his mouth and bite on Barney’s hands to get them to work. If Dear Son was sitting, he would take his left foot and step on Barney’s feet and he would talk. This toy was worth every penny. We have had about six of these in his life. There are so many severely disabled children who love this particular Barney, that it’s truly amazing. None of the newer type Barney’s work as well as this one. Here is an newer ones are plastic but should work just as well.

Train-The best train we ever got was one from Walgreen’s. It was a battery operated small train that had a 36 inch round track that fit on the coffee table in the family room. Dear Son loved to sit on the floor and lean against the coffee table to watch and listen to the train. He loved it even more when he could take his arm and de-rail the train. This might take twenty tries and an awfully long time but he could do it. And when he did, he would laugh some big belly laughs. This toy was great from a therapeutic standpoint to encourage use of his arms. I purchased more expensive trains from Lionel but they didn’t work as well since the track was too sensitive. A tunnel is a great idea too if you can find one for the train. What to look for: Look for a train with a small track, unless you have a lot of room. I like the battery operated ones best. Make sure you can access the batteries easily. Most of these cheaper trains work best however access to the batteries are difficult due to the small screws used.

Mr. Christmas Musical Carousels-Mr. Christmas makes a great line of musical carousels. What is great about Mr. Christmas items is that they have a lot of songs, both Christmas and non-Christmas on the carousels and they have a volume control. The volume control is a big deal since many of the cheaper carousels you buy don’t have a volume control and they volume is too loud. Also, the quality of the music is great on them. When you listen to a cheaper carousel, the music quality is scratchy. Dear Son loved to listen and watch the carousel. He especially loved one with horses. I have tried other musical toys/carousels but the Mr. Christmas ones are the absolute best. Do not bother with any other brand. This year, I purchased the Mr. Christmas Symphony Surprise-Santa's Workshop. Four windows open in the house to reveal musical animated Gingerbread musicians. It plays fifty songs in four part harmony, 25 Christmas and 25 non-Christmas favorites and includes a real clock. The web site will give available stores however I was able to find this one at our local Meijer store even though the web site only gave the Grand Rapids Michigan Meijer store as one of the available locations.

Swing-An outdoor swing is essential for them. What you want is a swing with a tall back to support them. You can find them for several hundred dollars in a therapy catalog however I suspect you can now find them in a toy store or on-line much cheaper. Every child loves the tall back, not just children with disabilities. You can often see examples of this type of swing in many parks across the country. They are most often in red, have a high back and nearly every child and adult will use them, disabled or not.

Television near their bed.-One of the most surprising things that Dear Son loved was a television he had in one of the rehabilitation hospitals he frequented. This particular hospital had a small t.v. right next to his bed. He loved it. A television across the room was of less interest to him. The small size is important too-I am guessing this one was around a 13 inch screen which is just about right.

Videos- His absolute favorite movie was, “A Very Goofy Christmas”. He would laugh big belly laughs over this one movie.

Silly Six Pins-This is a bowling game where the bowling pins talk. We never used the bowling ball but instead set up the pins on our kitchen table on a placemat. I would pull Dear Son up to the table in his wheelchair, with only his lap strap fastened, and he would lean forward and use his head to knock the pins down. The bowling pins would talk to him to help encourage this action. This activity helped strengthen his trunk control and he loved it. As a reminder, the age of destruction preceeds the age of construction so developmentally, things that crash will always be a better choice than things for them to build.

IPOD-My son loves to listen to music so any of the IPODs would be an excellent choice. You do have to be careful that you watch the volume control since they can’t turn the volume up or down themselves.

Musical Mat- This is a musical mat that is about two feet wide and two feet tall that lies on the floor. When you press on the mat, it plays music. This is a great toy for an infant or toddler who is having difficulty in learning to roll over. You can practice helping them roll over and when they roll, they will be rewarded with music. Dear Son enjoyed this toy.

Musical toothbrush-Disney and several other manufacturers make a musical toothbrush that is great. I never used them for brushing teeth though. I used it to occupy Dear Son when he was getting a lab test or a shot. The song usually lasts three to five minutes or so, just long enough to keep his attention on the music and by the time the song is done, they have completed the shot without any crying. For Dear Son, he loved music and attended to things he heard vs. things he saw. The small size of the toothbrush made it great for taking along, as opposed to the size of a regular musical toy. These can also be used for tooth brushing however I tended to prefer the Oral B types for that.

Stocking Stuffers- Some great stocking stuffers include:

-Slinky-because it doesn’t take much hand control to get it to roll over.
-Bubble bath.
-Bath paints-you can squirt it on the child and write his name or “I love you” on his chest when you give them a bath. The color makes it fun.
-Other fun gifts ideas include movie gift cards, museum gift cards or in our state, we have a wonderful Arboretum with some fantastic trails. A membership card is a great gift.
-Babysitting coupons so the parents can go out to dinner is always appreciated. So often with Special Needs children, none of the family wants to babysit since they are afraid or it’s too much work. While that may be true, there is often a time when the child is sleeping, that the parents can go out for a quick dinner.

