Special Needs Mom: Birthday and Holiday Gifts

I love celebrating birthdays and other gift giving holidays. I love every part of it. I love picking something out, wrapping it up, and covering it in bows and ribbons. I especially love seeing the look on the person’s face when they open it up but, when you have a friend or family member with a child with special needs it can be tricky to find a gift that the child (and their parents) will love. Many children with special needs don’t have interest in toys that typically developing children of the same age do. My little lady is almost five years old and she’s never had any interest in dolls or tea party sets or many other things that other little girls might enjoy. We realized this pretty early on. When she was almost two and my son was born, my mom bought her a baby doll to help her cope with having a new little brother. We made a huge deal about it as we took it out of the package and got her all set up to “hold the baby”, but when we set the blue clad bundle in her lap she proceeded to poke it in the eye, push it head first off the couch, and run away. We got her a little stroller thinking she might want to push it around, but instead she tried to sit in it herself and then got pissed when she couldn't fit.

Another thing that makes it difficult to buy for kids with special needs is that sometimes they simply can’t have certain toys, because they can be distracting for them or even harmful. For instance one of the things that my daughter loves to do is what we call “fuzzy picking” it’s a self stimulating behavior where she picks tiny little fuzzies from stuffed animals and throws them into the air to watch them glide through the sunlight and fall to the ground. Sounds harmless right? Nope. The problem with it is that she gets so fixated on this activity, she can’t focus on anything else. She will literally sit for as long as you let her and just pick every little piece of plush off of that cute little bunny she got for Easter. She won't be able to focus on learning or social interactions, not to mention the mess it makes and how clogged up my air conditioner gets. So we try to cut down on how many stuffed animals we have around the house. For similar reasons we have to pay attention to what kind of clothes she wears. Anything with glitter, sparkles or sequins can easily become a prime “fuzzy picking” candidate.

Sometimes I feel like a burden on my friends and family when it is time for my children’s birthdays or Christmas because there are so many things that I would just have to return or give away if we received them as a gift. I’ve also always felt like it was presumptuous and controlling to create wishlists for an gift giving occasion outside of wedding and showers. That whole “just be happy with what you get, because they didn’t have to get you anything at all.” The only problem with this idea is that I know the people in our lives want my children to actually be able to enjoy the things that they spent time to pick out for them. So last year I broke down and made an Amazon wishlist for my kids and sent it to my mom and mother-in-law.

It was a huge success!

They both felt confident in their purchases and it was still a surprise for the kids because they had never seen what I put on the list. I picked items of all different prices so that they could choose how much they wanted to spend and Amazon even lets you set priority levels on the items, so that they can see which ones you want the most. My mom even told me that when she doesn’t have the list she will often stand in the store for long periods of time second guessing herself on whether or not she should get this certain toy, lunch box, or piece of clothing, ultimately deciding to put it back and not get it because she’s worried that there will be something about it that doesn’t work for our little ones.

It was such a relief for it to be so well received and to know that I wouldn't have to stand in numerous customer service lines to return gifts and then pray that no one would ask me how the kids like something that I took back to the store. Needless to say, I will be making another list this year and I would encourage anyone that has a similar struggle to try it out. Even if you just make the list and then use it to remind you of a quick answer when you get the, “What does _______ want for his/her birthday?” text or phone call.


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