Category Archives: Holidays - Grandparent Autism Network

Holiday Gift Resources for Special Kids

Provided by Laura Simmons-Martinez, Technology Project Director

Team of Advocates for Special



This easy to understand toy rating system for children of all abilities from the National Lekotek Center focuses on the developmental areas of physical, sensory, communicative, cognitive, and social/emotional abilities of a child. AblePlay evaluations provide research, ratings and reviews on each of these key areas of development.


Enabling Devices: Toys for Special Children

Enabling Devices is a company dedicated to developing affordable learning and assistive devices to help people of all ages with disabling conditions. Originally known as Toys for Special Children, the company has been creating innovative communicators, toys and switches for the physically challenged for more than 35 years.  Through their expertise in designing electro-mechanical assistive and adaptive devices for people of all ages, they believe their products enable people with physical challenges to communicate, learn, work, play, and function more easily, effectively, and enjoyably in the world.


eSpecial Needs Toys

Special needs toys need to be safe, fun and build children’s intellectual, physical and emotional skills. Their toys, games and puzzles will keep them entertained for hours, while improving logic, problem solving, hand-eye coordination and memory skills. They sell a vast selection of unique special needs toys, including blocks, cognitive play, educational, magnetic activities, fine and gross motor, and pretend. Foster your child’s imagination and developmental skills with one of these great items.


Melissa and Doug Special Needs Toy Guide: A Resource for Therapists and Families

This helpful guide has toys broken into fine motor, gross motor, cognitive skills, speech and language, social and emotional, life skills, sensory awareness and more!


Special Needs Gifts

Hand-picked, reasonably-priced gifts that help kids with Down syndrome, autism, ADD, SPD, cerebral palsy, developmental delays and other special needs. Each of the gifts encourages fine-motor and gross-motor skills, speech, communication, imagination, cognition and social skills.


Toys and Play for Young Children with Visual Impairments

Play, games and recreation are important parts of learning for children who are blind or visually impaired, with or without other disabilities. These resources can help educators and family members find the right toys to support and stimulate the cognitive, physical, psychological, and social development of children with blindness or visual impairment.


Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids

This complimentary, one-of-a-kind resource speaks to a child’s individual needs and offers qualified toy recommendations based on research from the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit organization that evaluates all of the toys featured in the Guide.




Appy Christmas

Appy Christmas, everyone! This app features a talking Santa, countdown timer to the big day, original music, plus an advent calendar giving you paid apps for free every day! Talk to Santa and listen to him talk back in a silly voice. Count down the days, hours and minutes until Christmas and watch Santa magically transform into a reindeer, and when his voices changes, so will yours.


Christmas!! Countdown to Santa

Once the 1st of December arrives, you can open your first window and start unlocking the secrets in this Christmas application.  Also included is a gift list so you can keep track of all your present ideas. You can store the name of the person, and the gift idea, and then tick it off the list when you’ve bought it. This app works every Christmas year after year, so what great value compared to calendars in the shops!


Christmas Music: 10,000 FREE Christmas Songs

Do you love a Christmas tune or two? You can listen to thousands of free holiday songs with the Christmas Music app. All of the app’s music is vetted to be from Creative Commons or independent musicians, which means they are all completely legal so you can download classic and new holiday music songs. Apple says it has been rated 5 stars by over 700 reviewers and is consistently ranked as a Top 100 Music App in over 50 countries. This app is free and available for Apple iPhones and tablets.


Christmas Pics Quiz Game

Christmas is here! Here is the ultimate quiz to get you in the Christmas mood! Hundreds of guessing games for the entire family to play!


Elf Yourself

This hilarious app will bring the family together. Upload each family member’s face from your phone and put them onto one of the elves’ bodies. You can then watch your family come to life as they dance and sing to a Christmas-theme in a video. The video can then be shared via e-mail or Facebook. This app is free and available for both Apple and Android.


Holly – A Christmas Tale HD

If your kid is a little too old for Elmo or a basic virtual book, download Holly – A Christmas Tale HD. This is a hidden object game made for slightly older children who want to play something a little more challenging.


NORAD Tracks Santa

The NORAD Tracks Santa app will let you watch the countdown to Santa’s flight from the North Pole on December 24th and follow his whereabouts on Christmas Eve as he travels around the world to deliver presents. There are videos for each destination that he visits. You’ll also be able to play Thin Ice to help Santa’s elves deliver presents, and learn all about NORAD and its mission. This app is free and is available for both Apple and Android.


