Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shopping Tips for Children with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome

When someone asks me what kind of gift my four-year-old would like, the answer is easy. Anything and Everything. My youngest son actually asked me when Santa was coming last April. I told him the Easter Bunny would come first and bring a few small gifts.

I draw a blank, however, when thinking about what my oldest son with autism would like. It's getting easier because the nine year old is finally playing with more toys. If someone asked him what he wanted he'd probably answer "Backyardigan Toys" or "froggys."

However, he already has about twelve stuffed frogs (which he does play with) and a bunch of other types of frogs (not as liked as the stuffies.)He'd really like a real frog and I'm thinking about getting him a fully aquatic frog(meaning it would never leave its tank.) I need a little more time to decide, but there might just be an albino frog swimming in a tank for him on Christmas morning.

As for Backyardigan toys--there are only so many on the store shelves. Backyardigans is a cartoon for preschoolers, but he loves the show. I don't mind that he likes it, but it is hard to find the toys when it is not Christmas. He was disappointed when he searched the toy shelves of a local discount store last August (his birthday month.)The only Backyardigan toy we found was a game. We bought it because he did not want anything else. Hopefully there will be a bigger selection for the holiday shopping season.

There are, however, a few other things my son likes besides frogs and Backyardigan toys. This year I have vowed not to draw a blank when asked. Organizing my thoughts in this way will help me be better prepared when being questioned about gifts for my boys. I can also refer them to this post in case I might have forgotten about one an idea or consideration.

Please see the following paragraphs for considerations to make while shopping for a child with ASD. I have also created a small list of favorite types of gifts. If someone has another consideration or favorite type of gift, I might add it. Please feel free to comment.

What to consider when buying for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

1. Does the child seek out certain textures? Soft blankets, stuffed animals, or toys offering a variety of textures might be a good idea. Or, ask the parent if the child would like a weighted blanket. Note that making a weighted blanket is cheaper than buying one.

2. Is the child known for liking a particular subject, object or animal. If so, then ask the parent what sort of thing (book, stuffed animal, game-related, etc.)is best to buy.

3. Gift cards can be OK depending on the individual, but be aware that some people with ASD become overwhelmed in stores because of sensory problems (bright lights or loud sounds, for example). It took a long time before I was able to bring my son into certain stores without worrying about him having a meltdown.

4. Clothes can be OK also, but note that certain textures like wool or the tags in clothes can be bothersome. If using socks as a stocking stuffer for a friend or relative, please realize that the seams at the ends of socks have the potential to drive some (not all) people with ASD crazy. Blue Jeans may feel "itchy" or may be alright, but again it depends on the child. Buying clothes in the child's favorite color or texture may also be a good idea.

5. Take the child shopping for their gift. My son's grandparents once took my him shopping for a birthday present. He chose a toy that he played with constantly for almost a year. A shopping trip with a person with ASD can work out well--especially if someone who is familiar with meltdown triggers is along for the trip. Some stores may work out better than others, so ask the parent what stores to go to or what stores to avoid.

Consider avoiding these types of toys:

1. Does the child have any sensitivities to sound or light? Toys that blink and/or make loud sounds may make the child with autism uncomfortable.

2. Does the child still put toys in his or her mouth? If so, you may consider avoiding toys with small pieces and toys with magnets.

3. Large toys may be tempting to buy, but storage is often presents a problem for parents (not just the parents who have children with ASD).

My favorites:

1. Art supplies. We can never have too many sets of water color paints,washable paints and markers, or too glue or construction paper. I also like them because they don't take up much space. "Model Magic" by Crayola Inc. was and is a hit with my child. He has made some great little pots that have had staying power. The clay-like substance (if stored at room temperature) also doesn't crumble or make much of a mess.

2. Books. They store away easily. Children with autism seem to really appreciate nonfiction books, but fiction can be great too. For younger children, I'd suggest books from the "Best Me You Can Be" series or from the "Mr. and Miss" series by Roger Hargreaves. The former provides great social tips for youngsters and the latter is a cute little fictional series that puts an emphasis on emotions. Both series are available through scholastic books. Books with flaps and textures are also a good idea for younger kids.

3. Small sensory toys. Balls with nubby textures and vibrating toys that operate by pulling a string, etc. have been played with by both of my boys.

4. Easy games with not a lot of strategy involved. Hungry Hippo is a favorite game in my house. Connect Four is a good one too because one doesn't have to
play the game. My boys like dropping in the checkers and/or making patterns.

5. Clothes. My son has liked to get clothes since he was six-years-old or younger. Most children probably prefer toys, but some kids like to get clothes as well.


mcewen said...

All great ideas, although it would appear that we have almost everything already - enough to stock our own toy shop! And that's before the two birthdays in December! Eek!

J said...

I'm glad you liked the ideas. It would be nice to be almost finished with the holiday shopping. You are much more organized than I am. I'll be just starting the holiday shopping Nov. 23! Take care--JML

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 8 and has aspergers she does not play with many toys she love things she put together, construction toys arts and craft.
love you ideas.