baby boy sitting next to christmas present box

If your child is anything like mine, you know the stress of shopping for toys and gifts for them. Over the years, I’ve seen my son lose interest in almost any toy that’s out there. There was a time when he loved trains, and every time we entered a Toys “R” Us, he would run to the spot where they had a train table for kids to play with. He would spend several minutes there. We finally decided to get a train table in the small condo we rented. Having no place to keep it, we had it smack in the middle of our living room where the coffee table should have been. It only made sense to have the center of our lives’ center of life at the center of our house.

But soon enough, the trains lost their charm, just like toys often do for all kids. But he did not graduate to other “big boy” toys — he just stopped playing with any. That was four years back. He was around 3 then. The only one he has not given up on is his kiddie laptop, which has a few geometrically-shaped buttons that light up some images on the “screen” and plays music. He still likes to play with it, but we’ve tried several musical toys since then without any success.

So, going to a regular toy store is not just stressful, it’s actually sometimes upsetting, because I feel lost among the cars, remote-controlled helicopters, board games, action figures, video games and the like. So many toys, but seemingly none for my child! I feel guilty for not finding something for him. However, over time I have been able to think outside of the box and come up with some things to gift him, thanks to various forums and Facebook groups that have such a wealth of information. So, I decided to pay it forward and come up with my own list, which by no means is complete — let alone comprehensive — but it’s a start, and I hope someone might get some ideas from this list.

Let me tell you a bit about my son. He is on the autism spectrum, and he is nonverbal and has fine motor skills challenges, which can make playing with a toy more of a chore than fun. Mobile games don’t hold his attention for long. He struggles with language and reading, so books are not often something he is excited about, nor does he have any favorite superhero or comic book character he obsesses over. Keeping these challenges in mind, most of my suggestions will be geared towards sensory toys that don’t require too much input from the player but can still excite them. Here we go:

For kids who like movement:

1. Rope ladder — You can hang this from the ceiling of your child’s room, and it swings freely while your child climbs up. It can be challenging and still exciting.

2. Hammock — Yup, I can say from my personal experience this hammock has saved the day on several occasions. It swings, gives my son the deep pressure he likes, and he can have his own sanctuary, looking up at the sky, clouds, stars, birds. It appears to calm him down. He uses it as a swing, too. In winter, we bring the whole thing inside as well so he can continue to enjoy it.

3. Kids’ pod swing chair — He is outgrowing this, but he really enjoyed it. The best part about this is it can swing in any direction. On top of that, you can twist the whole thing around and release it for a fun spin for your child.

4. Trampoline — Well, the benefits of this toy are probably known to everyone. It’s a must-have for those days when their energy seems to be infinite and unending. This trampoline can be the best tool to release some of it.

5. Spinning/rocking chair — This could be a simple rocking chair, or an office chair, or a fancier one found in IKEA that looks like a capsule. The spinning and rocking are some of my son’s favorite movements, and these could be something they would love to spend their time on.

6. Exercise ball — We stumbled onto the advantage of this by chance. I found my son bouncing on my exercise ball while watching his rhymes. The combination of music and movement can keep him engaged for a long time (and can give me a much-needed break). A win-win situation for both of us.

For kids who love visual stimulation:

7. Lava lamps or bubble tower lamps — These are so soothing to look at. Even I could spend hours just looking at these. Watching the bubbles move around keeps the kiddos hooked.

8. Liquid motion toys — These come in different sizes, shapes and prices — take your pick. I can bet your child will love to sit and watch the colored bubbles drip and float and do their magic.

9. Newton’s cradle — The set of balls swinging and hitting and swinging back again can be a fun thing to look at. My son loved to watch it, but I had to keep doing it for him, which can get tiring. If your child is able to lift and release the ball, it can be endless hours of fun, and it also teaches them cause and effect.

10. Fiber optic lamp — These generally come with a clear base with color-changing crystals inside and can be mesmerizing to watch as the long, optical fibers glow in different colors. It can also work as a soothing night light for your child’s room.

11. Plasma ball lamp — Another great visual toy for the kids and, if I might add, the adults, too. Kids often love to interact with it, as the globe responds to their touch and has a wonderful display of light inside it.

12. Gears set — This is like a board with gears of all shapes and sizes interlocked on it. Kids can have fun spinning one and watching the entire board spin. This can very visually stimulating.

