When choosing a gift for a loved one with a disability, consider their specific needs and desires.
“Joining a child in their interest and helping bring them joy is a way to support their self-actualization,” says Virginia Spielmann, executive director of the STAR Institute.
A few questions to consider in your search: What can you purchase this child that will help them feel a sense of mastery in an activity? What will show them you believe in them?
Is playful fashion a passion of theirs? Alexandra Herold founded Patti+Ricky, a Denver-based website that curates adaptive clothing and accessory brands, and helps people find products that are stylish and functional (easy on/off, weighted, include safety and accessibility features).
“I really want to create a marketplace that one day is seen for all, not just for people with disabilities,” Herold says. “My dream is for adaptive fashion to be seen as fashion with smarter design.”
When in doubt, choose gifts that will engage their senses. According to Shannon Sullivan, co-founder of Aurora-based Autism Community Store, “they can make the child more comfortable and meaningfully engaged, giving the whole family the gift of peace.”
Give something that’s meaningful to someone with sensory, mobility, hearing, or learning needs and support local businesses, with these products.
Apparel & Accessories
Like a tight hug that lasts, the PunkinHug Compression Vest provides five points of pressure that support self-regulation and trunk stabilization—therapeutic to kids with Down syndrome, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder. Add weights (with guidance from a physician) to the four pockets, or stick Velcro fidgets to the soft surface. A noiseless marble maze and emotion indicator patches are available for purchase. $70, pattiandricky.com
Pulling on socks has never been so easy. Beedle Bug Crew Length Adaptive Socks help those with dexterity issues (and everyone) dress their feet using holes in the sides of the crew-length socks. The near-seamless pairs are machine washable and come in bright colors and fun patterns. $12, pattiandricky.com
The PunkinFutz Manual Wheelchair Bag is designed for manual wheelchairs, but will also work on walkers, scooters, strollers, and bicycles. Use wide-pull zippers to secure treasures inside the pie-shaped bag, which is made durable for rugged use. Reflective fabric helps keep kids safe on streets and sidewalks, and robot and creature patches are just for fun. $43, pattyandricky.com
Crafted by a mom in Grand Junction, Purple Cat Aid Charms Hearing Aid Charms and Tube Trinkets transform hearing aids and cochlear implant cords into stylish statements. They’re lightweight and feature ladybugs, ballerinas, superheroes, and holiday figures. $11 to $28, pattyandricky.com
Save your pencils and pens from teeth marks; Chewigem Chewelry offers oral stimulation in a safe-to-chew form. The dogtags, heart necklaces, and textured bracelets are made from medical grade, FDA-approved silicone. $20 to $24, pattyandricky.com
Weights & Fidgets
The four-ish pound Calming Weighted Neck Buddy, an alternative to weighted vests, promotes focus and calm to anyone, but especially those with integration and processing challenges. Handmade in Colorado, the product includes organic locally sourced millet in a cotton lining (hand-wash and line-dry) and wrapped in a plush cover (machine-washable). For a super-charged calming effect, warm it in the microwave. $50, autismcommunitystore.com
For a flexible fidget that promotes creativity, try the Me Do. Super Sensory Calming Dough, a favorite during at-home and desk-bound learning. Homemade by a mother who has children with disabilities, the dough has small amounts of essential oils including lavender, mint, and eucalyptus. $16, pattyandricky.com
Sensory Genius’s Sensy Band, another great stocking-stuffer, can be worn as a bracelet or used as a fidget—bend and curl it to your busy-hand’s content. The soft silicone bristles are satisfying to touch, and are great for anyone with sensory processing disorder, autism, ADHD, and anxiety. $6, autismcommunitystore.com
Books & Toys
Pick up a book to read with your little one; Squirmy Wormy by Linda Farrington Wilson is a title that helps kids with sensory processing disorder help themselves through daily life. Endorsed by scientist and autism awareness advocate Temple Grandin, Ph.D., the book features everyday tips: “I feel like running really fast, run run run! Maybe I just need a s-q-u-e-e-z-e between the couch cushions like a hot dog. Whew! I feel better.” $14, autismcommunitystore.com
Local author Lydia Rueger, inspired by her son’s diagnosis, penned Victor And The Vroom to help embrace the challenges and creativity of the ADHD brain. Endorsed by ADHD expert and author, Dr. Edward Hallowell, the book follows Victor, who looks similar to the other cars in his class, but under his hood is an engine that sounds like no one else’s. $17, indiebound.org
Kids who sit and rock or spin in the Bilibo gain balance and core strength, but that’s not all this toy can be used for. Try using it as a doll cradle, a train tunnel, or a water basin. The durable, nontoxic polyethylene is “virtually indestructible.” Recommended for children with autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorder. $30, autismcommunitystore.com
Promote body awareness and creative movement in your house with the Body Sock, a pillowcase-like sack made of partially see-through lycra. Ideal for individuals with autism and sensory processing disorder, the toy helps develop balance and coordination while providing therapeutic compression. Available in five sizes. $33 to $54, autismcommunitystore.com
Got a pizza-loving kid? Gift them with a meal at Pizzability, the sister restaurant to Brewability Lab, an Englewood brewery that hires people with developmental disabilities and is accessible for employees and customers alike. Sensory items are on hand for those who need something tactile, and the bar includes color-coded and braille menus. Choose from plain to super-topped pizzas and a variety of mac ‘n’ cheeses. Gift cards are available online, brew-ability.com
Spread some joy with a gift from A Different Kind of Jam. The handcrafted jars of sweet goodness are made by adults with developmental disabilities in the Arvada-based Steamers Coffee Shop prep-kitchen. Flavors include blueberry rhubarb, raspberry jalapeño, and peach. $8 to $12 per jar, $42 gift set; steamerscoffeeshop.com
Guided by Humanity in Englewood offers adaptive yoga classes that are designed to meet the needs of anyone who uses assistive devices and prosthetics. Sign your loved one up for a class that has a focus on safety, compassion, and mindfulness. Pay what you can drop-in classes and free memberships available (while supplies last). guidedbyhumanity.org
Snag sensory-friendly show tickets to a theatrical performance at the Lone Tree Arts Center. Shows are modified to ensure there are no startling noises or visually over-stimulating components. Sounds are kept lower and lights are turned up. Audience members can come and go as needed, and there’s a “safe room” available. January’s performance is Schoolhouse Rock Live!, which brings to life the classic educational cartoon series. Prices vary, lonetreeartscenter.org
Sign a STEM-inclined child up for a workshop at Build With T.A.C.T., a trades skill-building space for people on the autism spectrum. Classes at the Denver location include carpentry, welding and auto mechanics for age eight and up. $25, buildwithtact.org
Sensory-friendly wrapping tips
From friends at the Autism Community Store:
- Some individuals may be sensitive to certain sounds or textures. Use softer, pliable materials like fabric or satin ribbons if this is the case.
- Reduce the amount of tape used with paper wrapping, so it’s easier to open. Leave a flap you can slide your fingers into.
- Don’t tape paper to the box, only to itself.
- Don’t worry about trying to save the paper.
- Have gifts ready to go out of the wrapping: detach them from the packaging, assemble, add batteries, and inflate them.
- Some kids may not like being in the spotlight when they are opening their gifts. Honor this by having them open their gift at the same time as others so some of the attention is deflected.