It’s been a couple of years since I’ve put together a gift guide for children, teens and adults with a disability. It’s not that I haven’t been enthused, it’s just that I haven’t found enough items different to those I’ve shared in previous gift guides. Often it’s a case of a brand releasing a different version of something I’ve previously shared. Anyway, I thought it was high time we had a new 2021 gift guide, with items that have caught my eye either online or during the year. I also thought that I’d collate all the gifts that are my fave into this guide.
As always, I won’t put an age guide beside them as I think it’s important to buy according to interest and ability rather than sticking to the usual age perimeters. We’ve realised over the years it only adds to frustration if Braeden can’t use something that is recommended for his age group and I don’t see anything wrong with him having the joy of being able to operate toys or equipment he couldn’t use when he was younger. His skills haven’t developed along with the usual milestone timeline, but he has gained many skills over the years.
Please note – this blog contains affiliate links. This means if you buy something by using our link we will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Everything on this list is chosen based on personal experience or something that I feel would be good for someone with a disability. A big thanks to Kirstie at Starfish for taking me on a virtual tour of her speciality store so I could virtually test out what I liked with her assistance.
2021 GIFT GUIDE: PRACTICAL GIFTS
Many people think clothing is boring as a gift but Braeden doesn’t mind clothing if it’s tailored to his taste. He loves graphic tees, loves his character t-shirts and sleepwear. Take your child or teen to the store and see what they are drawn to. If they are non-verbal this may help give their wardrobe a piece of their personality. Graphic t-shirts can be found in Kmart, Target, departments stores and Jay-Jays have a good range. Old Navy in the US usually has a good range of Graphic Tees. Some of Braeden’s best Simpsons t-shirts have come from online purchases from Amazon. You can shop online here.
One of the best travel accessories we have had is Braeden’s wheelguards.
They’ve been a great conversation starter with people we meet as we travel. Kids comment and think it is ‘cool.’ Wheel guards would make a great gift. They come in a variety of designs including abstract graphics for older kids and characters like Spiderman and The Muppets. Braeden’s bat wheels came from Mogo Wheelchairs and I spied the cool Spiderman wheel guard while at Dejay Medical. These are both Australian companies but wheel guards are not unique to Australia. If you google Wheelchair wheel guards you will find plenty of suppliers around the world.
If your loved one doesn’t love the dark (who does?), a soothing gentle night light or lamp is the perfect solution – harsh overhead lighting can disrupt sleep, and televisions (or other screens) can be overstimulating. I wanted to include a few different options in this 2021 gift guide, so there’s something to suit everyone.
If you’re after something functional and sophisticated, there’s the AuraSong Himalayan Salt Lamp & Speaker. It’s so pretty! It’s got four different light “modes”, the Himalayan salt naturally ionises the air in the room, and it connects via bluetooth to play calming music. A light and sound therapy session, all in one! You can get it from the Starfish Store, too. If you are overseas, there are several different options online.
For something more simple, and easy to travel with, try the Heebie Jeebies LED Lunar Night Light. It’s designed to look like the moon, with realistic craters and everything. It’s totally portable and recharges via USB (it gets about 6 hours of life once fully charged). There are different light options and strengths, and you can adjust them just by tapping the base – super simple. It’s available online here. Overseas readers can see a similar product here.
PORTABLE DVD PLAYER
We travel with a portable DVD player to ensure Braeden can always have his favourite movies. We use it for long car trips in hire cars, he uses it at respite and sometimes on a flight. It might seem like a bit of a throwback to include in a 2021 gift guide (in the era of tablets and ubiquitous screens!), but we still get a lot of use out of ours and think it’s still very worthwhile.
Portable DVD players are becoming harder to get but electronic stores still stock them, and in the lead up to Christmas they are often a sale item at Target, Kmart and Big W. We found good Panasonic ones on Amazon when we were in the US and the battery life is a lot longer than other brands. Our overseas friends can find something similar here.
VIBES NOISE-REDUCTION EARPLUGS
Vibes earplugs are a great subtle alternative to over-ear noise-reduction headphones (way less obvious than bulky brightly-coloured headphones!). Unlike traditional earmuffs and foam earplugs that muffle sounds and isolate users from their environment, Vibes lower the volume of their environment to a more comfortable level, while still allowing them to hear everything around them clearly and interact socially. They come in a few different sizes, so you can find the best fit, and come with a pocket-size carrying case. Get them here. If you are overseas, you can find them here.
