It’s that time of year again when autism parents all over the world start to panic. What on earth am I going to buy my kids for Christmas this year?
Often our children are unable to tell us what they would like, unable to make a list for Santa. Add to that all of the changes and disruption to the regular routine the Christmas period brings, and it can be a really difficult time for the whole family.
All we really want as parents is for our children to enjoy this time as much as possible, and to be able to give them some presents that will bring them joy.
Friends and family call you and message you asking what they should buy them. It’s hard enough to come up with something you can buy, let alone what others can get them too!
In my case neither Tommy or Jude have any concept of what Christmas is, let alone be able to come up with a list for Santa. They are unable to communicate what it is they would like, and they don’t really understand what presents are. Gifts that you might buy for other boys of their age they are completely uninterested in. They get left unopened for days and often never used.
So, finding the right gift for an autistic child at Christmas can be difficult, and requires a lot of thought. Here’s a few ideas to try and make the process a bit easier
Jude and Tommy both love to bounce, and are always on our large outdoor version. With the cold and wet days we have in the UK at this time of year it means it’s out of action a lot of the time, so this indoor version is the perfect replacement. It gives them the sensory feedback that they crave and exercise too!
Fidget Cube and Fidget Spinner
I’ve tried both of these with Tommy and Jude but they haven’t shown much interest. However they are extremely popular and have been a great help for many others on the spectrum. They can help reduce stress and anxiety and focus the mind, all whilst being a fun toy to play with
Definitely something I want to try with the boys. The way the colours change, combined with the sensory feel they’ll get from moving the sequins, looks like a lot of fun. There’s lots of options to choose from in all kinds of colours and sizes too.
I bought some of this for Tommy last Christmas and it was a big hit. Just scrunching it together and letting it drop through his fingers has brought hours of sensory joy! There’s all kinds of moulds you can buy with it too so you can build lots of different things.
If you’re going to be buying the Kinetic Sand, or your child just likes taking part in messy play, then these trays can save a lot of cleaning up! They can be used inside and outside, so perfect to take out into the garden when the weather’s better and play with water, sand, foam, etc
If your kids like lights and music then this could be the perfect gift for them. They have a number of different settings and colours and can transform a dark room into a sensory haven. Something like this will definitely be on the list for Jude or Tommy and help make their playroom a more sensory area.
Tommy is a real sensory seeker, craving large amounts of physical feedback you get from climbing and jumping off things. This Gorilla Gym could really work for him. It has a number of different attachments that can all be fitted to the frame of your door without causing any damage. He can climb and swing away as much as he likes, all in a safe space.
I’ve heard rave reviews about these from other parents. When you’re inside them they give you that deep pressure and proprioceptive input that so many of our kids crave. Jude has been using something similar at school so I’m definitely going to give this a try
I don’t know how I’d get through the days without an iPad for Jude to have with him. It gives him a sense of independence, and really helps him to relax. He’s taught himself how to access all of the cartoons and music that he likes and be in complete control of it. Autistic children all over the world use their iPads or tablets to help keep them calm and regulate, especially when faced with a sensory overload, or social situations that can make them anxious. So if you don’t have one already (or if like me you need a spare) then a tablet can be a good addition to the list this Christmas
If you’re getting or already have a tablet, then a set of wireless headphones could be just what you need as well (provided your child will wear them!) Perfect for car journeys, or even at home, allowing them to block out the noise and potential sensory overload that may be surrounding them. Also has the added bonus that you don’t have to listen to the same 10 seconds of a song, over and over and over 😊
If you don’t have the space for a sensory room one of these black-out sensory tents could be the solution. They allow you to create a dark play area where our kids can play, and by placing any sensory lights you have inside them, they can make for a fun, and calming environment.
If you’ve been following our stories for a while you’ll know just how much Tommy loves puzzles. He’s very particular about which ones he likes (usually characters he likes, or letters and numbers) and within a few attempts he does them upside down, back to front, anything to make them harder. Lots of other autistic children enjoy puzzles too, that sense of order and of completion can be very satisfying. By finding ones related to their special interests they can also be very motivating too. Lately I have been getting wooden puzzles for Tommy. They seem to last longer as the pieces can’t get ripped up (which he also likes doing at times!)
For the last 2 years I’ve made Jude a sensory basket. He’s never showed much interest in opening presents, and this way he can see what’s there and explore for himself whenever he’s ready. I fill it with various little toys that either light up, make sounds, or are interesting to touch and squeeze. The great thing is more and more stores are producing toys like this so you can fill a basket quite cheaply now too. A quick search of ‘sensory toys’ on Google or Amazon will also give you lots of ideas.
Neither Jude or Tommy have ever been that into toy cars. But this might be something that would catch their attention. tommy used to enjoy building a train track when he was younger, so might enjoy this too. Plus the cars and the tracks light up, providing some great sensory stimulation at the same time. It could be perfect in their playroom with the lights off
Often children with autism can need help developing their fine motor skills, this is definitely something that Jude struggles with. Toys like this can help develop these skills, whilst also being a fun game of building, counting, or matching colours.
Not something you’d automatically associate with buying a kid for Christmas, but this has lots of sensory benefits for our kids. Jude has one at his mum’s house and loves it. It can help our kids relax, and also encourage them to sit still for a while, and maybe take part in another activity whilst using it. (Plus there’s the added benefit that you might get to use it too!)
These are a big hit and a main component of sensory rooms around the world. There are many different options, sizes, and colours that you can get, which obviously vary in price too. One tip given by many parents is to use a wall bracket to prevent them being tipped over and broken!
We’ve had a few of these over the years which Jude and Tommy have both loved. I’ve had great fun chasing the boys around, tickling and biting them with the puppets. The great thing is they promote interaction and can lead to some lovely 1-1 time with our kids. The Puppet Company has a huge variety of animals and colours too
Both Tommy and Jude have loved bubbles ever since they were babies. They are a great sensory and interactive activity you can play with them. These days there’s all kinds of options, from the regular bubbles pots, to machines, wands that create huge bubbles, or even bubble guns.
For those of you who have a creative side, why not make your very own calming, sensory bottles. There’s 100’s of ideas out there and they’re pretty simple to make. They’re great for sensory play, and have a wonderful calming effect. The one’s below I found over at Rhythms Of Play who has a guide to how she made them too.
Giant Bean Bag
This is definitely something I want to add to the playroom! It’s the perfect spot for the Tommy to lay back and read his books, or for Jude to watch his iPad. A beanbag gives that feeling of pressure when you sink into it that so many of our kids crave. Again, there’s all kinds of shapes, colours, materials and sizes you can get, so think what would suit your child best.
So there you have it. Hopefully there’s an idea or two here that might make the perfect Christmas present for your child. If you have any other suggestions please let me know in the comments.
Merry Christmas everyone!