Looking for a gift for a child or teen with special needs?  We are here to help! When shopping for someone with challenges, it is not just about finding something they will like — it is also about finding a gift they can use and enjoy on their own.  It is important to remember that not all items are made for all types of needs, every child is different in their ability level. Mainstream toys and electronic devices are not always compatible with the sensory and motor issues present in some children with special needs.  Some companies make alternatives that often mimic or improve on mainstream items.  They are designed with special needs children and teens in mind but are adapted with switches or larger buttons where needed and provide sensory experiences that are well-suited for those with sensory sensitivities.

To help guide your search, the team at Enabling Devices, a company dedicated to creating products to help people with disabilities participate fully in the world, suggests that you ask the following questions:

  1. Is the item right for the child’s abilities?
  2. Will the child be able to activate the toy by themselves?
  3. Does it appeal to their interests?
  4. Is It Physical?
  5. Do you need a special switch adaptor to activate?
  6. Does the toy encourage interaction with others?
  7. Is it safe for their developmental age?
  8. Is it fragile?

Resources and Websites

Websites such as  https://funandfunction.com/  and  https://www.fatbraintoys.com/ do some of the legwork by arranging products by age and diagnosis.  From ADHD to Visual Impairment, they cater to those with cognitive, behavioral, and physical challenges. 

eSpecial Needs, https://www.especialneeds.com/, carries a variety of unique special needs toys, including blocks, cognitive play, educational, magnetic activities, fine and gross motor, and pretend play.

Ability Path provides a holiday toy guide created by a team of pediatric therapists (https://abilitypath.org/resources/holiday-gift-guide/).  Items are listed in alphabetical order with a description of the developmental benefits associated with each toy.

Enabling Devices has a digital catalog filled with toys, games, and electronics specially designed to meet a wide range of special needs. The family-owned company adapts or manufactures all products in the U.S. and provides individualized assistance to guide your selection (https://enablingdevices.com/digital_catalog/).

Different Roads to Learning, https://difflearn.com/, founded by the mother of a child with Autism, carries toys and products especially selected to support the autism community.

If you are searching for a non-toy/game/electronic idea, consider photos and personalized items.  Photo books and digital frames promote imagination and creativity. They are a unique gift and a great way for children to learn names, faces, counting, emotions and more.  Personalized items with pictures or words are always popular. Whether you choose their name, a favorite phrase, their photo or a photo of their pet, the personalization possibilities are virtually endless.

Last, when in doubt, just ask!  If you are not sure what kind of gift they might appreciate, ask them or their parents. Afterall, the greatest gift you can give any family is to let them know that you care for their child.