Each birthday, my wife and I put together our gift idea list for the kids. For our oldest and youngest—both neurotypical—life is easy. They tell us what they’re hoping for, and we try to see if it fits within our budget. For our middle son, who is non-verbal, things are a little more difficult.
The biggest challenge with him is getting toys that are educational, developmental, and yet still fun. It’s almost impossible to do. But man, when we nail it, it feels great.
There’s no better feeling in the world than seeing my son play with a toy that we’ve bought for him. We’ll get a few smiles here and there with every toy, but it takes a really special one to get prolonged attention.
So, here’s what we typically do around his birthday. We crowdsource. My son has 5 therapists he works with on a weekly basis, a teacher, and 2 aides. We have ideas of what our son would want. But we try to ask them what he’s in to at school. What things he likes, what things he doesn’t.
We have a ton of success when we move away from toys that require a lot of fine motor skills. We focus on gross motor skills. This year we focused on sensory toys. So we bought my son a swing to hang in his room and a tent for him to lie in. His disabilities might limit his ability to play with toys, but they don’t limit his ability to play in toys.
Lastly, we try to use toys to urge contact between him and his siblings. Getting all 3 to interact is difficult because of the difference in abilities. But everyone can have fun in a tent! Everyone can try a swing! We look for toys that aren’t solely designed for kids with disabilities to create a sense of inclusion in our house.
We know buying presents can be difficult, but in the end, it’s the effort and attention that you put in to the process that counts.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.