Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Gifts And Toys For Kids With Special Needs: 2014

This year's selection of gifts and toys for kids with special needs is based on recommendations from therapists. The toys, crafts and games encourage fine-motor and gross-motor skills, communication, coordination and brain power. But above all, they encourage F-U-N. And there's only one thing here that might annoy you! 

Hog Wild Pig Popper ($9.05, Hog Wild)
This little piggie inspired kids to use both hands to squeeze her belly and pop foam balls out of her mouth.

Magformers Classic 30 Piece Set ($28.27, Magformers)
Made of powerful magnets, the shapes connect the second they're touched together to help develop fine-motor skills and coordination. Comes with 18 squares and 12 triangles.

Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow Kit ($11.59, Stomp Rocket)
Max's OT has been using this to get him to use both hands to load the rockets onto the launch pad. He's learning to stomp with one foot and balance. (Bonus: Aspiring firefighters can pretend the air hose attached to the launch pad is a fire hose.)

Rainbow Scratch Paper ($6.99, Lakeshore)
A classic that's always engaging. Kids can free-form color or practice letters and spelling. Includes 30 sheets of 7 x 9" paper and 6 scratching sticks. To help your child better grasp the sticks, wrap with modeling cray (like this Crayola kind) or build up a thick spot with a piece of self-adhesive ace bandage.

Bathtime Fun Hoops for the Tub ($11.22, Alex Toys) 
She shoots, she scores! Or at least she has fun trying to get the balls into the net hoop (suctioned to the tile wall), while working on throwing, aim and hand-eye coordination. The balls are also squirt toys.

Fun Fly Stick ($19.90, Unitech Toys, hand not included)
Be warned, if you try this you'll be reluctant to give it back to your child. (I may or may not have done that during the OT's last visit.) The wand works via battery-powered static electricity. You press a button (we tape it down so Max doesn't have to hold it) and aim the wand to levitate the silver mylar thingies and move them around. Includes 10 flying shapes. Here, you have to see it to get it:

Spot It! ($9, Blue Orange)
A fun card matching game in which players have to spot the one symbol in common between two or more matching cards, with a bunch of different types of games. Also consider the Playing Card Holder ($9.48, set of 2, CHH), a stand that holds cards.

Pop Toobs ($10.47, Poof Slinky)
These are highly recommended for kids with sensory needs, as well as kids who need help working on squeezing and pulling and generally getting their hands going. May also be used to bop annoying siblings on the head (not recommended, but it happens).

Piano Mat ($42.85, Smart Planet, cute child sold separately)
This gigantic plastic keyboard (30.5 x 2 x 70 inches) has play, record and demo modes, 8 instrument tones (including saxophone, guitar and xylophone) and 10 pre-recorded songs. Multiple kids and adults can use it at the same time. It gets kids moving, helps them learn to direct their feet and, oh yeah, makes music. Tip: Purchase a non-skid mat to place underneath for stability.

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden 27-Piece Lacing Beads in a Box ($12.99, Melissa & Doug)
Kids can work at getting the lace through the blocks, sorting with colors, sequencing numbers and identifying shapes. The box has suggestions for developmental games.

Scribbler The Drawing Robot ($24.95, MAKTOO)
A super-cool project to do with older kids. You nelpthem put together recycled cardboard and simple electronics to create a mini robot that draws. Comes with cardboard, parts and markers. You supply the hot glue gun, glue sticks and one AA battery. Note, cannot train robot to clean the house. (Sorry.)

OgoSport Mezo OgoDisk Set ($32.11, Ogo Sport)
These 15-inch discs have a foam circumference and an interior trampoline-like texture for tossing objects back and forth. You can use the included koosh-type ball or any small object (but not your child's baby brother). 

Firefighter figurines ($6.39, set of 12)
To encourage imagination (and firefighter aspirations). Max's OT suggested he could work on taking them in and out of a bucket set on the ground or table, then line them up (as you can do with any figurines your child might be obsessed with).

Plasma Car ($45, PlaSmart)
Built for kids ages 36 months to 8 years (or 220 pounds, which would be one extremely large child), this thing is pretty indestructible—we've had ours for years and Max still uses it. It's simple to put together, it's sturdy, it's fun. Kids can keep it moving via twisting the steering wheel but can use their feet to steer, too. It works best on a flat surface, especially wooden floors. And it's very low to the ground, so you'll have fewer worries about falls.

Oball Rainstick Rattle ($8.47, Oball)
It's called a rattle but kids with fine-motor-skill challenges of all ages can grasp and enjoy this six-inch ball. It has 30 finger holes, and a rainstick in the center that makes soothing noises.

Connectgons Original Building Set ($29.98, Hearthsong)
For kids with an emerging pincer grasp, this is an inspiring toy. It comes with 240 wooden circles, each with 8 slots; kids build structures by connecting the pieces.

