Monday, December 19, 2016

Gifts Autistic People Actually Want, According to TPGA Community Members

by Shannon Des Roches Rosa

Finding gifts autistic kids and adults appreciate isn't that hard -- if you actually find out what individual people like, and you remember that everyone has their own interests and preferences (and that they're sometimes the exact opposite of other autistic people's interests and preferences).

We asked TPGA's community of autistic people, parents, and professionals about The Very Best Gifts, and compiled what they said below. Keep in mind that while disability representation among toy companies is improving, it still tends to be underwhelming. And not all gifts will be realistic for every person's or family's budget. But hopefully this list will be useful for thoughtful gift-givers.

Books

 Books Rule
[image: white child lying on an orange beanbag in
a library, reading a book titled The Fossil Factory]
At least five people told us they, or their kid, just wanted books. Specific advice included:
  • Picture books for pre-readers to page through
  • Graphic novels
  • Anything from the "ology" book series
  • Learning activity books

“My adult daughter who is on the spectrum, really liked the American Doll self care and friendship books growing up. There is one titled All about You. It helped to bring up new situations in an easy way.”

 

Characters & Themes

Thomas the Tank Engine 4Ever
[image: Wooden Thomas the Tank Engine toy train
and train tracks, arranged atop a map of the U.S.A.]

Lots of people said they like almost anything with favorite characters or themes, like Doctor Who, My Little Pony, Minecraft, Disney movie characters, Care Bears, Dora the Explorer, Lightning McQueen (Cars), or Thomas the Tank Engine. Options include:
  • Stuffed animals
  • Figurines
  • Posters
  • T-shirts (tagless if possible)
  • Toys
  • Bedding

 “My brother likes posters/artwork of his favourite Disney films to look at. Last year we got him the movie posters, but this year I got him a canvas from this artist who paints the unusual characters from Disney films, which I think he's going to love!”

 

“Godzilla figures from the original Japanese movies. Thank God for Ebay, Amazon and Japan.”

 

Clothes

Tie Dye for the People
[image: young white child wearing a tie dye t-shirt]
While clothes are definitely "something a person needs," many people have specific clothing requirements due to fashion preferences, visual preferences, or sensory sensitivities. Clothes our community members want include:
  • Tie dye shirts
  • Clothing soft without tags or high collars
  • Comfy clothes and sneakers
  • Soft cotton pajamas

 

Creativity and Construction

Free-form Lego and sculpting clay fun
[image: jumble of Lego and clay creations
on a brown circular ottoman, seen from overhead]

Creativity and construction got the biggest responses. Making things is a thing!

Art:
  • Arts and craft supplies
  • Drawing supplies 
  • Pens
  • Perler (iron-fusion) beads 
  • Scotch tape and printer ink and paper to make "shiny logos"
Construction:
  • Laser pegs
  • Lego (15 testimonials)
  • Lego Mindstorms (2 votes)
  • Magna-Tiles
  • Magnetic building blocks
  • Megablocks
  • Snap circuits (2 votes)
  • Wooden blocks of all shapes and colors
Creativity with a tactile (sensory/touch) aspect:
  • Kinetic sand
  • Play-doh (5 votes)

“I could never have enough Lego or books”

 

“Legos, Legos, and more Legos”

 

Devices


Our community members love their devices. While parents do need to be aware of how their kids use  devices, we caution against "screen time" alarmism, given that autistic people of all ages often rely heavily on their devices for play, learning, socializing, and relaxation. Devices people cherish include:
  • Computer
  • iPad (3 votes)
  • iPod
  • iPod (for listening to music)
  • Kindle
  • My laptop
  • Siri (iDevice personal assistant) 

“If only Siri was its own thing”

 

 Gaming 

Everybody Loves Minecraft
[image: child wearing a pink princess dress
and a cardboard Minecraft character head]
Gaming and video games were popular recommendations -- both dedicated gaming devices, and specific games and types:
  • Board game apps
  • Mine Craft (five votes)
  • Nintendo DS with games based on dress up, mathematics, and music
  • The Sims (2)
  • Roller Coaster Tycoon
  • Video games in general (3 votes)
  • Mario Bros
  • Sonic
  • Wii
  • Xbox (3 votes)
  • Zelda games

“All he wants are Steam gift cards.”