For kids with strong tactile sensory needs:

13. Microwavable plush toys — Though these say microwavable, apart from warming them, you can also place them in the freezer for kids who seek cold (like my son). Most are filled with an aromatic filling, like lavender, that can be soothing for the kids, too.

14. Kinetic Sand — This is another one I could gift to myself. I have caught myself digging my hands into it so many times. It’s fun to watch it move when you drop it slowly or just fidget with it. It comes with different molds and now even has glitters in it. There is a whole array to choose from. I’m sure this is a gift that will be a hit with your child.

15. Play-Doh — Who doesn’t like Play-Doh? If your child loves to touch and knead and squeeze, this is a good option. If they can, help them make their favorite object out of the doh, and that should be an activity both of you can enjoy.

16. Massager or vibrating toys — My kid loves things that vibrate. He likes to press them on his cheeks or feel them with his hands. Many kids with sensory needs might also love this. Just make sure you have enough batteries on hand.

17. Fidget cube — If you are part of any autism community on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this on your feed. I’ve not tried this, only because I think my son’s limited fine motor skills might not allow him to enjoy this as much, but if your child can use the knobs and switches on this cube, I believe it’s a gift they would thank you for.

For kids who seek oral sensory input:

18. Chewy tubes — Gone are the days when chewy tubes were big, knobby tubes in conspicuous shapes that, when hung around your kid’s neck, looked almost ridiculous. Now, they have all jazzy and snappy shapes that look like nice necklaces. They look hip and serve the purpose, too.

19. Vibrating oral tools — My son’s brushing struggles finally found a breakthrough when we started using a vibrating toothbrush. He would sit still if I let the brush stay at a spot inside his cheek. He enjoyed the vibration, until his sound sensitivity took over and the sound of the vibrations started bothering him. But for those kids who seek oral inputs, a vibrating oral toy can be a great gift. Vibrating toothbrushes like the Z-Vibe or Nuk massaging brush are some of the options.

Apart from these, other sensory gifts like a weighted blanket/lap scroll or vest can be wonderful additions to their treasure troves. These can help kids be more aware of their bodies in space and keep them calm.

For kids who have auditory processing issues, noise-canceling headphones are also something you can invest in. My son hates anything on his head or face: caps, hats, glasses, headphones — everything gets thrown off, so we’ve not been very successful with it. But I’ve personally known people who swear by how helpful noise-canceling headphones have been.

Although my son is not big on toys, we’ve had limited success with the Discovery Kids magnetic building blocks set. He enjoys how the pieces attract or repel each other. I’m also planning to get a wooden tree marble run toy. We’ve had a marble run toy in the past that my son loved, but it’s setup was elaborate and very unstable, so I’m hoping the tree marble run would be something he might enjoy. Another interesting toy set is the LED light-up building blocks. It might be fun for kids to watch the blocks light up the moment they are put together.

Another gift that could be fun and useful is the wearable GPS tracker for kids. This can help keep them safe and keep you sane.

For kids who like their iPad and apps, Autism Speaks has a very nice list of apps that can be filtered down based on various criteria, like age, category, platform, etc. so that you can find the best ones for your child. I would especially like to recommend Speakaboos, an interactive story app that I really liked. And for parents like me who can manage to code a few lines, maybe you could build your very own custom app for your kid to make them feel extra special.

Though there are tons of gifts out there, I believe the best ones cost nothing — hugs, lots of love, and the belief that your child is no less.

Image via Contributor.

A version of this post originally appeared on Brain Droplets.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.


Good news, Target fans. Holiday shopping at Target is about to get a lot less stressful thanks to a quiet shopping event designed for families on the autism spectrum.

The two-hour event will be held at the Target in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (on 2385 Covered Bridge Drive) on December 10 from 6 a.m to 8 a.m. As part of the event, lights will be dimmed, music will be turned off and store staff will be reduced, a Lancaster Target employee told The Mighty. Free Starbucks Coffee will be also available for any parents shopping that morning. The event will be held in partnership with Wellspan Philhaven, which provides behavioral healthcare for adults and children in central Pennsylvania.

Target is known for its commitment to people of all abilities. Earlier this year the store added Caroline’s Carts – shopping carts designed to seat older children and adults with disabilities – in the majority of its locations. Target has also featured people with disabilities in its advertising for the past 25 years.

Target is one of a handful of companies to offer quiet events for people on the autism spectrum. Last month, both Toys “R” Us and Chuck E. Cheese’s unveiled sensory-friendly events for those with autism.

