8 Holiday Gift Tips for Children With Complex Medical Needs


Buying holiday gifts for kids with complex medical needs can be tricky. Hopefully, these tips can help you find the perfect gift for the special little ones in your life.

1.  Stuffed animals might not be the best go-to gift.

An easy, go-to gift people love to get all kids is stuffed animals. They’re cute, soft and cuddly, and you can pick one up just about anywhere. After a kid turns 3 or 4 (or even earlier), they can end up with quite a collection of stuffed animals. For complex kids who are hard to shop for, this is often what everyone gives them. Unless the family has said they want or need more stuffed animals, they probably already have more than they know what to do with.

2. Remember that clothes can be tricky.

For some kids, they need access to certain parts of the body (feeding tubes, central lines, catheters). For example, a little girl with a feeding tube may not be able to wear dresses since there is nowhere to run the line. My daughter has skin issues and can’t lie on seems, zippers, buttons or bows without it causing skin breakdown and sometimes even open wounds. For our family and friends, we make sure everyone knows not only our daughter’s size, but that any clothes for her have to be something she could basically sleep in all day comfortably. If you want to get clothes for a child with special needs, ask the family ahead of time if there is anything you should avoid or look for.

3. Some toys can be too loud or bright.

For a lot of kids, overstimulation can lead to full-on sensory meltdowns. Some toys require a lot of coordination to play with as well. If the child you are buying for has limited motion, they may not be able to play with the really cool racetrack you found. They may be better off with something like an ooze tube that they can watch and have someone flip for them from time to time. Or maybe they like light-up toys but have a seizure disorder. You may need to be sure the toy isn’t a strobe light that could trigger a seizure. If you aren’t sure, I would suggest asking the family or staying away from toys in general.

4. Activities are fun gift ideas.

It may be passes to an activity location (like a park or bounce house) or it may be an activity for the child to do at home (puzzles and crafts). Obviously, you wouldn’t want to get a pass to a bounce house for a child with limited mobility who is in a wheelchair, but there are a few other things to consider with a pass to an activity. Some kids may physically be able to get around, but they may have compromised immune systems, and the family may need to avoid crowded places (at least during cold and flu season). Or maybe the child has a sensory disorder and going into a hyper-stimulated environment may not be something the child would enjoy.

For these kids, if you want to get an activity-related gift, you may be best sticking with activities that can be done at home. My daughter has limited mobility and can’t do activities on her own, but she likes to make the color choices, placement and pick out details on crafts, and then we are her hands for her.

5. Movies and music are often great choices for kids.

Some movies have great colors that can be ideal for children with CVI (cortical visual impairment). Some movies and music can really help to get kids motivated to communicate and move as well (in whatever ways they’re able). It’s kind of like a way to sneak in some therapy. I would just make sure you either include gift receipts with these or ask ahead. Many families will have a lot of movies already.

6. Books are my favorite go-to gift idea.

They’re much easier to store than countless stuffed animals, and they’re great for kids of all ages and abilities. If the child can’t read, it’s a great bonding gift for the parent to read to the child. Lots of books have fantastic art work that are wonderful for kids with CVI as well. I would suggest asking the family if the child is able to read, and if so, what level. Or try to find books with characters or items the child is interested in. My daughter can’t get enough elephant books — fact or fiction.

7. Get them what they need.

Sometimes I really try to find gifts that kids want, but getting a kid something they need isn’t a bad thing. With complex kids, there is almost always something they need. It maybe things like blankets, drool cloths, travel bags, bottles or therapy aides (like chewy sticks or bolsters). There is nothing wrong with asking the parents what a child may need.

8. Make a charitable donation.

If none of these suggestions help, you could always go with a charitable gift. Make a donation to a local child’s charity that helps children like the one you are shopping for. Or maybe the family is saving up for a special brick or star in the child’s honor at one of their favorite places. If that’s the case, you could contribute toward something like that.

Regardless of which gift you choose, as long as it comes from your heart, I’m sure the child in your life will love it. Happy holidays!

Follow this journey on CaseyBarnes.org.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story about the holiday season related to disability, disease or mental illness. It can be lighthearted or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include an intro for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Other

Santa Surprises Little Girl Who Had Some Difficulty Talking to Him

We’ve already seen a few Santas go the extra mile this December for kids with special needs, and this St. Nick from the Cleveland Centre in Middlesbrough, England, is no exception. After sitting in Santa’s lap, a little girl had some difficulty communicating. “Sorry, she can’t talk very well,”  the child’s mother is heard saying in the video below. Santa wasn’t fazed; instead, he asked [...]

This Is the Perfect Holiday Photo for My Sensory Sensitive Child

The holiday season is upon us, and in my family — like many others — this is a busy time full of fun and traditions. In our home, the holidays mean baking an assortment of cookies as Christmas music plays in the background. It means bundling up pajama-clad kiddos into the car and looking at Christmas lights. It means [...]

My One Secret Truth I Want People to Know About Being Sick

If there were one secret truth I could tell others about being sick, it would be that every nasty thing that you say, or even semi-nasty thing you say and do, sticks with us. Even when you think you are phrasing words in the nicest way possible, we know what you mean. The worst thing [...]

Accepting the ‘New Norm’ for My Child With a Life-Limiting Illness

I don’t usually use the word “normal” when it comes to my son with a life-limiting illness. I prefer “typical,” as do many other parents on this journey. But once in a while, we have to readjust even our idea of “the norm” for our child. Things change. And on this path, things often change [...]