The holiday season has officially arrived!
For millions of children around the world, the holidays drum up lots of excitement over the anticipation of new toys and gifts. However, buying gifts for children with special needs can sometimes prove difficult as gift-buyers must consider variables such as differences in mobility, motor-function, and mental and physical challenges.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 17% of children aged 3-17 years-old have a developmental disability of some kind. Chief among these disabilities is cerebral palsy, a type of birth injury and the most common motor-function disability in childhood.
Luckily, there is a large — and growing — assortment of toys and gifts that have been developed with children with cerebral palsy and other related disabilities in mind. Toy companies like Nebraska-based Fat Brain Toys® design and manufacture dozens of educational toys and games that cater toward developing sensory, motor-function, and tactile skills, which are especially suitable for children with disabilities like cerebral palsy.
If you are shopping for a child with special needs this year, be sure to first check with the family or parents of the child for whom you are getting a gift, just to make sure they haven’t already created a wish list for friends and relatives from which to shop.
If you’re still stuck, below are some great gift ideas for children with cerebral palsy.
1. Kinetic Sand™
Innovative and one-of-a-kind, Kinetic Sand is certainly a crowd-pleaser. Designed to look and feel similar to real wet sand at the beach, Kinetic Sand is an excellent toy for children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). It’s also great for helping children develop fine motor-function skills.
Kinetic Sand doesn’t stick to fingers or create a mess — it sticks to itself. It stiffens when squeezed and unstiffens when released. In addition to helping children develop motor-function skills, Kinetic Sand can also be molded, stacked, and squashed, promoting sensory exploration and tactile development as well as serving as a good form of stress/anxiety relief.
Recommended Age(s): 3+
2. Pop Blocs Farm Animals
Developed by toymaker Melissa & Doug®, Pop Blocs Farm Animals come in a pack of five soft, plastic animals and are intended to be mixed and matched. These adorable farm animals can be snapped together, pulled apart, and mixed up and combined in unique and exciting ways — activities that can encourage sensory development and promote tactical strength.
Recommended Age(s): 1-3
3. Fat Brain Toys Dimpl™ Duo
From Fat Brain Toys, the Dimpl Duo is one of several different Dimpl toys that contain squishy, silicone-based buttons for children to feel as well as pop in and out. A tactile toy at its core, Dimpl Duo can help strengthen motor-function skills, promote language skills (as children learn to identify different shapes), and serve as a calming, anxiety-reducer or form of stress relief.
Also in the Dimpl series are:
- Dimpl Duo Stack Bundle
- Dimpl Pops
Recommended Age(s): 1+
For children who love listening to stories, several different children’s books — and series — feature main characters with disabilities whose struggles and triumphs offer relatability and shared experience.
Some great illustrated choices for young children include:
- Little Senses series, by Samantha Cotterill
- Adventures of the Sensokids series, by Reema Naim
- What Happened to You?, by James Catchpole
- We Move Together, by Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire
- All the Way to the Top, by Annette Bay Pimentel
Recommended Age(s): Varies
5. Munchkin® Mozart Magic Cube
A widely popular toy — and a favorite among babies and children with disabilities — the Mozart Magic Cube teaches how sounds combine to make music and inspires creativity as well as tactile and sensory exploration. The cube produces sounds from five unique instruments: flute, french horn, harp, piano, and violin.
For children with cerebral palsy, playing with musical instruments — and toys that mimic the sounds of certain instruments — can be a great way to help them develop fine motor-function skills and improve sensory coordination and concentration.
Recommended Age(s): All
Developed with children of all ability levels in mind, Boxer — a kind of interactive robot — takes commands and responds to hand movements and gestures. For children who are developing fine motor skills and learning coordination between certain muscles, Boxer can both provide motivation and laughs while teaching cause and effect.
Boxer is known for its expressive eyes, catchy sounds, and big personality. Children can teach, watch, and guide the robot as it does tricks, wheelies, and other stunts. Using scannable game cards, Boxer can also be taught soccer, bowling, and other games. In addition to responding to movement, Boxer can also be controlled with a hand-held remote.
Recommended Age(s): 6+
Recommended by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation (CPF) in its annual Gift Guide, Elefun (by Hasbro Gaming®) is a children’s game featuring a motorized elephant that produces music and other fun sounds. Armed with a net, each player attempts to catch floating butterflies as they are blown out of the elephant’s 3-foot trunk.
For children with cerebral palsy, the game is excellent for teaching hand-eye coordination and helping children develop fine motor skills as they move about the room (or yard) attempting to collect as many butterflies as they can.
Recommended Age(s): 3+
Making the Holidays Special for Children of All Abilities
“Life with a disability can mean doing things a bit differently and finding creative solutions to everyday challenges,” as stated by the CPF. Sometimes the best gifts are also the simplest: those that bring joy or happiness, or just make life easier for those struggling with any physical or mental challenges.
Whatever — or however — you decide to give this holiday season, it’s always important to remember that there’s no such thing as “the perfect gift.” As always, what matters most is the heart, thought, and intention that goes into the gifts you get for others.
Note: All brands are trademarks of their respective companies.