Update: A spokesperson for Target told The Mighty, “[W]e are committed to creating an environment where our team members and guests feel welcome, valued and respected. As part of that commitment, we empower our store leaders to make decisions that help meet the needs of the guests they serve. The store leader of our Lancaster East store worked with his team and local community partners to create a welcoming shopping event for his guests on the autism spectrum and we applaud his efforts. We don’t have plans to roll these events out company-wide, but are always looking for new ways to further enhance our guests’ shopping experience.”

Photo credit: Mike Mozart

Shopping for someone on the autism spectrum can be a challenge. To make your holiday shopping a little less stressful, we’ve complied a list of gifts that anyone on the autism spectrum, from younger kids to adults, might love to receive. Of course, to truly know what someone could use this year — ask them! Surprises are fun, but don’t feel guilty if you’d rather ensure the person you love will enjoy what you buy them.

Photo of a sensory theraplay box

1. Sensory Theraplay Subscription

Feeling extra generous? Give a gift that keeps on giving all year long. Sensory Theraplay subscription boxes were designed by a pediatric occupational therapist, and feature sensory-friendly toys designed to help develop sensory motor skills. Boxes are meant for kids between the ages of 4 and 8, and feature toys meant for therapeutic play such as putty, textured tactile toys, fidgets, light up toys and craft activities.

Our pick: A Sensory Theraplay monthly subscription ($39.95/month or $113.85 for three months) Boxes ship throughout the U.S. and Canada. 


Photos of a nesel bag

2. A Nesel Pack

Some of the best holiday gifts are the more practical ones. The Nesel Pack is a sensory-friendly backpack which functions like a weighted vest. In addition to being autism-approved, the backpack has lots of handy features such as a clear ID card pocket, clips for sensory tools and multiple chest straps provide extra security and comfort. It’s a functional gift that’s sure to be appreciated.

Our pick: The Nesel Pack ($99.00). Nesel Packs ship throughout the U.S. and to limited countries internationally.

The Emotions Bundle, Children's Color & Shape Wallet Cards, Children's Public Transit Wallet Cards

3. SO Awesome Wallet Cards

Looking for a gift that’s sensory-friendly and educational? Try SO Awesome. Mom Marie-Claire Camp created SO Awesome, a line of chewable wallet-sized cards similar to flashcards, to help her sons with their sensory overload. Each card is made from is made from a non-toxic plastic manufactured in the U.S., making them safe for children of all ages. Plus, 10 percent of proceeds are donated to literacy-based nonprofit organizations.

Our picks: The Emotions Bundle ($25.00), Children’s Color & Shape Wallet Cards ($10.00), Children’s Public Transit Wallet Cards ($8.00) All items ship internationally.

Learning Resources Gears Building Set and Magna Tiles

4. A Gift From Spectrum Toy Store

Spectrum Toy Store is the first sensory-friendly toy store in Illinois, and one of only a handful in the U.S., designed for children with developmental disabilities. The store is owned and operated by Jamilah Rahim, a behavioral therapist, who makes sure every toy is appropriate for children on the spectrum. Spectrum Toy Store also offers Care Boxes, a monthly subscription box of sensory toys, products and educational activities. Plus, each subscription gives back to the autism community, with a portion of the proceeds providing scholarships for out-of-school programming.

Our picks: Care Box subscription ($25.95 per month), Learning Resources Gears Building Set ($28.00), Magna Tiles ($40.00). All items ship nationwide throughout the U.S. 

Images of Seenseez Pillows

5. A Senseez Pillow

A fun and functional gift, Senseez Pillows were created by Stephanie Mitelman, as a way for her son – who has sensory issues – to travel around with his favorite vibrating mat. Each pillow is designed to be lightweight, portable and visually appealing for children and teens. In addition to vibration-only pillows, Senseez Pillows has a line of “3-in-1 Adaptables,” pillows that include a weighted pad, hot and cold pack and a vibration device.

Our picks: Plushy Jelly ($29.99), Flannel ($39.99), Flowers ($59.99)  Pillows ship throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as internationally.

Starry Night Spinner Ring, Chewable Frosted Donut Pendant Necklace Weighted Bunny Lap Pad

6. Stimtastic Jewelry or Toys

Knowing that most products for people on the autism spectrum are geared towards children or their parents, Cynthia Kim, who was diagnosed with autism when she was 42, created Stimtastic – an affordable line of jewelry and toys for autistic adults and teens. Stimtastic offers stim toys, chewable jewelry and fidgets. And, to make your purchase more meaningful, Stimtastic donates 10 percent of all proceeds back to the greater autism community.

