Kennedy Krieger Offers Advice for Purchasing Holiday Gifts for Children with Special Needs

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December 09, 2008

During the holiday season and these difficult economic times, finding the perfect gift for any child can be a challenge. For family and friends looking for the right toy for a child with special needs, this process can cause even more anxiety and frustration.

According to Elisa Delia, a trained play therapist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute who coordinates toy testing, “People can spend an unnecessary amount of money on expensive toys marketed specifically to children with special needs, not knowing that there are many inexpensive toys available in average toy and superstores that will not only be loved by children with special needs, but act as learning and skill-building tools.”

Kennedy Krieger Institute's therapists treat thousands of children with developmental disorders ranging from autism to Down syndrome, and are experts on what to look for when buying toys for children with special needs. Delia says family and friends should consider the following when buying games and toys for children with special needs:

  1. Buy toys that are developmentally appropriate, or match the child's motor and cognitive skill level. If you don't know where the child is developmentally, don't be afraid to ask their parent.
  2. Balance the child's developmental age with their calendar age. Avoid hurt feelings and embarrassment by finding toys that are developmentally appropriate but not age-specific.
  3. Choose toys that are engaging and help build skills. Simple, inexpensive toys such as balls, finger paints, blocks and play dough can build motor skills and coordination. Board games or toys that involve the whole family help build social skills.
  4. Make sure the toy is durable and doesn't have a lot of small pieces. Small pieces or easily broken toys can be a safety hazard, and some disabilities can make working with small pieces difficult.
  5. Avoid toys that put kids in a “win or lose” situation. Pick toys and games that can build the child's self-esteem, and that you know they can succeed in.

Armed with this knowledge, family and friends will have the ability to purchase reasonably priced gifts that serve as learning and skill-building tools for children to enjoy throughout the year. For more information on the Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit

About the Kennedy Krieger Institute:

Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain and spinal cord, the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD serves more than 13,000 individuals each year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how disorders develop while pioneering new interventions and earlier diagnosis. For more information on Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit

Media Inquiries:

Megan Lustig
(202) 955-6222

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