And the best gift of all-a note from Santa! When my son didn’t hit any milestones his first year, I was devasted. I had nothing to write in his baby book. I decided to write him a letter from Santa every year and include in it, the two or three things that he did accomplish. Santa would tell Dear Son how proud he was that he was able to work so hard and accomplish these things. The letter would be written on construction paper, in crayon and end the same way, “All my love, Santa”. I would roll up the letter and put it in his stocking. He loved to sit on my lap while I would read the letter.

These are my absolute best toy/gift ideas for Special Needs Children.

12/20/10-Recently, I compiled a list of toys/gifts for special needs children. Click here to see them. I will also tell you why I think a particular toy is good for these kids as well as tell you how the child will play with it and/or what to look for in a particular toy. I have included links to Amazon so you can order it and have it delivered to save you time from having to go out. I will be adding additional items throughout the year, that I think would work for these kids. Please be sure to save this link for all future gifts (both birthday, Christmas and otherwise).


Fat Doctor said...

Great post, sure to be helpful. I had no idea you'd started posting again until an e-mailer alerted me today. Reading back, I notice you only made it blog-free for less than a month. Sigh. I have the blog fever, too. In any case, welcome back. You belong here.

Anonymous said...

This year we unexpectedly became parents of a baby boy who will always have significant cognitive and physical disabilities. As he becomes older I am sure it will become more challenging to find good presents for him - thanks for the ideas! I have only recently found your blog - you write beautifully about your son. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

Cathy said...

Dream Mom, this was a great post. I'm sure you have helped some parents make wise choices for their children this year. I'm glad you have started posting again.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dream Mom - Thank you so much for the wonderful Christmas gift ideas. I am a mother of a 2 year old son with special needs and we struggle finding toys for him. Our family always asks for ideas and we don't have any and it breaks my heart when I go shopping and can't find anything for him. I want him to enjoy toys and being young, but they make so many toys complex with loud sounds and lights. Have a great holiday Season.

Dr. A said...

I was over at FD's site and in her side bar is "She's Back!" next to your link. I had no idea until today.

Great to see you posting again. I look forward to reading more again...

Dream Mom said...

Thank you all. Karen and Ethan's Mommy-I am glad you found it helpful. Finding gifts that make our children happy shouldn't be so hard. I appreciate the compliment as well!

Dr. A-As for my return to blogging, it was an invitation from Blogburst, and my acceptance into their network that brought me back. I talked about it a few posts back in my "News" post. It's good to be back though. I missed everyone. I suspect that means I need to attend "the meeting". LOL!

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful, helpful post. I can't remember where I saw it but I read once that a mylar "emergency blanket" is good entertainment for disabled youngsters. They can lie on it and it will crinkle & flash with their slightest movements. Also they can see their reflection in the shiny surface. Maybe not good for Dear Son because of his seizures.

Dani said...

Wow. Thanks for the great idea's! I saw a ball tent at KB toys for $14.99 and wondered if my little one would benefit. I think I'm going to go back and purchase it.

Beautiful blog. I'm glad I found you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your post...our 18 mo. son is also severely developmentally delayed and we've been at a loss for what to get him for Christmas. This really helps.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dream Mom,

I work in the field of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) as an Assistive Technology Consultant, and find it hard to believe how parents are taken advantage of. The prices of products far exceed any reasonable costs for research and production. For that reason I have started a company called Adapt-It Technologies, my goal is to make products for people with special needs at reasonable prices. If I could be of assistance to you please let me know.

Thanks and best wishes,
Ari Rivera

Unknown said...

Dream Mom, this is a great post, especially during this time of the year. I thought that I would introduce myself. My name is Eva and I am an early intervention specialist. I am also the co-founder of, an online store that sells switch adapted toys. Switch adapted toys can also make great gifts. Hope this is helpful for parents out there that are struggling to find the right gift.
Happy holidays

Anonymous said...

Dear Dream Mom,
I'm just the friend of someone with a special needs child and came across your post while searching for Christmas present ideas for him. I'm often afraid of offending by giving a "2-year-old" toy to a 6-year-old child. Thanks for the great ideas! Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Moonwalks said...

I have a close friend and a sister who have special needs children. Do you think inflatable toys, like inflatable slides and bounce houses, would be a good idea as Christmas gifts?

Dream Mom said...

Moonwalks-It depends on the type and extent of the disability. The main issue that I can see is that of suffocation. For a child that can't move very well, if their face were to get on the inflatable toy, they may suffocate not being able to move or turn over to get away from it. So I'd be extremely cautious prior to getting that type of toy. In addition, it's probably wise to run it by the child's mother first.

On the flip side, there is one toy that my son did love, it was an inflatable ball pit. The sides were mesh and the bottom was inflatable. He loved to lie on his back on the balls and then kick the sides down with his feet.

Kaila said...