2021 GIFT GUIDE: ARTS & CRAFTS
TAILORED PLAY KIT (E.G. KINETIC SAND)
Not every gift needs to be packaged by a store. Putting together a gift tailored to a person’s interests can be a great winner. One year we bought a tray, a packet of kinetic sand and various things for making a scene. In the pack above we popped in some small scoops for digging the sand, tiny craft buckets for sandcastle making, dinosaurs, an acrylic mirror for a drinking hole, trees and a magnifier. The same could be done with play doh, or a number of other items in this 2021 gift guide – whichever you think your recipient would prefer.
Kinetic sand can be found at Kmart, Target and Big W. Our overseas friends can see it online here – Kinetic Sand – Beach Sand.
CRAYONS (+ DIY HOLDER!)
These crayons are still my favourite. There are cheaper versions out on the market but I don’t think they write as easily as the Playon Crayon pictured below.
The round knob-like top makes these crayons easier to hold than regular crayons. I’ve seen these at Five Senses and Toys and Tales stores. Our overseas friends can find them online here – Easy To Hold Toddler Crayons, Stackable and Non-Toxic, Primary Color Set.
If the person you are purchasing the crayons for can’t hold a crayon or can’t sustain a grasp you could make the simple neoprene holder pictured below.
The little hand strap is made of Neoprene material (wet suit material), has a small slit to slip the crayon into and velcro to fasten. Although a child may not be able to maintain consistent grasp the crayon stays put allowing them to grasp again when ready.
I love the feel of this Instant Snow. Just add water to the dry contents of the packet and you’ll have a fluffy bowl of snow for creative play.
A packet of the snow and some characters and vehicles would be great for tablet-top or wheelchair tray play. I found the Instant Christmas Snow at Kikki K in two sizes. Our overseas friends can find similar here – Be Amazing Insta-Snow Jar, Makes 2 Gallons.
2021 GIFT GUIDE: TOYS & GAMES
The Little Tikes Wheelz Slammin’ Racers are an easy to use push button car. The large yellow button on top is easy to activate and makes the car move. Fine motor skills are not needed for this one with the push from a palm of the hand working well. I found this at Target Australia but our overseas friends can find similar here.
It took years for Braeden to be able to press buttons as small as the ones on this Hot Wheels car but he was delighted when he could and the car zoomed across the floor at great speed with lights flashing and sounds going. At $20 this is a great gift if you are trying to encourage isolating a pointer finger (and there are more options for that skill throughout this 2021 gift guide, keep scrolling for more ideas below!). Big W and Kmart usually stock these cars. Smaller versions are also available. Our overseas friends can buy similar cars here – Hot Wheels Extreme Action Light and Sound Sharkruiser.
Stress balls are good cathartic fun for people of all abilities. They’re great for releasing energy, reducing stress, and improving self regulation. There are different colour and character options to suit the gift recipient’s preferences. These can be found in a variety of colours and characters at toy stores. For our overseas friends here’s something similar.
When Braeden was younger we found it hard to play games which came with lots of components (i.e., game pieces or cards). His extra movement from his Cerebral Palsy meant things were constantly being knocked off the table or out of place. This Melissa and Doug memory game is a great alternative because the cards are the only removable part of the game and once inserted they do not come out easily. The tiles can be opened to play and when a match is found they stay attached to the board. Specialty toy stores sell it in Australia. Worldwide you can buy it here.
Maybe you’ve never heard of a Bilibo, but it’s a deceptively simple and versatile toy that you’ll get a lot of use out of! They can be used indoors and outdoors, for rocking, spinning, dress ups, stepping stones… the possibilities are endless. They’re big enough for kids of all sizes and ages, and available in multiple colours. They’re also stackable, so they’re easy to store and transport if you want to get a few. If you want to prioritise stimulating play and creativity, a Bilibo is what you need. You can find them in speciality toy stores like Toys and Tales and Kids Stuff. Our overseas readers can see them here.