Dr. Erica Holding’s Guide for Happy Holidays
Gift Ideas for Teens and Adults
Visit stores, Santa or holiday displays at times when they are not crowded.
Introduce special foods months or weeks before the holiday
“Priceless” Gift Suggestions for the Holidays and for all Occasions


Gift Ideas for Teens and Adults
  • Try a free trial membership together at a local gym
  • Locate a new activity to join, e.g. bowling league, laser tag, YMCA or city sponsored group
  • Watch CD’s or movies about a destination you want to visit and plan a trip to go there
  • Give an annual membership to a favorite museum or other local attraction
  • Gift certificates for personal care services, e.g. haircuts, manicures, massages, spa services
  • Tickets for amusement parks, movies, concerts, sporting events
  • Shop together for clothing, books, hobby or special interest items or research online for requested gifts
  • Download apps for productivity and entertainment
  • Commit time to sharing a favorite activity, once or on a regular basis throughout the year.
Dr. Erica Holding’s Guide for Happy Holidays

Dr. Erica R. Holding has a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral level and founder of Avita Nova, which provides early diagnosis and ABA therapy for children and parent training and support. This article is based on her many years of working with families affected by autism.

When you have a grandchild with autism, the holiday season can present some extra challenges for your family. With careful planning your family can make the holiday season warm and happy for everyone.

  • If you don’t get to see your grandchild regularly, it is important to remember to have realistic expectations for your time together. Before the visit, call your son or daughter to ask if there is anything to do or have on hand to make the visit more enjoyable for your grandchild. You can have favorite toys, food and videos ready and plan to go to places that they like to visit.
  • Grandparents often express fear and anxiety about how to interact with their grandchildren.  You may feel rejected because you expect welcoming big hugs and kisses and may feel frustrated and unloved if that does not happen. Your grandchild may have sensory issues that make it overwhelming and even painful for them to be touched or hugged. They may not have the skills yet to know what to do or how to respond or they may just be learning these skills, but shut down around new people or in new situations. The most important thing is to not take this personally. They are not rejecting you. A high five or brief gaze may be all that they are currently capable of doing.
  • If you are planning a party or other special event, ask your son or daughter if they feel your grandchild will be comfortable being present. You may want to change your plan to be more inclusive and focus on creating new holiday traditions together.
  • Keep demands for social politeness at a low level.  Even if your grandchild has learned new social skills like greeting people by saying hello or shaking hands, don’t anticipate that will happen when there is a lot of stimuli like lights, music and new people in new settings.
  • Pace yourself and be flexible.  If you have 3 events planned for a day, but there is a midday meltdown after event # 1, maybe it’s best to skip the others. It is better to have one great time together that you can all remember fondly than to watch the rest of the day deteriorate into tantrums or other behavior problems. New situations, new people, and new schedules can be overwhelming for a child with autism. Your grandchild is not being willfully defiant or difficult, and your son or daughter does not have poor parenting skills. Too much input and too many changes can be very hard for children with autism to process. Let your son or daughter know that you understand this may be what is responsible for meltdowns and negative behavior.
  • Create outlets or escape routes.  Prepare a place in your home that is quieter and provides a comfortable spot where you grandchild can “take a break” from all of the excitement.  Having a place to go for some respite time may prevent you from having to leave or end an event. Just taking a break may be all that your grandchild needs to get on to the next event.
  • Manage sensory input.  The holiday season is filled with new experiences. Manage these to the best of your ability. If you are taking a trip to the mall, try to go at times when the mall is less busy, or make the trip shorter. The holidays might not be the best time to try new foods. Try to have something your grandchild likes at every meal.
  • Control Schedules.  Routines and knowing what is happening next is often very important to individuals on the spectrum. Holiday schedules deviate completely from our daily normal routines and this can be especially difficult for a child with autism.  Ask your son or daughter how best to handle daily schedules. Some children with autism can be included in the schedule making and this is very empowering for them. Other children may be more able to understand when given a visual schedule. Find out what works best and if an unexpected change is just about to happen, find out how best to communicate that change.

Be sure to compliment your grandchild and your son or daughter about the new abilities and progress your grandchild has achieved.  Grandparents can be supportive good listeners who consistently give their families loving reinforcement at the holidays – and throughout the year. 

For additional holiday tips, click here 
A family affair

At large family gatherings, alert other family members that your grandchild may require extra help or vigilance. They can help to provide a safer environment for everyone.

When you plan for holiday entertaining in your home, be kind to yourself.  You may have to adapt your home, menu, schedule and family traditions in order to make a comfortable environment for your grandchild with autism.

Prepare children for special occasions

Prepare children for new experiences or family celebrations well in advance, by frequently describing the details of the upcoming event. It will relieve anxieties and the children will know what behavior is appropriate for the occasion. You may wish to give your grandchildren cameras and request that they take pictures at the event.