By Linda Mealia, President of the Morris Union Jointure Commission Education Association
As educators of children with autism, we believe every child is a gift. Although most people in New Jersey have a friend or family member who is parenting a child with autism, it can be difficult for them to choose an appropriate gift for the holidays, a birthday, or a religious celebration.
The good news is that children with autism are just like any other children in that they need – and love – to play. So long as the gift is age-appropriate and safe, it is very difficult to make a wrong choice. However, there are some games that are fun and help children with autism practice their skills.
Social interaction skills such as sharing, taking turns, communication, and imitation can be reinforced for children from preschool through their teens with a board game. You don’t have to buy them at a specialty store – anything from Chutes and Ladders to Apples to Apples to Pictionary can work. If it’s a favorite in your house, it will probably be a favorite in theirs.
Sensory issues are common among children with autism and playtime can be a great opportunity to address them in a fun way. Combining the stimulation of music and lights through a toy can be a low-stress way of getting an autistic child accustomed to different stimuli. For younger children, this can be a toy that plays music, like a light-up piano, guitar, or drum. Older children with autism may enjoy singing along with a karaoke machine.
Children with autism often enjoy organizing items into different categories. Age-appropriate puzzles can provide hours of enjoyment as well as help them hone fine motor skills. When the puzzle is completed, you can either pull it apart and put it away or frame it as a fun keepsake.
Art Kits and Supplies
Art kits are a great gift for autistic children because not only does art help children develop fine motor skills, but it also gives children a creative, stress-free outlet. Depending on the age of the child you can choose from finger paints to crayons to clay. The added bonus is that you might walk away from the gift exchange with some really cool art for your refrigerator door!
Although the gift you choose to give is meaningful, the best present anyone can give children with autism and their parents is time together. After you have carefully considered and purchased a gift, take time to play with the child. Not only will spending time together allow you to see the child enjoying the present, but it will also give you greater insight into the kinds of things they enjoy. In addition, it will show their parent how much their child means to you.
The Morris Union Jointure Commission Education Association represents 140 teachers, therapists, and nurses for 360 autistic students ranging in age from three to 21 years old. Students come from 29 sending districts across five New Jersey counties, Morris, Essex, Union, Somerset, and Hunterdon.