Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Holiday gifts for kids with special needs: Wish list 2013

I've done three guides with holiday toys for kids with special needs (here, here and here). This season, with the unprecedented holiday of Thanksgivingukkah rapidly approaching, I'm sharing my shopping list for Max. Based on suggestions from his therapists, it includes stuff that helps with fine-motor skills, gross motor skills, speech and learning. But of course, some is just for f-u-n. Feel free to leave comments about the gifts that you're getting for your kids and why, so other parents can get yet more ideas. 

Use the mat or draw a line on any sort of paper and the car follows it. (Just be careful your child doesn't draw a line to, say, Disney World.) Comes with car, playmate, decals and a special pen.

All Surface Connect-A-Scooter
Max uses one of these at school, and his physical therapist suggested we get an all-surface one he can use outdoors. It works on abdominal muscles, squatting and navigation skills. At school his PT has him do an obstacle course around small cones, or grab for puzzle pieces with knobs (Melissa & Doug make good ones).

YayLabs Play & Freeze Ice-Cream Maker 
It's not just an ice-cream maker, it's a science experiment (and a great way to encourage a kid with fine-motor skills to use a bilateral grasp). Available in a pint or quart, the ball has two compartments: one for ice and rock salt, the other for ice-cream mix (not included, you can just use cream, vanilla and sugar). Kids shake, roll and pass the ball to activate the ingredients and 10 minutes or so later, you've got soft-serve ice-cream. Make sure you save some for the kids. He, he.

Squiggle-Wiggle Writer
A vibrating pen does loops, circles or curves, depending on how closely it's help to the paper. Max has loved using this in therapy; the OT says the weight and vibration give sensory input, and encourage a good grasp. Each set comes with nib attachments in five colors: black, blue, purple, pink and green. Tip: Borrow it to make writing checks for bill payments significantly more amusing!

Articulation Station App

Designed for iPad, iPhone and iPod and available on iTunes, this app comes highly recommended by Max's longtime speech therapist. It's created by speech-language pathologist (and mom of four) Heidi Hanks, and is geared to letting kids practice sounds. The ones kids most struggle with are included, and the app has a record/playback function. At Max's most recent session, he and the therapist worked on the initial and final "m" sound and he could grade whether or not he thought he said it correctly, which he loved (he nailed it). At the word level, you can choose flashcards or play a matching game and isolate sounds. Kids can also practice words in a sentence and read stores. Parents can purchase individual sounds, or get theArticulation Station Pro for $49.99. I've read up on reviews by speech therapists, and the consensus is this is the most comprehensive articulation app out there.

Melissa & Doug On The Go Colorblast!

Max has liked enjoyed this during occupational therapy; you color in the pics on the 24 pages with the special magic marker, and hidden sea creatures appear. It's good for increased finger strength, the OT says, along with visual vigilance, attention span and attention to detail. There are also books about vehicles, animals and dinosaurs.

Melissa & Doug Paint With Water - Ocean

Another water-play activity that encourages grasp...and fun!

Zig-Zag Drops Liquid Motion

It may seem random, but it's lightweight and easily fits into Max' hand—and it worked to get some supination during a therapy session (as in, when your hands and forearms rotate so palms face up, a position not naturally in Max's movement repertoire). If nothing else, our family can just sit around the kitchen table, zen out and sing Kumbaya.

Learning Resources Twist & Match Monsters Game

The game has six different colored cords that correspond to different parts of a monster. It works on bilateral coordination, matching and the concept of top, middle and bottom.

Mindware My First Marble Run

Great for grasp, cool to watch. Comes with 32 pieces including a jingle ball.

Uncle Milton Fireworks Light Show

This thing-a-mig doesn't actually set off fireworks in your kid's room (though that would be interesting, if illegal in some states). You, and hopefully your child, press a lever to project several images of fireworks onto a wall, with exploding sound effects. No learning value whatsoever (and not appropriate, as one Amazon reviewer said, "for bitter teenagers.") For a kid who's scared of live fireworks yet still fascinated by them, though, it could just be The Best Thing Ever. See a demo on YouTube video.

Mindware Imaginets

Boosts fine-motor and visual-thinking skills; kids can put together animals, faces, cars, approximations of Mommy's beautiful, smooth, unlined face and more. The magnetic board doubles as a dry-erase board, so kids can draw backdrops, too. Did I mention Mommy's beautiful, smooth, unlined face?

Alex Toys Slimy Sticky Silly Stuff

Cool science explorations and tactile fun with creating slime, putty, bouncy balls, crystals, jiggling bugs and glowing snow, with a booklet of 50 more concoctions to make. Plus a recorded device that says, "Kids, don't get the goop on the carpet!" As if.