Our picks: Starry Night Spinner Ring ($9.50), Chewable Frosted Donut Pendant Necklace ($8.50), Weighted Bunny Lap Pad ($17.50).  All orders ship throughout the U.S. and to most countries internationally. 

Members of Aspergers Are Us dressed in costumes walking along a railroad track

7. A Copy of “Aspergers Are Us”

Spread some holiday cheer with a copy of “Aspergers Are Us,” a documentary about a comedy troupe comprised entirely of men on the autism spectrum. The film follows comedians and friends Jack Hanke, New Michael Ingemi, Ethan Finlan and Noah Britton as they prepare for their last comedy show.

Our pick: A digital download of “Aspergers Are Us” on iTunes or Amazon ($9.99).

Related: The 2014 Top 10 Best Gifts for Kids With Autism 

When I was a kid, I would spend hours on my homework. I wanted everything to be right. I wanted it to be my best work. After all, people always told me to do my best. Basically, I wanted it to be perfect. But it wasn’t just about my homework. My parents would tell me to look both ways before crossing the street. I remember standing at the side of the road one day, looking one way, then the other. Then I looked again. How many times was enough? What if a car came after I had stopped looking?

This may seem like perfectionism. And perhaps it started out that way. But as I grew older, I still found myself putting all of my time and energy into doing things well. And I didn’t want it to be perfect anymore. I just wanted it to be done well enough.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I can have very “black and white” thinking. I have a difficult time seeing the “gray” area. So most of the time, all I know how to do things is either “perfect” or “fail.” Until someone else says to me, “That’s good enough,” I’m stuck. I personally try to do these things so I am not failing. (Although, there have been times when I get so overwhelmed, I freeze up and don’t even try or don’t know where to start.) But I don’t see the middle ground.

I want to do well. But I’m tired of being a perfectionist. However, it’s really hard for me not to be one. I need limits. I need a task with a clear beginning and end. I need specific instructions on what to do and what not to do. Otherwise, I’m going to struggle. Not because I want to do things perfectly, but because I don’t know how to see that gray area.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

In recent years, more and more films have been released that focus on those on the autism spectrum and with other special needs. This rings true for the recently released movie “Po,” which looks at the story of a widowed engineer struggling to raise his 10-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum.

Last year, I did a Q&A with the director of this film, John Asher, and more recently we had the opportunity to watch a screening of it in its entirety. The film, simple enough to say, did not disappoint.

While watching the film, the father (played by actor Christopher Gorham) seemed to resonate with me the most. Growing up on the autism spectrum, it took an entire village to help me when it came to providing me with supports. Most of the time, this was a financial challenge for my family at a time when services were not provided for children on the spectrum due to a lack of awareness and legislation.

To watch this father fight tooth and nail for those supports made me come to an even deeper appreciation of what my parents have been able to do for me in my life. This dad needed to find a village, and that’s something all parents have to find for themselves regardless of having a child with special needs or not. It also taught me the importance of providing supports for single parents so they never feel alone in our communities.

I’d like to commend Asher’s team for making this film a reality. As someone who has consulted on several films now to bring a realistic portrayal of autism and other special needs to the big screen, I’d also like to commend Julian Feder, who played Po, the boy with autism spectrum disorder in the film. I know several children on the autism spectrum today who remind me of the character Julian portrayed. It was wonderful to see him embrace the role as he did with such a beautiful authenticity.

In addition, I’d like to give big kudos to Kaitlin Doubleday (one of my favorite actresses on television today in her role on FOX’s hit show “Empire”) who played Po’s therapist in the film. Many times, therapists don’t receive the praise they deserve in our community for going above and beyond for their kids. I feel Kaitlin’s understanding of autism really shined. Her interactions and relationship with Po reminded me of my earliest days of receiving early intervention at a children’s hospital near my home. There, I built a relationship with my therapist, who helped me build on my social skills to have my first few conversations with my peers and family. I was reminded a lot about that therapist through her character. Thank you, Kaitlin, for taking the time to be part of this film.

If you are looking to learn more about building your own village out there in your own life, then I believe this film is a must-see. Entertaining, resonating and educational. We need more of these films out there today.

Image via Contributor.

A version of this post originally appeared on

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.