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Finding the Right Gift for Teens With Developmental Delays

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When your child’s development does not match what is typical for their chronological age, it can be challenging to find age-appropriate gifts that they will truly enjoy. That’s especially true for tweens and teens with significant disabilities. My daughter Julia is 18, non-mobile and non-verbal. Developmentally, infant and toddler toys are most appropriate for her. But, she’s a teenager and her patience for musical, light-up toys is running out.

Over the years, I’ve frequently shed tears of frustration in the pursuit of just the right gift for Julia. It’s important to me to find a gift that reflects my love for her and makes her happier. All of that pressure to find just the right thing caused unnecessary anxiety and sucked the joy out of the gift-buying experience. I want gift buying to be something I look forward to doing rather than being frustrated or overwhelmed. To add some happiness and excitement back into gift shopping, I’ve learned to look beyond toys and games to find gifts that are both age and developmentally appropriate. The best gift ideas for my teen can typically be found in one of these areas:

  • Experiences – With quarantines and shut-downs, we’ve found it challenging to make sure our daughter can have safe experiences outside of our home. But, with a little creativity, we’ve found some ideas that are safe, fun, and often inexpensive as well. Here are some ideas to consider:
    • Zoo pass or membership
    • Drive-in movies
    • Drive-thru Christmas light displays
    • State park pass for trail hiking and walks
    • Botanical gardens
  • Room décor – What young adult doesn’t want a bedroom that reflects their personality? You can do a complete makeover that includes painting walls, setting up new organization systems, and outfitting the bed with a new comforter and sheets or a smaller scale project, such as adding a new string of lights, throw pillows, or a beanbag chair. Whether it’s a total transformation or a smaller project, tweens and teens usually appreciate an update that makes their space feel more comfy and cozy.
  • Subscriptions – My daughter enjoys music and movies, so subscriptions to music and TV services are gifts that she can enjoy all year round. Also growing in popularity are subscriptions to themed boxes, which can be a wonderful monthly surprise. Check out subscription boxes for items such as books, sensory kits, craft projects, and more.

To help find some tried and true gift ideas, I’ve created a gift guide with ideas that have been hits with my daughter. Check it out for links to unique gifts that could be a new favorite for your tween or teen.

Another gift-buying strategy that works for me is to keep my eyes and mind open to new ideas all year long, and then make sure it’s easy to save gift ideas as I see them. I’ve created a Pinterest board and an Amazon wish list to track possible gift purchases. When I see a great idea in a Facebook post or during a discussion with a therapist, I just pin it on the board or add it to the wish list so it’s easy to find when I’m ready to shop.

Finding just the right gift for someone I love fills me with a sense of satisfaction. With a few simple strategies, I’ve reclaimed the joy in holiday shopping for my daughter with developmental disabilities. By sharing these ideas and the gift guide, I hope others can put a little extra magic into their holiday season.

Find more great ideas at The Mighty’s Gift Guides for People With Disabilities.

Originally published: November 27, 2020
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