Contains Affiliate Links. I only recommend products I love. Please see my full disclosure policy.
Christmas is getting closer and I’m sure the shopping is underway for most of you! I have had so many questions over the years about what gifts are good choices for my son who has special needs. Really, buying for a child who has special needs shouldn’t be any different than buying for typical kids but it really can pose challenges. Why? Because toy makers (and most of us) assume that children without any extra difficulties fit into a mold where they like X, Y, and Z toys … and the special needs kiddos might break every mold. For instance, my son who is 12 has poor fine motor coordination and hasn’t played with Legos a day in his life. Seriously. He also doesn’t have a ton of interest in imaginative play and never has. There are just some types of toys and gifts that would fall so flat they would literally be left in the box they came in – never to be touched. This doesn’t happen out of meanness or rudeness on his part. While his interest has grown through the years, the window of margin is very narrow for him. So, I thought that this year I would post some recommendations to you.
First, I need to start off saying that all kids with special needs (just like their typically developing peers) are complex individuals. There is not a one-size-fits-all for them … but unlike their peers, they seem even less one-size fits all and more diverse. Sometimes the extremes with our kiddos and the lack of communications (in some) make it harder to understand or anticipate. If you’re worried about toy storage, we recommend you visit the Toy Box City website as they manufacture personalised toy boxes. I’ve prepared a quick list of questions to help you navigate the local toy and big box store.
- What are their strengths? What is difficult for them?
- What topics interests them? What school subjects do they enjoy?
- What are you (or their parents) trying to encourage them in?
- What is their age and what would be considered age appropriate?
- Are they sensory seeking? (If so, what kind of sensory?) Are they sensory avoiding? (If so, what?)
My goals throughout the years have changed somewhat for our son. There was a time when I wanted to find anything that would occupy some of his time because distractability was high and interest was low. There was a time when I wanted to find anything that interested him. I wanted to see a spark of joy rush across his face. There now has come a time where I can see how this is going to play out and realize (mostly) what will be a hit but we want to make sure it is mostly age appropriate as he grows into his teenage years. No more playing with toddler toys – even though they might amuse him.
Here is my list of gift ideas for special needs kiddos. These are all toys and gifts that my son would enjoy now or has really enjoyed in the past. I hope this helps you on your quest to the perfect gift for a special child in your life.
Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Corn Popper
This was a big hit for a while. The noise this corn popper makes made it very appealing.
Playskool Explore N’ Grow Busy Ball Popper“>Ball Popping Toy
My son used to truly love the sights and sounds of this ball popping toy. This was a huge source of entertainment for him.
bubbles like: Fun Express – Big Bubble Wand
This looks like a great option! Because it works on it’s own, it can be enjoyed by the child without excess fine motor skills and coordination.
This has been a toy of choice for many years. He has recently outgrown it (at age 12) only because he is too tall. My son loves to pretend he is mowing the lawn like daddy.
A few we gave our son, A, a trampoline and it has been hugely beneficial to him. He seemed to need the input from the bouncing motion. It also really helped him to keep his feet flat, after years of physical therapy to help with tight heel cords.
Green: Tire Swing, Super Spinner
Flexible Flyer “Triple Fun” Swing Set
Swinging has always been a fun, relaxing activity for our son. He loves having a swing set!
These make great stocking stuffers! At 2 years old our son started chewing on EVERYTHING and later started chewing on clothing. These Ps & Qs were terrific!
Rhode Island Novelty Puffer Balls (Set of 6)
These balls are great for kids that crave certain textures. These would make great stocking stuffers, too.
Hedstrom Sensory Shapes, 6-Pack
These blocks are fun, squishy, and don’t hurt if thrown. These are perfect for stacking or building and help with fine motor delay.
Melissa & Doug USA Map 51 pcs Floor Puzzle
Teach Geography and Fine Motor Coordination with this Floor Puzzle!
Melissa & Doug Jumbo Triangular Crayons
Melissa & Doug Jumbo Coloring Pad – Animals
Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad – Vehicles
My son was given one of these Reusable Sticker Pads a few years ago and LOVED it!
Crayola Dry Erase Activity Center
Great for practicing letter formation, fine motor skills and art!
Wipe Clean Workbook Tracing and Pen Control (Wipe Clean Workbooks)
Dixon Ticonderoga Beginners Primary Size #2 Pencils with Erasers, Box of 12, Yellow (13308)
Sparco Marker Board, Melamine Surface, 8-1/2 x 11 Inches, White (SPR75620)
My 12 year old loves his dry erase board and markers. He loves to practice writing on his.
Kings Sport Deluxe Bowling Set Toy for Kids
Easier to roll than a typical bowling ball (because of weight) and fun for other kids to join in!
This is the game that started our family fun night back 4 years ago. My son learned to play Uno with this game and loved the instructions and funny dialogue of the robot.
A new twist on a classic game. Our son recently picked this out as a prize he had earned.
This is one of my son’s Christmas presents this year. Shhh! Don’t tell!
