Buying Gifts for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The holiday shopping season is in full swing and people everywhere are out shopping, looking for that perfect gift for the children in their life.  When one or more of those children are on the autism spectrum, you might wonder what would be the best gift.


    As the parent of a self-diagnosed teenage Aspie, I understand how confusing it can be to find a present that will be appreciated. My Aspie has, in some ways, always been the most difficult child to buy gifts for, and on the other hand, has been quite easy. His interests have been varied throughout the year but at the same time, narrow. For example, when he was young, he liked cars. Not the big toy trucks, but the small Matchbox cars. There were small cars all over the house. In other years, he was fascinated with dinosaurs, Legos, Pokemon, Naruto, trains, video games and most recently radio controlled planes and helicopters. Sounds easy to buy gifts, right? Not necessarily, although at different ages he was interested in different things, each holiday found us searching for gifts surrounding the "interest of the year."

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    While my son's interests were pretty mainstream, other parents find themselves in a more difficult situation. Their child may be passionate about more obscure topics. One child I know put most of his focus on washing machines. Now how do you buy gifts that relate to a washing machine? Another child may be interested in office supplies: staplers, pens, pencils, binders. This might be easy, a trip to Staples can yield all your gifts, but, you feel strange, the holidays are about toys and fun play; buying office supplies just doesn't feel right.


    And then there are grandparents, aunts and uncles and close friends who ask for suggestions. You may know exactly what your child wants, but try explaining that he is interested in washing machines and would really like a book explaining how they work. Or that he has suddenly decided he wants to collect spoons and if they want to buy something he will love, going on the internet and searching for unusual spoons would be great. Many relatives will look at you with dumfounded looks, how can you buy your 8-year-old spoons for Christmas?


    Keep the child's special interest in mind. Remember, your gift doesn't need to please you, it needs to be something the recipient will appreciate. The previous stories show how passions don't always meet our idea of what should interest a child. Put aside your perceptions of what a gift should be and focus on the child's interests. If you don't know what a child's current focus is, ask.

    There are many ways to be creative when looking for gifts that relate to a special interest:

    • A trip to the Natural History Museum for a child interested in dinosaurs
    • Books, even those you find boring such as repair manuals, that show you accept and encourage a child's interest
    • Items to add to collections, such as unusual spoons or collectible trains
    • Shelves or display cabinets for collections
    • An outing to further explore a special interest

    In the internet age, it is possible to find all different types of items and ideas that revolve around any interest. Use your imagination along with input from the child or his parents to find something that will be treasured and enjoyed.

  • When searching, keep in mind any sensory issues. Many children with Asperger's are sensitive to touch, sound, taste or smell. When looking for the perfect gift make sure it will not be an affront to the child's hypersensitivities, for example, if your child is sensitive to noise, avoid items that create a loud bang or make sudden noises. On the other hand, some gifts will be sensory pleasing, for example, a child might like a soft blanket embroidered with the logo or a character from a favorite television show.

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    Another aspect to keep in mind is the predictability of the toy. Children on the autism spectrum are often orderly and want their playthings to be orderly as well. When my son was a toddler, he wanted a jack-in-the-box that used his favorite television character, but when we got it home he wouldn't touch it and ran from the room if someone else used it. He couldn't predict when Elmo would jump out. He would try to figure it out, counting but each time it was different. Sometimes Elmo would jump out when he reached the number 4, sometimes it was 7. He wanted the security of knowing when Elmo would jump out of the box and when he couldn't accurately predict, he wanted nothing to do with the toy. Toys that are predictable or have repetitive lights and sounds may be a better choice.



    "Choosing Gifts for Children with Asperger's," Date Unknown, Catherine H. Knott, Ph.D., Your Little Professor

    "Christmas Shopping for a Child with Aspergers or Autism, Date Unknown, Dave Angel,


Published On: December 07, 2011