Finding the perfect gift for a child with special needs is rarely as easy as popping down to the toy store, picking an age-appropriate gift, and wrapping it up. Different needs, abilities, and interests may require an extra measure of creativity and research. To speed up your search, here are five quick places to check for gifts to suit your unique little one -- shop there yourself, and pass the links on to relatives and friends who often give inappropriately.
1. AblePlay is a site that rates toys for appropriateness in four different disability categories: physical, sensory, communicative, and cognitive. It was developed by the National Lekotek Center, which also helps ToysRUs put together its annual catalog for "differently abled kids."
2. Enterprising Parents profiled on this Parenting Special Needs site have created or hunted down playthings and tools specifically to suit children like yours. You can shop knowing that someone who understands your child is making the recommendations, and that you're benefiting a fellow special-needs family with your shopping dollar.
3. Occupational and physical therapy catalogs carry lots of goodies that can benefit and delight your child, from squeeze toys to hanging swings. Some of the items may be pricey, but if you're going to get a big-ticket item for a holiday or birthday, might as well make it one that can do some good.
4. Drugstores, supermarkets, and party stores are full of inexpensive items that can be fun and therapeutic for your child. Throw some soap bubbles, a whistle, sidewalk chalk, clay, scented markers, stickers, shaving cream, paper, and fat crayons into a box or gift bag for a creative kit.
5. Use your child's obsessions as clues to irresistible gifts. Sure, you may want to broaden those horizons, but gift-giving occasions are times to think about what will please the recipient. My son loves to get keys as gifts; in the past, he's craved everything from car magazines to a bag of receipts. Don't be afraid to think outside the box to delight your child.