Holiday Shopping for Kids with Special Needs


It’s that time of year again! The time when holiday lights start to go up, people argue over whether or not it’s appropriate to put the tree up before Thanksgiving, and we start to get the texts from Aunt Pat about what the kids want for Christmas. That last one is pretty easy to navigate unless you have a child with special needs. 

Our 7-year-old daughter has autism, and her likes and dislikes are both simple and complicated at the same time. (That might not make any sense to you, unless you have an autistic child.) We’ve already started getting calls from friends and family asking what she wants for Christmas, and honestly, I never know how to answer. She understands Christmas and Santa and presents, but can’t answer the question “What do you want for Christmas?”. She just can’t.

If we were in the Target toy section, she’d certainly SHOW us, but she can’t tell us. Most of the time, I navigate answering these questions with generic ideas of things she needs or things I already know she would enjoy, like slime or playdoh. The year before we took her to DisneyWorld (Remember traveling? That was fun.), we asked everyone for Disney gift cards for the whole year prior to the trip, so she could buy whatever she wanted while we were there. It worked beautifully, and we’d love to do that again if we knew we’d get to travel safely in the near future.

Not everyone wants to give a gift card, though, even though it was the most exciting thing for her. People like gifting toys and fun stuff, but I always dread the moment she opens a gift she isn’t thrilled with – the look of disappointment on the gifter’s face is monumentally defeating. 

So, if you have a child on your list who might be harder to shop for because of developmental delays or disability, here are a few gift ideas you might not have considered:

  • Manipulatives: Things like Play-Doh, slime, Floam, bubble machines, stomp rockets, and kinetic sand have always been popular with our girl. She loves texture and using her sense of touch to explore new things. Even those cute shirts with the double-sided sequins have been a big success for us. Check with the parent before you buy that gallon of slime, though, if you want to keep that friendship alive. 
  • Clothes: This can be a great idea, especially for kids who use medical equipment like wheelchairs, leg braces, feeding tubes, etc. More and more companies are including adaptive clothing that used to be incredibly hard to find. Check out the selections at Kohl’s and Target! It’s so exciting to see the uptick in inclusivity! 
  • Experiences: Rather than spend money on stuff, consider experiences like memberships to the zoo or science museum or gift cards to Build-A-Bear or Disney. We love anything we can do with our girl that will allow her to expel some of her energy, and those trips are also things you could do together as a group! We want to hang out. I’ll say that again in case you missed it. We want to hang out. We want you to learn how to interact with our children who might be a little different. Experiences are great ways to do that.
  • Subscriptions: I’ve seen a few super cool subscription boxes for kids lately, and who wouldn’t love a few surprises throughout the year? I even saw one the other day with snack foods from around the world! How fun is that? It’s the gift that really keeps on gifting! (There’s also a wine of the month club for the parents if you’re really in a gifting mood.)

If you have questions, just ask. Don’t feel bad that you don’t know what our child would enjoy. As the parent of a child with special challenges, we are used to answering them and trust me, we start preparing for these questions as soon as Halloween is over. We’d rather you ask if something would be appropriate or enjoyed, rather than us have to intervene because the game you bought is full of small pieces they might choke on – yes, even if they are 7 years old. 

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Kelli Bruemmer
Kelli is a native Okie with a larger-than-life personality and an unhealthy dose of sarcasm. She married Bobby in 2011, and they welcomed daughter, Maevyn, in 2013. Maevyn is autistic, and every day is a new adventure in discovering how her unique mind works. Life on their NE Oklahoma City acreage is never dull, and they enjoy RV camping and Sooner football. Kelli is a former law enforcement officer who now works full-time at the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office facilitating programs that keep people safe on our roadways. She also enjoys consulting for Beautycounter, advocating for tougher legislation in the US beauty industry, stifling inappropriate profanity, managing her RBF, looking for the nearest restroom, and trying not to sing Disney songs out loud in public.


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