By Kodey Toney
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
As Christmas comes closer some of you may be scrambling to find last minute gifts. If you’re shopping for a child on the spectrum it may be a little more difficult than you think. While I would say that you should treat a child on the spectrum the same as anyone else, there are a few things you may want to consider before grabbing just any toy off the shelf.
Most parents know their children well enough that they know what to buy them for Christmas, but if you’re like me and Jen then you’re a little more confused when it comes to your child with autism. Kruz, our neurotypical child, has been very vocal about the things he wants…everything. However, when we ask Konner he doesn’t really say much. He has told us a couple things, but when we try to even that out with what Kruz wants it’s difficult.
This is not necessarily geared toward parents though. This may be for the grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, teachers, etc. who are looking for some little gift for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) this holiday season. Many of these are just common sense for any child, but some you may not think about for children on the spectrum.
The first thing I would say is don’t buy anything with little parts. Small objects are hazards, but they may also be an issue for a child on the spectrum. Those small items can get lost easily and if they do there could be a meltdown in the works. The toy is probably useless from that point on because they will be upset about that missing part forever. Konner has had many full-blown meltdowns because he couldn’t find a toy or part, or something has broken. I can’t tell you the amount of toys I’ve either hid or thrown away just because something was missing.
Noisemakers are something I would avoid. I know you’re thinking that it is just the parent in me not wanting to listen to a toy play a song over and over, or a loud whistle or instrument. While that is partially true, the other aspect is that many children on the spectrum are sensitive to sound. These loud noises can cause irritation and are potentially more harm than good. As fun as it is to torture the parents it’s not that fun to torture the child.
Be cautious when buying messy items. If you’re looking to purchase things like finger paints, slime, or even Play Dough you might think twice. Again, while it’s partially because the parent usually ends up cleaning up the mess, you may have some children who are sensitive to touch. This is a tricky one because you want to encourage creativity with art, but if the child doesn’t like the feel of wet, slimy stuff then it could do more harm than good in the long run.
You don’t necessarily need to look at things age appropriate because children on the spectrum develop differently. Some may develop slower and some may be more advanced for their age. If you’re not sure just ask the parents.
I would also make sure that the child isn’t over sensitive or under sensitive to certain material. Some children like soft, fluffy stuffed animals, and some are repulsed by the feeling. Some children like rough, scratchy material like sandpaper, but for others this may make their skin crawl.
So what should you buy then? Think about calming items. Again, if they like soft things or rough things try to find out. Many kids with ASD like pressure, so you might look for heavier objects like body pillows, weighted lap pillows, and large stuffed animals. Visual stimulation is good as well. Projection lamps, things with motion, oil filled tubes such as the ocean wave simulators, and fish tank simulators are great ideas, especially for the younger children. Any kind of game that helps to build social or language skills is good as well. You may look at board games where they have to interact with other people or flashcards where they learn letters and numbers. Social story books are a great thing as well. Anything that will teach social cues and how to act around others will be beneficial for life.
The last thing I would say is just to know their special interests. If they are into trains, which many are including Konner, then buy train stuff. Legos, while including many small parts, are also versatile. There are Legos of all sizes so they are age appropriate, and they make Legos for everything. If your child is into Ninja Turtles, Thomas Trains, Star Wars, etc. there is a Lego set for you out there somewhere.
All of these are just ideas. Keep in mind that they are sensitive and that they are children. Don’t over think it. They’re going to be happy to have something for Christmas.