 

Pets

Puppy!
[image: A King Charles cavalier puppy}
While some autistic people avoid animals, many adore and even rely on their pets as both companions, and to counter anxiety and stress. Keep in mind that a pet is a big responsibility, so it is rarely a good idea to surprise someone with a pet as a gift, unless you are absolutely certain that they both want a pet, and that the pet will get proper care. We also know many autistic people who particularly attached to their cats. Specific TPGA community comments about pets include:
  • A pet no matter how small
  • Dog (Great Dane)
  • My dog
  • Puppy

 

Play

My Hot Wheels collection 5
Beautifully lined up toy cars. Photo © Bryce Womeldurf
[image: several lines of Matchbox toy cars.]
The way autistic kids play needs go be respected, as does the fact that many autistic adults remain enthralled by toys and topics non-autistic people consider "too young." Play items our community members like include:
  • Anything with wheels (for crashing the toys)
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Kikkerland wind-up toys
  • Lovies (plush animals)
  • Marble maze
  • Remote control cars
  • Slinkys (don’t last too long though)

“Matchbox cars are life for him. Nothing better to line up by colour and type.”

 

Puzzles

Yep, lots of autistic people like puzzles. Almost as much as many autistic people (and those who care about them) loathe autistic people being characterized as puzzles:
  • Every kind of puzzles
  • Jigsaw Puzzles
  • Puzzle balls
  • Tangrams by Melissa and Doug

 

Retreat Spaces 

A space of one's own
[image: child crashing on a padded bed/wicker pod
in the middle of San Diego's UTC mall]
Autistic people often report being overwhelmed whenever in any shared or public spaces, especially when those spaces include other people. Having a dedicated retreat or private space can make a big difference in an autistic individual's personal anxiety and stress levels. Some options include:

 

Sensory 

For some folks, there's nothing better than being squished
[image: happy white teen boy lying under a big beanbag,
while another person lies on top of the beanbag]
Sensory-themed gifts falls into several categories, but the good ones are alike in that they allow a person to control sensory input themselves. This is helpful because being overwhelmed by and/or seeking sensory input are common autistc traits, but aren't always taken seriously, or accommodated. 

Compression/pressure:
  • Beanbags (3 votes), Yogibo beanbags specifically (2 votes)
  • Big heavy blanket
  • Bodysock -- homemade (from spandex)
  • Resistance bands (exercise or workout bands) (2 votes)
  • Weighted blanket (3 votes)
  • Weighted vest (hunting vest filled with beanbags)
Noise filtering:
  • Ear protectors
  • Head phones
  • Sennheiser headphones 
Oral:
Proprioception:   
Tactile:
  • Beads
  • Fleece anything
  • Fleece blankets/sheets (3)
  • Jellycats
  • Kinetic sand
  • Koosh balls
  • Plushies
  • Soft fabrics
  • Speakers (for feeling vibration of the beat when he touches the speakers)
  • Theraputty (2 votes)
  • Water beads
Visual (note that flashing lights can be epilepsy triggers, and epilepsy is more common autistic people than non-autistic people):
  • Anything with flashing lights or novelty lights of all kinds
  • Any toy that lights up, flashes, or spins
  • Colored flashlight
  • Fiber optic lamp
  • Lava lamp (3 votes)
  • Marble run
  • Plasma ball lamp
  • Spinnyos Giant Yo-ller Coaster

“Sound filters/attenuated ear plugs/similar stuff are great for situations where noise cancelling headphones would isolate one from participation but sound is an issue.”

 

“The ceiling-mounted indoor platform swing was also the best $150 that I ever spent. Every kid that comes to my house loves that.” 

 

“Anything that spins or can be chewed. Preferably either purple or with turtles.”

 

Stimming

Beads made by students at AACT in Ghana
[image: a handful of colorful stringed beads]
Stimming gift options often overlap with sensory gift options, so we often send people to the autistic-owned company Stimtastic.co for both categories.
  • Fidget Cube
  • Fidget toys (4)
  • Glittery stim toys
  • Lollipopter
  • Mardi Gras beads
  • Satin ribbon streamers

“Fidget toys! [Forever Fidgets] are awesome for older kids and adults, super strong, discreet and cheap!” 

 

“Perfume. I love olfactory stimming.” 

 

“Shiny jewelry with bits that move or spin round and are designed to be fiddled with.”

 

“New hand mirror to carry around at all times to watch himself talk.” 


A final consideration: If you shop at Amazon.com, remember that you can also benefit autism non-profits through your purchases, via Smile.Amazon.com. Both the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Autism Women's Network are Smile shopping options. Happy gifting!