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Finding Joy in Holiday Shopping for My Daughter With a Developmental Disability

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By the time my daughter was 2 years old, buying toys for her could be described as bittersweet on a good day and tear-inducing on bad days. She had reached the chronological age where a typical child would be playing with her tricycle, play kitchen and building sets. Yet developmentally she was non-mobile, nonverbal and unable to play with toys meant for kids her age.

When holidays and her birthday rolled around, I found myself brushing aside my tears and gathering enough mental energy to look for just the right gift.

Buying gifts for a child you love should bring happiness, not tears. But when you have a child with multiple disabilities and significant developmental delays, harsh realities can suck the joy out of something that should be fun. For me, toy shopping was a very visible reminder of my daughter’s limitations. I used to think that buying gifts for my daughter would get harder and harder as the gap between her chronological age and developmental age got bigger and bigger. But that hasn’t happened. By changing my perspective, I’ve found ways to make gift-buying a happy experience instead of something that makes me sad.

Focus on what she loves — From the time she was a baby, my daughter has loved lights and music. After about three years, we learned there are only so many light-up, musical toys you can buy for a toddler or preschooler before you all reach the end of your tolerance for loud, tinny music and bright, blinking lights. Instead, I learned to be more creative. As a little girl, her love of lights and music could be nurtured with more age-appropriate toys that were switch-adapted. Now, a subscription to Spotify and a Bluetooth speaker are the perfect gifts for my music-loving teen.

Make it fun to play together — My daughter’s challenges make it difficult for her to play independently. So we’ve focused on toys and activities that are fun to do with others. Maybe my daughter couldn’t build a tower of blocks by herself, but she loved knocking down the tower built by a sibling. While she can’t hold playing cards or roll the dice by herself, she loves partnering with a sibling, parent or friend to play games. Some of our favorite memories are from the days we all grabbed a musical instrument and played in the family band, with my daughter shaking an adapted instrument she could hold on her own.

Get ideas from others – Some of my daughter’s favorite gifts have been suggestions from other parents of kids with disabilities. There are even Facebook groups dedicated to sharing ideas for children with specific disabilities. Even when I’m not actively shopping for my daughter, I use technology to keep track of ideas that might be a good fit for her in the future. Having a Pinterest board and an Amazon wishlist filled with ideas makes shopping less stressful and more fun when it is time to buy gifts.

In many ways, finding more joy shopping for my daughter has been a result of accepting her diagnosis and learning to adjust to her limitations. These days, I’m excited to give my daughter gifts that are just right for her, and the tears are no longer part of the experience. Instead of worrying about what toys she “should” be playing with based on her age, I simply shop for things that will make her happy. I’ve also tapped into my own inner child, finding joy in playing with my daughter even when we’re playing with toys designed for a toddler.

Having gone through this experience, I created a toy guide for parents of children with developmental disabilities. Over the years, we’ve had some toys that have become family favorites, and I hope you can get some ideas that will add more joy to your gift-buying experiences.

Looking for great toys for kids with disabilities? Try our Mighty gift guides:

Originally published: November 30, 2019
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