Thunder Tube ($6.88, Remo)
Every year, I end up recommending one toy that will delight kids and make parents want to pull their hair out. This is that toy. It makes loud thunderous noises, rumbles and echoes with every shake. It also gives a nice upper body workout as kids move their arms from shoulders to wrists. No batteries required, just parent tolerance.

Holy Stone Colorful Bowling Set ($19.43 for 10 pins and 2 black balls, Holy Stone)
You will not strike out with this gift (he, he). Set up the pins on any flat surface and challenge kids to knock them down.

Kinetic Sand ($14.85, two-pound bag, hand not included; Kinetic Sand)
Unlike its sandbox cousin, this stuff won't scatter everywhere. It's basically like playing with wet sand; kids can make any shape and it will retain its form. It's ideal for kids who crave sensory input or need to overcome sensitivity. To make it easier for kids to manipulate, enclose it in some sort of plastic shoe-box size bucket (there's also a cute orange sand tray you can buy). Fun activity: bury treasures like coins, buttons, shells or other objects and have your child find them. Also available in two-pound bags of pink, green and blue.

Gyro Wheel ($12.49, Tedco)
We've had versions of these over the years; Max has been enjoying this version during therapy sessions. He has to use precise moments to get the light-up wheel rolling around, and we've found it to be a soothing bedtime activity because he really has to focus on it.

Sno-Brick Maker ($6.99, Ideal)
Take the occupational therapy outdoors! Kids scoop snow into the hollow inside, pat it down, flip it over and shake out a block of snow for building fun. Required: snow!


My PlayHome ($3.99, iPhone and iPad)
One speech therapist calls this her favorite app for eliciting language and teaching kids about sequencing and following direction. Kids can roam around a virtual house with different rooms, interact with people and do various things including eat pizza, brush teeth, change clothes and water plants. The therapist likes to ask kids to talk about what the person is doing or about to do.

Tozzle ($1.00, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch)
There are lots of puzzle apps out there, but the consensus is this is one is the best. It has different levels of difficulty, and encourages kids to get those fingers moving.

World Landmarks Explorer ($2.99, iPhone and iPad)
Kids can explore 112 landmarks in 53 countries via photos, videos and interactive maps. They will still, however, beg you to take them to Disney World in person.

And let me not forget...


Lots and Lots of Fire Trucks DVD Vol. 1 ($9.95)


And if you'd like to check out previous gift guides...

Great toys for kids with special needs 2015
Great toys for kids with special needs 2013
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 look forward to your holiday shopping guide every year, Ellen! I also want to recommend a Gazillion bubble machine and the Dizzy Disc - two big hits for my sensory-seeking autistic son!

    1. Thanks, Melissa! We had that Gazillion bubbles machine once, it's awesome! I looked up the Dizzy Disc, not sure it's still in mass production; the Playskool Sit 'n Spin seems to be similar.

  2. My idea: Scented bubbles
    They are good for sensory seekers. Encourage popping and running after them. They mainly come in fruit scents. My favorite is pineapple.

  3. I had Pop Toobs as a kid. They were also used for their unintended purpose. :)

    1. Other therapeutic toys I had as a kid were Silly Putty(fine motor), a pogo stick(gross motor), a trampoline(gross motor), little potholder loom(fine motor), variety of whistles(speech), jump rope(gross motor) and a lot of outside toys(gross motor). All normal kid stuff. I'm assuming the last 2 items are birthday/ Hanukah gifts for Fireman Max.

    2. We are thinking of getting the kids a trampoline this spring. And yes, definitely getting him those DVDs!

  4. Curious pre-OT student here. What skills does the Fun Fly Stick work on if the button is taped down? It looks neat. Thanks.

    1. Hey, Brit. Holding the button is a bit beyond Max now, why we tape it. But grasping the wand, then holding it up and directing it so that it directs the mylar floating thingies, is a great hand/arm workout!

  5. My 5 year old has CP and her legs are a lot weaker than her arms. The Plasma Car looks great. After I check with PT, it will be on her Christmas list. Thanks!

  6. For Christmas my 6 yr old with Ds is getting a plush Olaf, a lot of Doc McSuffins stuff(Get Better Talking Mobile Cart, Dvd, Hearts A Glow Animated Plush, Talk and Trace Clipboard), play doh, books and clothes.

  7. My son loves Counting Cans by Learning Resources. They are great for fine motor activities (opening the cans, pouring out the food, putting the food back in the can, closing the can). They are also awesome for teaching kids how to count and sort. I highly recommend them!! http://www.learningresources.com/product/mobile/1+to+10+counting+cans.do?sortby=bestMatchesDescend

  8. I've met extra good folks than the dangerous ones.


Thanks for sharing!

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