It’s that time of year again when autism parents all over the world start to panic. What on earth am I going to buy my kids for Christmas this year?
Often our children are unable to tell us what they would like, or unable to make a list for Santa. Add to that all of the changes and disruption to the regular routine the Christmas period brings, and it can be a really difficult time for the whole family.
All we really want as parents is for our children to enjoy this time as much as possible, and to be able to give them some presents that will put a smile on their faces.
Friends and family call and message, asking what they should buy for them. It’s hard enough to come up with something you can buy, let alone what others can get them too!
In my case neither Tommy or Jude have any concept of what Christmas is, let alone be able to come up with a list for Santa. They are unable to communicate what it is they would like, and they don’t really understand what presents are. Gifts that you might buy for other boys of their age they are completely uninterested in. They get left unopened for days and often never used.
So, finding the right Christmas present for an autistic child can be difficult, requires a lot of thought, but here’s some ideas that will make it a little easier, and hopefully put a big smile on your child’s face on Christmas Day.
*Next to some of the items are affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click and decide to make a purchase.
Jude and Tommy both love to bounce, and are always on our large outdoor version. With the cold and wet days we have in the UK at this time of year it means it’s out of action a lot of the time, so this indoor version is the perfect replacement. It gives them the sensory feedback that they crave and it’s good exercise too. One item we can’t live without
I bought some of this for Tommy two years ago and it was a big hit. Just scrunching it together and letting it drop through his fingers has brought hours of sensory joy, and it’s relatively easy to clear up! There’s all kinds of moulds you can buy with it too so you can build lots of different things.
When I asked the followers on my page what they are buying this year, Marble Run was something that was mentioned a lot! The more I look at it, the more I can’t understand why I’ve never tried this before. I can imagine Tommy, and maybe even Jude, flapping away as the ball rolls around the track. Definitely on my list this year!
Another present with sensory feedback in mind. Many of our kids are constantly craving vestibular feedback, bouncing on an exercise ball is a great way of them learning to help themselves to self-regulate. There’s so many different ways the ball can be used, and also different options of type of ball too. A few examples are below.
Ocean Wave Projector
If your child like lights and music then this could be the perfect gift for them. They have a number of different settings and colours, and can transform a dark room into a sensory haven. Perfect for a playroom or bedroom
Fidget Stretchy Toy
This has been a regular stocking filler for the last few years, both Tommy and Jude love them, so I’ll be ordering these again. They’re perfect if your kids like to flap, spin and twirl, and also can be relaxing to pull and stretch. Also safe for any of our kids who like to mouth objects.
The beanbag I wanted last year sold out, so this is definitely something I am getting for the playroom this Christmas! It’s the perfect spot for the Tommy to lay back and read his books, or for Jude to watch his iPad. A beanbag gives that feeling of pressure when you sink into it that so many of our kids crave. Again, there’s all kinds of shapes, colours, materials and sizes you can get, so have a think about what would suit your child best.
This was a success a couple of years ago, Tommy really enjoyed playing with it. The way the colours change, combined with the sensory feel they’ll get from moving the sequins, looks like a lot of fun. There’s lots of options to choose from in all kinds of colours and sizes too.
If you’ve watched any of our videos you’ll know that Tommy is a real sensory seeker. He’s constantly craving large amounts of physical feedback you get from climbing and jumping off things. This Gorilla Gym could really work for him. It has a number of different attachments that can all be fitted to the frame of your door without causing any damage. He can climb and swing away as much as he likes, all in a safe space. One of the pricier items on the list, but one that might make a big difference for Tommy
This is a new one for me, recommended by a few other parents. They’re a great relaxation aid, designed to help relieve stress. There’s gaps in the ball so you can slide your hands and arms in, meaning you can squeeze it tight and bring deep pressure to your body. Another one for my list
Last year I got one of these for Tommy, but he just refuses to go inside it! I have heard rave reviews about these from other parents though, and they come highly recommended from occupational therapists. When you’re inside them they give you that deep pressure and proprioceptive input that so many of our kids crave.