Go Fish Illustrated Card Game by Imagination Generation
This is an easy and fun game for the whole family.
Set of 4 Classic Children’s Card Games with 2 Hands-Free Playing Card Holders
I think this is an excellent idea! The hands-free playing card holders teaches children with fine motor delay how to hold a hand of cards so that they can play with other kids!
This game is a complex strategy game, however, it is one of my son’s favorites! He loves to line up his trains and he understands the basic rules (you have to wait until you have a certain number of matching colored train cards in order to put down trains on the board). He loves it and this one the whole family (ages 8 and up) enjoy!
Candy Land – The Kingdom of Sweets Board Game
My son, A, started playing this when he was 9 and it is still a favorite (almost 4 years later).
Learning Resources Sum Swamp Game
This game builds math skills! Addition, Subtraction, Odds and Evens… our son has loved this game and it has been fun to include the other kids in our home.
Learning Resources – Money Bags Coin Value – Educational Board Game
Perfect game to teach about the value of money!
This has been a big hit in our house. He started playing this around age 9. It is made for kids age 3-6.
PlanToys Plan Preschool Big Drum Music
One year, a kid’s drum was the only gift that interested him. He LOVED listening to songs and keeping the rhythm on his very own drum.
Dora The Explorer Radio Karaoke Kits
Perfect for kids who love to sing!
Jensen CD-490 Sport Stereo CD Player
He loves music and he loves having a CD player. I think we got him his first one when he was about 7. He loves to listen alone and with his siblings. We like to do dance parties.
Eclipse T180 1.8-Inch 4 GB Touchscreen MP3 Player (Silver)
Music is one thing my son has loved since he was very young. He has very specific tastes in artist and composers. I buy him his own CDs and also upload his music to iTunes or Amazon Cloud and let him listen on his own MP3.
The Kinect, which came with our XBox 360, has been hugely beneficial for our son. The first game he played was GTA, and with cheat codes for GTA 5 on Xbox One armed alongside him, he loved the game and got through it really quickly. He was able to participate in games with his siblings and peers which were both age appropriate and interesting to him. He developed gross motor skills through the use of Kinect. Later, he was able to use the hand controllers once his fine motor skills grew. He now loves both types of games and this is a great way for him to interact with other kids.
Fire Kids Edition, 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB, Blue Kid-Proof Case
I’m seriously thinking of getting this for A this Christmas. It seems like the perfect gift. It comes with “Free Time” and a 2 year accident-proof warranty. I’m kind of in love with this!
Miracle of Mozart Numbers & Shapes
Baby Babble – Speech-Enhancing DVD for Babies and Toddlers
VeggieTales – The Ultimate Silly Song Countdown
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Life’s Little Lessons
The Backyardigans: Tale of the Mighty Knights
These have all been shows and movies that have interested my son through the years. For a long time, he would only watch DVDs and TV shows that were primarily musical. He slowly grew to watch more which include dialogue, as well.
Full House: The Complete Series Collection
This has become one of my son’s favorite shows. It is great for modeling social situations in an age appropriate context.
Disney Silly Songs: 20 Simply Super Singable Silly Songs
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed – Xbox 360
Just Dance Disney Party 2 – Xbox 360 Standard Edition
This game works on the Kinect. It is perfect for learning dance moves, developing gross motor skills and having fun in a social situation with other kids!
This was my son’s favorite from about the age of 8-10 before he started using the controller, he used the Kinect a lot!
Cars 2: The Video Game – Xbox 360
Once his fine motor skills improved a little, he started using the controller . This is one of his favorite games.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked – Xbox 360
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa – Xbox 360
Lisa Healy says
Our daughter received those sensory shapes for her first birthday and there hasn’t been a child (of any age) who hasn’t been drawn to playing with them while at our house! They’re even appealing for adults, too!
Lisa! I know those are awesome!
Don’t forget some coloring books and pencils!!!
Great list! Don’t forget a coloring book and some art supplies!
Thank you for the suggestion! It slipped my mind because my son has never been “into” arts and crafts – even though I would love him to be! I was an art major in college. 🙁 Thanks for stopping by!
This is a fabulous list! We love so many of these toys and some are great for that fine and gross motor development.
Great List! I remember that Fisher Price Corn Popper so well!!!!
Wow, such a great list. Some things on here I wouldn’t have thought of.
What a great and creative list! My toddler would love a lot of things on there, she is obsessed with Doodlebops, that is a great gift for anyone!!
Thanks! I know Doodlebops are great! He loved those for many, many years!!!
robbie @ use resources wisely says
What a great recap. I only wish there was more for school-age kids so I can share with my friend! 🙁
Robbie – Thanks! I want to let you know that I went back to the post and added several more that are more for school age children. My son is 12 years old and still uses many of these items. Some he has outgrown … the games and video games he still LOVES. He is developmentally delayed quite a bit (works at a 2nd grade level) so your friend’s child might not be at the same developmental level, but I wanted to let you know the perspective that I was writing from.