Wow, I don't have a special needs child but one of my friends does. I know it's a challenge for her to look after her son on a day to day basis but I never realised how bad things really could be for her. I never even thought about christmas' and birthdays for her little boy. the only reaon i stumbled across this was because i was searching for a gift for her sons birthday :( I never realised how emotionally it could be effecting her, thank you for blogging this!

Dream Mom said...

Thank you Kaila for your comment. It's people like you, who understand, that make our lives a little bit easier. Your friend is lucky to have you and your friend's son even moreso. It shouldn't be hard to get toys for kids to make them happy and sometimes the best toys come from friends and family.

Emily said...

Dream mom,
I am trolling the web for ideas for my daughter who is developmentally delayed also. I am in tears reading this post and the comments as it feels so great to hear the same feelings I have surrounding "the one" Christmas present. The best present my daughter has gotten is pizza Elmo. She loves music and the toys that sing and dance when you push a button are her favorite. And even though she can't see well, Elmo is nice and red and she can pick him out in a lineup. We put him on her stander or in front of her when she is trying to sit or on her tummy and it encourages her to keep her head up. I am definately going to look at some of these ideas. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your Sharing and open post. I have been searching online for hrs trying to get gift ideas for a friend's son who was recently disabled in a house fire, and had no idea how difficult it could be to shop for such kids or the strain a simple act of gift-buying could be for the parents of a limited child. Thank you again so much for your ideas, and esp. for sharing from your experience and love.

Laura @ Crafts a la Mode said...

I am so happy I found your blog! My sweet nephew is a special needs baby & for his birthday I wanted to get him something special that he could use. I love the musical mat idea! Thanks for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Dream Mom, I am a single mommy of a severly handicappef 15 year old beautiful girl. It is so hard to find anything for her. She usually recieves clothing. Your stocking stuffer ideas are GREAT! I didn't know there were any sites like this at all. It has been helpful, and I appreciate it. I know It can be very frustrating trying to find the right thing for our little Angles. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this. I have my niece who has down syndrome. She lives in Africa. I was looking for idea to buy toys for her when I came across your blog. That is very helpful. God Bless.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the detailed explanations about why each toys gifts is helpful for specific special needs. This makes your post a helpful guide AND a learning tool for people who work with, or have, kiddos with special needs.

Unknown said...

This was such a great post thank you so much for your ideas, we have a 4 year old nephew who is really struggling with his disability and buying him a gift has become very hard since his ability to hold anything is limiting and he cant even hold up his own head. We did our research and we found your blog along the way. We have some ideas that we hope might help some people, we understand that with all the conditions out there that maybee not all our ideas would be suitable.... but when it comes to things like christmas/birthdays and easter i think all of us who have somebody in our lives that we love and want to do more for need more options/ideas and i hope more people like you come forward... we hope our little list helps somebody but keep in mind though the ideas are mostly for children:

* Books, maybee throw in a bookshelf ( personalized with name, hand painted or even get those wall stickers and make it look neat.There are so many of those on ebay and every character you can think of for kids and nice ones for adults to.
Make a reading nook for child.
Get books that are personalized with child name in the book or mentioned in story.

* Dvds, include personalized ones with childs name/character mentioned in movie.... a tv and dvd player , dvd tower.

* Cds, Personalized cd with childs name mentioned in songs, cd player, mixed blank cd with music put on it that child likes off the radio,cd holder.

* Speaking of wall stickers... buy a bunch and re-do child/adults room to look like a whimsical story land, or like disney, or for an adult a very classy or pretty setting with patterns and bright colours, flowers scenes ect...

* For people that don't have seizures, a Galaxy Star Projector & sound machine ( to set up in a dark room and enjoy the stars and music.

* For indoor camping nights buy a childrens indoor tent, there are disney ones an thomas the tank ones all different ones in store, both you and child lay your heads in there.... (doesn't matter that your not going to fit in there completely its the fun of something different that makes these memory's lasting for the child) so in there with a flashlight and flat pillows to lay on tell story's about talk about good memories.

* An Outdoor swing love seat.... these are generally quite large, and a child can lay on one and still have room for some one to sit at the end of it and hold on to the child, makes a fun swing that you control, to gently rock back and forth and enjoy being outside to look at everything and enjoy fresh air. Even good for reading time.

* A Realistic bird kite, to fly with child or any kite... any time outside it great.

* An electric bubble blower, or a bubble gun, everyone loves watching bubbles.

* A childrens puppet theatre and include a few puppets and props ( to hold puppet shows for him/her)
Every year you could get the child a new puppet/ props... if your crafty you could make your own... you could even make a mini puppet theatre and get some finger puppets.

* And of course clothes and personal needs are always good, thee things get expensive for a parent with a child/ren with special needs, so a gift basket with a few outfits, diapers for age, bibs for age, personal hygene items and maybe just throw in a book for good measure.

* A personalized blanket.
* A bear wearing a sweater with childs face on it... just get printing iron on paper, print small pic of child on one paper, iron on to small sweater for bear, then make a matching one for child in childs size with a picture of the bear... ect.

Thanks again.

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