Photo: The Genius of Play

The holiday season is a time for excitement and joy for many kids, but it can also be a season of anxiety for parents, especially if their child has special needs.

According to experts at The Genius of Play, play is a valuable activity through which children can learn, and by putting a little extra thought into how, where, and when children play, we can assist them in reaping its full rewards. I spoke with one of our experts, Ellen Metrick, who shared tips to help lessen the holiday stress and provide inspiration to those looking for gifts for children with special needs.

“One of my favorite ways to decide how to choose gifts for kids is to abide by the Four Gift rule,” notes Ellen. “This rule helps alleviate guilt associated with gift giving (have I given enough gifts, have I given appropriate gifts for my child, etc.) and places emphasis on gifts that will make much more of an impact on children.”

The Four Gift rule is simple. Give kids:

  1. Something they want
  2. Something they need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

Here’s some inspiration using the Four Gift rule to get you on your way to a celebration that is merry and bright.

Something They Want

Watch what kids do. Listen to what they say. Talk to teachers and therapists to find out more. Here are some traditional favorites and ideas specifically for kids with special needs in mind:

  • Train sets encourage vocabulary development and storytelling by adding language-rich embellishments like characters and city scenes. Or purchase a train table to provide gross motor opportunities and storage bins that help kids learn to clean up and help ease transitions to another activity.
  • Building blocks provide plentiful options with various sizes, shapes, and textures of all kinds. To minimize frustration when a structure tumbles down, consider connectable blocks that stick to each other.
  • Play dough is a sensory delight. Add popular characters, letters to stamp, or cookie cutters to hold attention, strengthen muscles and develop language.
  • Games can incorporate the whole family. Look for games that fit your family’s needs, such as no reading required, action packed, or simultaneous play.

Something They Need

Find out what they are working on in school or at therapy to help identify what they need, such as:

  • Communication boards, like iPads or simple electronic write & wipe boards, help kids communicate and express themselves (such as ordering independently at a restaurant or to say “hi” to the teacher).
  • Step-by-step posters with accessories, such as a poster that explains how to brush your teeth along with a fun new light-up or character-decorated toothbrush.
  • Weighted blankets or lap pads provide the compression kids may need to stay focused and calm.
  • Suction cup dinner plates and bowls help reduce frustration at mealtime. They’re especially great for kids who have involuntary movements.

Something to Wear

When purchasing clothing for kids with special needs, keep these considerations in mind:

  • Velcro closures allow for easy-on and easy-off and foster independence in dressing.
  • Tagless shirts and covered seams help kids with sensory issues.
  • Compression clothing provides deep pressure that soothes and regulates kids’ sensory systems.
  • Elastic laces make shoe tying a breeze.

Something to Read

From board books with sound to search-and-find books, choose books that meet your kids’ reading and interest levels, like:

  • Simple books with repeating or rhyming lines help kids develop a working memory and learn the rhythm of reading.
  • Homemade photo albums with family pictures help kids feel connected and can provide familiarity and comfort during transitions throughout the day.
  • Line drawings or real pictures may be easier than cartoons or illustrations for some kids to process and understand.
  • Multisensory and/or high contrasting colors add interest for kids with sensory issues.

With so many options, this holiday season look to these tips to choose the best gifts for the kids in your life who have special needs.