10 Kinds of Gifts Autistic Kids (and Their Parents) Will Hate

Avoid these kinds of gifts for the autistic child in your life!

Most kids with autism enjoy getting gifts, whether it's their birthday or a special holiday. But shopping for kids with autism is a little different: you can't just grab an "age appropriate" toy off the shelf and assume they'll love it. Instead, you'll need to keep these guidelines in mind.


Anything Made With Potentially Toxic Materials


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Even for older children with autism, it's important to avoid toys and other gifts that could contain toxic materials. Not only are many autistic children unusually sensitive to chemicals and toxins, but they are also more likely than their typical peers to mouth or lick objects. Many children with autism also lack the ability to make good choices about how to handle such gifts as chemistry sets, "slime," etc.


Cheap Knock-Offs of the Real Thing

Kids with autism have fabulous visual memories. They will not be bought off with an "Elmo-like" doll, a "Thomas-like" engine or a "Barney-like" dinosaur. Either go for the real thing or find something completely different. But don't expect a child with autism to be fooled: Elmo is Elmo, and there's no just-as-good substitute on the market!


Toys That Are Age-Appropriate But Unwelcome

A teenager is probably "too old" for Thomas the Tank Engine, but children with autism may stick with favorites from their preschool years well into their teens or even beyond. This may seem problematic—but birthdays and holidays are the wrong time to insist on age-appropriate tastes. When your autistic niece unwraps that gift and finds not a favorite toy but an "age-appropriate" item that she never asked for, you're in for a meltdown. That doesn't mean it's impossible to help a child with autism to build age-appropriate interests, but it can take a long time and a great deal of patience.


Toys That Absolutely Require Social Interaction or Verbal Skills

There are plenty of toys out there that are intended to build the skills autistic kids need most. There are social games, verbal games, games to teach reading, games to teach sharing... and all of these are terrific tools for teaching.

But the gifts aren't about teaching—they're about fun.

If your gift absolutely requires a child with autism to find a partner, verbalize thoughts and take turns, chances are he'll use it once and never again. Instead, choose a gift that can be used interactively (building blocks, puppets, etc.) but doesn't have to be used with others. That way, a child with autism can enjoy them alone, or learn new skills when you play together.


Toys That Require Advanced Fine or Gross Motor Skills

Kids with autism may be very active, and they may adore trampolines, swings, and slides. In fact, indoor versions can be terrific gifts.

But most kids with autism also have at least some fine and gross motor delays that make more complex athletics difficult (and thus not much fun).

Unless you know the autistic child in your life really wants them, avoid toys like ​jump ropes, hackey-sacks, juggling scarves and the like. They may be attractive, but they'll probably wind up in the junk drawer when your autistic loved one finds they're just too tricky to manage.


Toys That Trigger Sensory Overloads

Many kids with autism have sensory sensitivities that make certain toys and arts and crafts materials very tough to take. Examples of what to avoid include sticky stuff like "slime," Silly Putty, paper mache kits, and the like, as well as stinky stuff like certain markers and plastics. Depending on the child, you may also want to avoid toys that make a great deal of noise, flash brightly, or otherwise assault the senses.


Foods That Encourage Breaking a Special Diet

About one-third of children with autism have been on special diets to try to improve their symptoms. One example is a diet that excludes gluten (wheat) and casein (dairy), although some research shows it may not improve autism symptoms. To be on the safe side, always check with the child's parents before gifting food with casein or gluten, like ice cream or cookies. Also check about any other special dietary issues or food allergies, and submit a list of ingredients before handing over the treat.


Toys That Encourage an Obsessive Interest

There's a fine line between obsession and passion, and kids with autism often cross that line.  Before choosing to give a toy that supports a perseverative interest, check with Mom and Dad. Perhaps there's a better time than the holidays or a birthday to give that gift.

When things are less hectic, you can take time out to help turn an obsessive interest into a true, shared passion.


Items That Require Solitary Play or Use

While it's tough for a child with autism to interact for long periods of time, it's far too easy for most to disappear into their own worlds.

Toys like hand-held video games, MP3 players and the like are specifically created to help people to disappear into their own worlds.

While they do have their place in the life of a child with autism, better options might be X-Box or Wii games that can easily involve several players; CD players that allow everyone to listen to and comment on musical selections; and so forth.


Anything That Will Drive Parents Nuts

Parents of kids with autism have an awful lot on their plates. As a result, you can't blame them if they can't muster up extra patience to deal with a toy that makes annoying sounds or promotes indoor climbing.

Even if you think it's funny, try not to give a child with autism a toy that's likely to say the same things over and over, or a toy that's likely to wind up in a thousand pieces on the floor.

In fact, if you really think a child with autism would just love a wild, loud toy, the very best present you can give is to take that child - and that toy - outside, where you can have crazy fun together... out of earshot of the rest of the family.

5 Sources
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By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.