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Therapeutic holiday gifts for kids with special needs

Unless you’re an elf, knowing what gift will make a child’s eyes shine can feel like trying to choose winning Lotto numbers: lots of choices, slim chances of success. If your target cherub has different abilities, it’s easy to feel even more overwhelmed.

SheKnows delivers top gift choices for children with special needs, grouped by skills a child may need to strengthen most. But first, some veteran parent wisdom.

Parent tip No. 1: Ask the child’s parents, or if you’re the parent, check in with your child’s therapists. Developmental delays may mean a child isn’t ready for gifts typically suited for his or her age. The child also may struggle most with fine motor skills, so finding a toy that helps strengthen those skills while entertaining the child can make a parent’s eyes shine, too.

Parent tip No. 2: Take advantage of the comprehensive and award-winning catalog from Toys R Us that is specifically for children with different abilities. The website allows you to shop by skill, age, price, gender, newest toys and top-rated items.

Need some specific ideas? We’ve got you covered.

Language-focused gifts

At The Zoo My First Play Set

Hopping Frogs Board Game

  • Hopping Frogs Board Game from Super Duper Publications helps fine-tune a child’s articulation while she’s having fun. Best part? This game can be used for children ages pre-K and up. (Super Duper Publications, $50)

Jeepers Peepers Game

  • For grades K and up, the Jeepers Peepers Question Game can help develop language skills such as the ability to describe, categorize and problem solve. (Super Duper Publications, $30)

Let's Talk Book for Babies and Toddlers

Toys to develop fine motor skills

Mr. Potato Head

  • Mr. Potato Head lives on as one of the most effective toys for capturing a child’s attention and imagination while strengthening fine motor skills. (Playskool, $20)

4-inch Oball

  • Simple, small but powerfully captivating, the 4-inch Oball will fascinate babies as they learn to grasp, roll and, yes, ultimately throw. (We warned you.) (Toys R Us, $7)

Bright Starts Having a Ball Drop 'n Spin Turtle


  • The AquaDoodle Classic Mat marries two universally fun ways to play: drawing and playing with water. The outcome? Your child learns to love writing and drawing, and there’s no cleanup. (Target, $20)

Gifts for gross motor skills

3-foot trampoline

Tunnel 'N Dome Climber

  • Tunnel ‘N Dome Climber works kids’ trunk, leg and arm muscles as they navigate this colorful playland. (Little Tikes, $150)

shopping carts

  • Play shopping carts allow children to practice walking while pushing. (Little Tikes, $30)

Ball pits

  • Ball pits attract children with their fun colors and proven ability to strengthen trunk muscles. Find one within your budget at eSpecial Needs, but remember balls aren’t included, and the manufacturer recommends 1,000 balls. (Mini Budget Ball Pit, $700; 100 ball pit balls, $39)

BUSA play tunnel

  • One of the cheapest toys we’ve ever bought turned out to be the most captivating and successful: the BUSA play tunnel. The tube collapses easily for storage. (IKEA, $15)

Laugh & Learn Learning Home

  • Laugh and Learn Learning Home will capture your child’s attention through the most developmental years, with eye-catching colors and compartments that will flex fine motor skills while keeping your child motivated to crawl, stand and cruise. (Fisher-Price, $90)

Naturally Playful Sand Table

  • Naturally Playful Sand Table encourages prolonged standing that your child won’t even notice — the sand is too much fun. (Step2, $55)

Auditory and sensory toys

Song Wood Inlay Puzzle

Soothing Rain Tube

  • The Soothing Rain Tube provides a calming sensory experience through touch, sound and sight. (National Autism Resources, $9)

Spiky tactile balls

  • Spiky tactile balls offer boundless potential for play while fulfilling sensory needs. (Fun and Function, $8 to $15)

Sensory Surf Board/Scooter Board

More on kids with special needs and gifts

Surviving (and enjoying!) the holidays with a child with special needs
Choosing special holiday gifts for children with special needs
Pinterest unveils top pins for children with special needs

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