The Best Gifts for Young Neurodivergent Kids
“Neurodiversity is the idea that there’s natural variation in how people’s brains work and how people experience, understand, and interact with the world,” says Evon Mucek, M.Ed, DT, a developmental therapist and parent coach. She says while there’s plenty of negative language around the “inflexible” or “obsessive” nature of neurodivergent kids, our children’s special interests can actually be one of their strengths.
Mucek says that to help little ones thrive, parents and caregivers can find different ways to connect and engage with their neurodivergent kids in meaningful ways. One way to do that is to have games and toys on hand that inspire just the sort of play your kids are interested in — whether that’s sensory or creative play.
What To Look For In Toys for Neurodivergent Kids
When shopping for young kids with special interests, Mucek reminds us that “Neurodivergent children are all dynamic in their own way and it’s important to not categorize them as all having the same interests.” You won’t find a one-size-fits-all toy, but there are still some shopping tips to keep in mind. Mucek recommends the following:
- Pay attention to sensory needs. If your child is sensitive to loud noises, for example, choose toys with volume control.
- Take a cue from your child’s natural motivations. Don’t suppress their interests, build upon them.
- Keep your child’s developmental needs in mind and choose items that not only meet them where they are but are also developmentally appropriate.
- Spark a conversation. Don’t shy away from asking little ones what they like — and even flipping through a toy catalog to gauge their interests.
When it’s time for Mucek to discover new toys and playthings for kids with special interests, she leans toward items that support a child’s social-emotional needs and have less emphasis on following the rules. When it comes down to it, she says, it’s all about growing that bond between you both and inspiring fun and playfulness — no matter what toy they choose to play with.
Sarah H., a mom to a 9-year-old boy, says the toys that work best in their home all have one thing in common: they’re open-ended and can be manipulated and enjoyed in numerous ways. “He likes toys that don’t have specific rules to follow in order to enjoy them,” Sarah says. “He spends the majority of his day struggling to conform to the ‘rules’ of society and I think he likes playing in a way that doesn’t have limits.”
17 Toys and Gifts We Love For Neurodivergent Kids
All children have their own interests and needs, so don’t expect to find a toy that appeals to every little one on your gift-giving list. If you’re shopping for a neurodivergent child, consider this guide a good starting point. Below, you’ll find 17 of our favorite toys, organized into four main categories: fidget toys, sensory toys, social-emotional learning toys, and toys for creative play.