If you’ve been following our stories for a while you’ll know just how much Tommy loves puzzles. He’s very particular about which ones he likes (usually characters he likes, or letters and numbers) and within a few attempts he does them upside down, back to front, anything to make them harder. Lots of other autistic children enjoy puzzles too, that sense of order and of completion can be very satisfying. By finding ones related to their special interests they can also be very motivating too. This year I want to try something a little different, and these wooden puzzles look like they’ll be perfect. He enjoys copying pictures, and there’s lots of different shapes for him to make in this set. Wooden puzzles also seem to last longer as the pieces can’t get ripped up (which he also likes doing at times!). My other money saving tip is to take a look in your local charity stores. I’ve bought lots of puzzles this year from them, some as cheap as 50p, and with how often they get ripped up or pieces lost, they’re a real bargain!
If your house is anything like my house, we can’t get through the day without a tablet! For Jude it gives him a sense of independence, and really helps him to relax. He’s taught himself how to access all of the cartoons and music that he likes and be in complete control of it. Whilst Tommy loves watching cartoons or playing games, his iPad has also become his voice, thanks to his communication app, Proloquo2Go. Autistic children all over the world use their iPads or tablets to help keep them calm and regulate, especially when faced with a sensory overload, or social situations that can make them anxious. So if you don’t have one already (or if like me you need a spare) then a tablet can be a good addition to the list this Christmas. If an iPad isn’t your thing, Amazon do a great kids tablet, the Fire Kids Edition, with an amazing warranty for any damage. If it gets broken or damaged, Amazon replace it for you, no questions asked!
If you’re getting or already have a tablet, then a set of wireless headphones could be just what you need as well (provided your child will wear them!) Perfect for car journeys, or even at home, allowing them to block out the noise and potential sensory overload that may be surrounding them. Also has the added bonus that you don’t have to listen to the same 10 seconds of a song, over and over and over 😊
Getting a good night’s sleep can be a real issue for our autistic kids. Often it can be caused by anxiety and sensory processing difficulties. A weighted blanket tries to relieve some of that stress and calm a restless body. If your child responds well to deep pressure, then a weighted blanket might help the whole family get some more rest!
**Please make sure you check to get the correct weight of blanket for your child
Magnetic Building Blocks
Another highly recommended item was Magformers, or magnetic building blocks. Tommy really enjoys building with traditional blocks, but sometimes gets annoyed about how easily they fall over. This might be the solution for him!
For the last 4 years I’ve made Jude a sensory basket. He’s never showed much interest in opening presents, and this way he can see what’s there and explore for himself whenever he’s ready. I fill it with various little toys that either light up, make sounds, or are interesting to touch and squeeze. The great thing is more and more stores are producing toys like this so you can fill a basket quite cheaply now too. A quick search of ‘sensory toys’ on Google or Amazon will also give you lots of ideas.
Neither Jude or Tommy have ever been that into toy cars. But this might be something that would catch their attention. Tommy used to enjoy building a train track when he was younger, so might enjoy this too. Plus the cars and the tracks light up, providing some great sensory stimulation at the same time. It could be perfect in their playroom with the lights off
Here’s something that might seem a bit random, and not something you’d automatically associate with buying a kid for Christmas, but this has lots of sensory benefits for our kids. Jude has one at his mum’s house and loves it. It can help our kids relax, and also encourage them to sit still for a while, and maybe take part in another activity whilst using it. (Plus there’s the added benefit that you might get to use it too!)
These are always a big hit and a main component of sensory rooms around the world. There are many different options, sizes, and colours that you can get, which obviously vary in price too. One tip given by many parents is to use a wall bracket to secure them and prevent them being tipped over and broken!
Both Tommy and Jude have loved bubbles ever since they were babies. They are a great sensory and interactive activity you can play with them. These days there’s all kinds of options, from the regular bubbles pots, to machines, wands that create huge bubbles, or even bubble guns.
For those of you who have a creative side, why not make your very own calming, sensory bottles. There’s 100’s of ideas out there and they’re pretty simple to make. They’re great for sensory play, and have a wonderful calming effect. The ones below I found over at Rhythms Of Play who has a guide to show how she made them too.
So there you have it. Hopefully there’s an idea or two here that might help you find the perfect Christmas present for your autistic child. If you have any other suggestions feel free to add them to the comments
Merry Christmas everyone!