gift guide


{image is a photo of Brooke receiving a gift from Luau on Christmas morning, 2009. She is holding Telly Monster, whom she’d just gotten from my mom.}

Back in October, Maureen Wallace from SheKnows reached out to ask for my input for a toy guide that she’d been asked to put together for autistic children. Because she gets it, she asked, “How can I ensure a compilation doesn’t feel like I just lumped all kids with autism into one big ‘give-us-these-gifts bucket?” An extraordinarily good question indeed.

She came up with a great list of toys, including many of our favorites, that you can check out HERE.

(Please note: I have no affiliations to any of these or any other products and am not compensated in any way whatsoever for links or anything else, so rest assured, if I say I like something, it’s only because I like it.)

Anyway, the other day, I wound up in a pretty lengthy conversation with a friend after which I posted the following on Facebook.

Mini rant for the day:

What is developmentally appropriate is a gajillion times more important than what is “age appropriate.”

If something that is not considered traditionally “age appropriate” gives a human being pleasure and comfort and joy then it is appropriate for THEM.

The pleasure and comfort and joy of those we love matters far more than our insecurity about what is or isn’t “age appropriate.”

Age appropriate is crap.

Any questions?

And then I remembered that I’d had this conversation with Maureen and, well, it all just kinda seemed to come together.

So here’s the rest of what I sent to Maureen on the topic of gifts for autistic children. You might see a theme emerge. (You won’t have to look very hard.)

Compiling a list of toys that are appropriate for autistic children is like, well, compiling a list of toys that are appropriate for children. See what I did there? 😉

Autistic children, like ALL children, span the gamut of human experience, likes, dislikes, and interests.

There is no way to come up with a list of toys (or anything for that matter) that they will universally enjoy. That said, perhaps I can offer some guidelines to use when thinking about what a particular child might like.

Focus on what is developmentally appropriate than what is considered “age-appropriate.”

Autism is, by definition, a developmental ‘disorder.’ Autistic people do not develop in the same way that their neurotypical peers do. Therefore, suggested age ranges based on typical development are often wholly irrelevant when searching for the right toy for an autistic child.

If a seventeen year-old girl loves Sesame Street, please don’t hesitate to buy her a stuffed Elmo, a book on puppeteering, or a favorite episode on DVD.

If a ten year-old struggles with fine motor challenges, consider something other than the sewing kit or model airplane even if it’s labelled Perfect for ages nine to eleven! Not so perfect when it’s the cause of more frustration than joy.

Do not get hung up on what is conventionally age appropriate. What works for their same-aged typical peers may not work for them.

Watch the child or ask their parents what makes them happy.

Does she love order? Does he enjoy lining things up? You might think about a sorting tray with colored cubes.

Does she like movement like rocking, spinning or bouncing? A sit and spin might be the perfect gift.

Do you find him hiding in small spaces, craving the safety of physical pressure? Look at body socks or a soft weighted blanket in her favorite color  or in a pattern you think he’d like.

Does he have a passionate interest in something? Foster it! Help him explore it! Can he talk about nothing but space? Buy him books on the cosmos or a glow in the dark constellation for his ceiling.

Is she constantly searching the web for information on rock formations? Buy her a book on geology or a grow your own crystal kit.

Does she love to watch things spin? Does he like the feel of wind in his face? A small, portable fan can be the perfect gift.

In case you missed it, the bottom line for me is this:

Human beings are a diverse crowd. We have different interests, different likes, and different things will be a appropriate for all of us at various times in our lives, no matter what it says on the side of the box.

A gift, the real kind, is meant to bring joy to its recipient — not to make them better at something, not to make them appear more like their peers, not to make everyone around them more comfortable, but to bring the one who opens it JOY.

Happy gift giving, my friends.


4 thoughts on “gift guide

  1. I love this! All my daughter wants for her birthday from her friends is sticks,rocks, and pinecones that they collect for her. Getting the parents on board with that is not easy. When they ask what she wants and I tell them I get the ‘you’re crazy’ face hahaha.

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