Tubtime Fishing Set 

Fun in the tub as kids work on hand-eye coordination and supination. Comes with one magnetic pole that extends to 18 inches, eight floating plastic fish and a storage case. Sorry, but I will be unable to come to your home to help pull your kids out of the bath when they refuse to.

And last, but so not least:

And if you'd like to check out gift guides from other years....

Great toys for kids with special needs 2015
Great toys for kids with special needs 2014
Great toys for kids with special needs 2012
Great toys for kids with special needs 2011
Great toys for kids with special needs 2010


  1. I find the holiday gift process for my now 17yo daughter frustrating. She's academically at a fourth grade level and has some significant fine motor issues on one side. We work very hard to find age-appropriate (or at least nearly age-appropriate) interests. But, there's a difficult balance there. As she has gotten older, it's just gotten more and more difficult. We've got iPad accessories (one of those pillow things) and iTunes cards. After that, it may just be clothes. The beauty is she's happy just to unwrap something and has a heart of gratitude. It's us who gets frustrated about it.

    1. It's always hard to let go of our ideas of what our kids "should" want. At first, I thought some of this stuff was too "young" for Max but if he's going to enjoy it and it'll help him, then it's all good.

  2. To me… above, you could be me :) I have tried to buy a board game each year for Miss 18 and generally look for games in the 6+ age. We have a LOT of fun and gives an alternative for TV/iPad. All time favourite is UNO (can use a scrabble letter holder thingy for the cards if she can't hold a bunch). Also, Bingo, Don't Make Me Laugh, Apples to Apples Junior, Monopoly Junior, Quirkle (awesome!! we just don't keep score), Pictionary Junior. Most fun game of all time that we have been through 2 and will be getting a new one for Christmas (yes, they do wear out!) is TROUBLE! That popping-thing in the middle is endlessly fascinating no matter how old.

    1. Max isn't one for board games, but he loves Trouble—we found a Cars version!

    2. Of course… LOL. I'll bet there is a Monopoly Junior Cars edition too.

  3. This year, I'm getting Reid 8 tiny things to unwrap (one for each Hanukkah night) BUT instead of anything bigger, I'm having a dance party (line dances, etc.) at a local bday party place for him and his classmates. His fave part of the day is their dance class and the 'brain breaks' they do in between academics using youtube videos from the wii Just Dance games. Hopefully the kids will come and Reid will have a super fun time with his school friends and tons of pictures to help relive the fun! I have high expectations of awesomeness which is never a great bet, so I'm hoping he likes it at least half as much as I think he will. He says he's excited but he's never been there before so it's a bit of a risk! Happy Thanksgivukkah! (Off topic, my old high school BBYO buddy is the genius behind that name!)

    1. I was wondering where that name came from! I love that dance party idea, SO much fun. I hope he's into it! Are you going to take him to the place before the official party so he can check it out?

  4. My brother is positively not interested in presents, so my parents just get him clothes...which he screams whilst unwrapping.

    1. You never know, one of these years thing could go differently.

  5. YAY! So happy to see this post, as I always struggle to find some good ideas for my 6-year-old sensory-seeker with autism. You have some great sensory stuff here, so I'm going to look into them all!

    My contribution: We are definitely getting him this "Dizzy Disc" toy -sort of like a sit-and-spin, but you don't necessarily have to sit - you can kneel or stand. Both my twins (one with ASD, one NT) love to get dizzy, so this will be fun for both of them.

    1. Cool!!! I hope they both get dizzy to their heart's content.

  6. Do you think Monsters will eventually become the new Lightning McQueen? I'm trying to figure out if that would be a good thing or not.

    1. Interesting question. No, I don't think so, none quite have Lightning McQueen's magnetic personality. :) At this point, I'd definitely be thrilled with a new object of obsession. Except if it were Attila the Hun.

    2. Oh well. But it could be like you said to someone above -- one of these days/months/years you never know, it could be different!

  7. This is so great. Most of the toys are too old for Charlie but now I know how to go about coming up with ideas. Thanks for another great post.

  8. I LOVE the Articulation Station App! That & Speech Stickers are our favorites by far for both myself & my almost 4yo with Apraxia.

  9. We bought our guy (4 1/2 yrs old, moderate CP, non-verbal, developmental delays) the Little People Wheelies Loops n Swoops Amusement Park, a Melissa & Doug wooden numbers puzzle (he is currently obsessed with numbers) and his own MP3 player which will be loaded up with his favourite music (he loves Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers and Rachel Coleman - the lady from Signing Time). My mother-in-law got him a marble run and my Mom bought him Vtech's Brilli the Imagination Ball, which I am especially excited about :-)

  10. Another baby toy is the Chad Valley Baby Elephant. My girl (1 year old mild CP) loves to play with it in her bed.


Thanks for sharing!

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