The Four Gift Rule for Kids with Special Needs
by Ellen Metrick View Bio
Ellen Metrick has been an active participant in the toy industry for 30 years. She has consulted with major toy manufacturers and retailers on toy design and quality; has created systems to research and evaluate toys’ impact on childhood development; and has been a major contributor to numerous publications focusing on creative applications for play products. She currently is a Human Factors Specialist with UL, LLC, providing safety risk assessments on children’s products through the lens of child development. With a background in special education, she has spent her career focused on how toys and play impact development for all children.
- During holiday gatherings, make sure there is ample space in which to play. When children are enjoying whole body activities to help with focus, make sure they have plenty of room to prevent knocking into other people or things.
- Be aware of overstimulation. When children have reached their limit, they may act out. Help them relocate to a quiet, calm place where they can center themselves and regroup.
- Ensure gifts and activities are developmentally appropriate. Keep age, abilities, and skill in mind when choosing a gift.
- Supervise. Children should always know there is an adult nearby and within earshot to help, if needed.
The holiday season is a time for excitement and joy for many kids, but it can also be a season of anxiety for parents, especially if their child has special needs. To lessen the holiday season stress, consider abiding by the “four gift rule” for kids. The “four gift rule” will help alleviate guilt associated with gift giving (have I given enough gifts, have I given appropriate gifts for my child, etc.) and place emphasis on gifts that will make much more of an impact on their child.
The “four gift rule” is simple. Give kids:
Something they want
Something they need
Something to wear
Something to read
Here are some ideas and a touch of inspiration to get you on your way to a celebration that is merry and bright.
Something They Want:
Watch what kids do. Listen to what they say. Talk to teachers and therapists to find out more. Here are some traditional favorites and ideas specifically for kids with special needs in mind:
- Train sets. Encourage vocabulary development and storytelling by adding language-rich embellishments like characters and city scenes. Or purchase a train table to provide gross motor opportunities and storage bins that help kids learn to clean up and help ease transitions to another activity.
- Building blocks. The options are plentiful – sizes, shapes, and textures of all kinds. To ease minimize frustration when a structure tumbles down, consider connectable blocks (like LEGO, bristle, and magnet) that stick to each other, and a fallen tower can be up-righted intact.
- Play dough is a sensory delight. Add popular characters, letters to stamp, or cookie cutters to hold attention, strengthen muscles, and develop language.
- Games can incorporate the whole family. Look for games that fit your family’s needs, such as no reading required, action packed, or simultaneous play.
Something They Need:
Find out what they are working on in school or at therapy to help identify what they need. Here are a few ideas:
- Communication boards, such as iPads or simple electronic write & wipe boards, help kids communicate and express themselves (such as ordering independently at a restaurant or to say “hi” to the teacher).
- Step-by-step posters with accessories, such as a poster that explains how to brush your teeth along with a fun new light-up or character-decorated toothbrush.
- Weighted blankets or lap pads provide the compression kids may need to say focused and calm.
- Suction cup dinner plates and bowls help reduce frustration at mealtime. They’re especially great for kids who have involuntary movements.
Something To Wear:
When purchasing clothing for kids with special needs, keep these considerations in mind:
- Velcro closures allow for easy-on and easy-off and foster independence in dressing.
- Shirts without tags and covered seams help kids with sensory issues.
- Compression clothing provides deep pressure that soothes and regulates kids’ sensory systems.
- Elastic laces make shoe tying a breeze.
Something To Read:
From board books with sound to search-and-find books, choose books that meet your kids’ reading and interest levels. Here are ideas to keep in mind:
- Simple books with repeating or rhyming lines help kids develop a working memory and learn the rhythm of reading.
- Homemade photo albums with family pictures help kids feel connected and can provide familiarity and comfort during transitions throughout the day.
- Line drawings or real pictures may be easier than cartoons or illustrations for some kids to process and understand.
- Multisensory and/or high contrasting colors add interest for kids with sensory issues.
With so many options, this holiday season look to these tips to choose the best gifts for the kids in your life who have special needs.