Stuff We Like: 9 Great Gifts for Kids with Special Needs

A handful of holiday gifts for your child with special needs.

by Charles Beacham


Music Makers

casio light up keyboard

Help your little virtuoso shine like a star with the LK-165 61 Key Light-Up Keyboard from Casio (for ages 10 and older; $134.99). Preloaded with more than 100 songs, the instrument helps develop fine motor and auditory skills, self-esteem, and creativity, plus provides good tactile sensation. Illuminated keys serve as visual cues, so pint-sized pianists can play without having to read books or match numbers and colors. Press one button to listen to an entire track, and then use the three-step lesson plan to learn notes and positioning. An accommodating teacher, the keyboard keeps pace with the player, slowing or quickening the tempo of the song as needed.

leapfrog poppin play piano

For younger kids, there’s the LeapFrog Poppin’ Play Piano (for ages 12 months to 3 years; $24.99). Budding musicians can select from eight instruments and silly sounds to explore music, colors, and numbers. Fun songs accompany kids as they count along from 1 to 8, while the sing-song voice of the piano fosters language development in a rhythmic way. And as little ones press down on the vibrantly colored keys, a corresponding ball pops up as if dancing to the music, helping to teach cause and effect and strengthening fine motor skills. This activity provides an engaging, entertaining way to provide educational feedback for the music makers in your home.

fao schwarz big piano

Kids can jump, skip, stomp, roll, or use just about any movement to activate the keys on the FAO Schwarz Big Piano (for ages 3 and older; $79.99). This huge, 24-key piano pad features

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8 instrument sounds and 10 prerecorded songs, plus an option that allows budding musicians to record and play back original compositions. Caregivers also can help teach and reinforce color and number recognition as children follow along with the songbook to play familiar classics. Best of all, by combining creativity and physical activity, children help develop their self esteem, while strengthening gross motor skills.


Teaching About Feelings

the emotional abcs

Navigating the emotional complexities of childhood can be tough, and it’s even tougher for kids who don’t know how to express their emotions. Studies show that kids equipped with basic emotional skills find greater academic and social success. The Emotional ABC’s (for ages 4 and older; $85) program helps parents teach their children how to manage and make sense of their emotions. Kids will meet new friend Moody, a lovable (and aptly named) monster and, via a DVD, discover how to read non-verbal facial and body clues given by others. Five activity books and a card game reinforce concepts through pictures, coloring, and other fun activities. Most importantly, the ABC’s Toolbar teaches kids how to recognize, express, and address their personal feelings.

kimochis characters

Kimochi means “feeling” in Japanese. The Kimochis characters (all ages; $29.99 each) each have their own personality, a Feel Guide with play suggestions, and three feelings pillows that introduce emotional concepts. Children are sure to find a character that fits their personality. Kimochis characters help children understand their feelings and encourage kids to identify and express feelings in a positive manner.

crittier clinic

Kids can use their imaginary play skills to nurture and care for the toy creatures in the Critter Clinic (for ages 2-6; $29.99; also available in Target stores). The clinic features a hospital with six private rooms, two cute plush patients, color match keys, and five tools. The stethoscope, mirror, syringe, tweezers, and thermometer give your child everything she needs to make the critters feel better.


Tactile Toys

velvet stickers

This Velvet Sticker Collection (for ages 4 and older; $4.99) from Melissa & Doug comes in a variety of colors and shapes with more than 200 stickers. Kids with sensory needs will enjoy exploring a new texture as they color in the shapes before sticking them on notebooks or creating a sticker scene or story. Use them as part of a reward system to reinforce good behavior.

play doh sweet shop set

Lollipops, cookies, candies…kids can create all the pretend sweet treats they can imagine, with none of the sugar! The Play-Doh Sweet Shoppe Candy Jar Play Set (for ages 3 and older; $12.99) gives little confectioners the ingredients to hone manual skills, while moldable play helps them develop the coordination, strength, and control needed to write with a pencil, use a computer, brush their teeth, and eat with utensils. In addition, the candy molds enable kids to use unrefined movements as they create intricate, defined “delectables.” Includes 2 lollipop sticks, scoop/cup half-mold, eight cutters, two dishes, three half-molds, plastic knife, roller, presser, and four cans of modeling compound.

kinetic sand

Kinetic Sand (for ages 3 and older; $18 for 2.2 pounds) moves by itself as you work with it, continually rearranging itself. Little hands can squeeze it, shape it, and use it to build things big and small, but then the sand quickly “melts” and they’ll have a chance to create something new. It looks like real sand, because it is 98 percent pure sand, but Kinetic Sand moves like dense fluid because it’s 2 percent non-toxic polymer. The movement is fascinating, and it’s sure to keep little fingers busy for a while.Bonus: It sticks to itself, so cleanup is a breeze.


More Great Stuff for Kids with Special Needs:

Check out Toys R Us’ 2013 Differently-Abled Toy Guide

Special-needs products hand-picked by the editors of Special Parent magazine


Also see: Safety Hazards to Keep in Mind When Buying Toys this Holiday Season


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