MR POTATO HEAD
Braeden used to love Mr Potato Head and it was fantastic for his fine motor control. He used to work so hard to pull out all the face pieces and try his hardest to put the pieces into the right spots. Usually I had to help him finish it off but he had fun choosing which pieces. Even though it’s a bit retro, it still makes for an excellent gift, which is why I’ve included it in this 2021 gift guide.
I think this large Mr Potato Head is especially good because the pieces are so much larger and it comes with a good variety of options. It works in nicely with speech therapy too. There are lots of Mr Potato options online for our overseas readers. Take a look here.
Large games can make it easier for anyone who grapples with the small pieces usually associated with board games. This inflatable Connect 4-inspired game is good for family get togethers and to encourage interaction and side-by-side play for peers. I found this at Kmart for $25, Rebel has something similar.
Throwing a frisbee is difficult for Braeden but these large UFOs are easy to grasp and fly quite a distance with little effort. The wind catching them ensures success as soon as they are released.
Isolation this year meant I went looking for anything that may entertain and make time at home novel. A cheap outdoor pop up tent in the backyard was novel and when filled with books provided some time out for everyone. It’s one of our favourite tested-and-approved options in this 2021 gift guide!
Learning to wheel your own manual wheelchair or learning to drive a power wheelchair can take time and lots of practice. Making it fun helps with perseverance and makes it less of a chore. Setting up traffic cones and street signs can make learning more of a game. If you are overseas, take a look at these ones.
The foam bowling set on the left is an all time favourite with our family. It’s been to picnics, family get-togethers and parties. It tends to get everyone involved and the ball is a good size for a person to hold, or to roll off their legs. Braeden loves this game. Both are available at Australian Geographic Stores. Our overseas friends can find a similar foam bowling set online here – 12- Piece Foam Bowling Set – 10 Pins & 2 Balls By Allures & Illusions.
We’ve had several of these pop up rockets. You stamp on a launcher pad and the rocket is released into the air. Braeden has good strength in his feet so with assistance can manage these. It is a great reward for managing to stomp your foot. It requires him to look, focus and then target the pump with his foot. Australian Geographic Stores, Big W, Target and Kmart usually stock these fun rockets which retail for around $19. Our overseas friends can find similar rockets online here – Jump Rocket Launcher with 3 Foam Rockets by Hey! Play!
It’s great to find mainstream equipment if it suits your needs but if not, there’s a range of adaptive play equipment which is suitable for people with physical limitations. The equipment is more supportive and will take a heavier weight range. It isn’t cheap, but I see these items as perfect for family to combine together to give as a gift or possibly as a Starlight wish item.
The “All Wheels” wheelchair cubby house appealed to me because it has level entry, wide doorway and is spacious inside.
For more information and costs please contact Special Needs Play Equipment.
At Braeden’s school they had a parachute which they’d sometimes bring out at lunch time. It was fantastic to see this was such an inclusive activity with kids of all abilities taking turns to run or wheel under it. It’s good as a party game too. I found this one at Kmart for $15. Overseas readers can find it on Amazon here.
Heading to the beach this summer? Grab a Surfer Dude and watch him surf the waves like a pro and return to you. This is such a clever inexpensive beach toy. The guy, or gal, always rights itself even when experiencing a wipe out! This is a perfect stocking stuffer or inexpensive gift at around $18. Sold at Big W, Kmart and Target. Amazon also stocks them here.
There are all kinds of ways to use fishing games for fun AND therapy. They build hand-eye co-ordination, improve concentration, help younger players learn colours and numbers, and more. This Djeco Navy Loto fishing game can be used multiple ways to get the most out of it. Hours of fun!
If you are overseas and looking for a similar fishing game you can find some here.
Finger lights are a nifty play-time tool for developing fine motor skills and encouraging proprioceptive development. Each pack contains four LED lights in various colours, designed to attach to fingers and toes with an elastic band (you may need to assist with putting them on/taking them off, and children should be supervised).
Those of you that have been following along for a while on Facebook will know that I am obsessed by trying to improve Braeden’s hand function. He was given this puzzle years after it was “age appropriate” for him but it was a really good hand function exercise and he really saw it as a challenge to open all the different locks. This Melissa & Doug puzzle is available at Toys and Tales and educational stores. Melissa and Doug puzzles, including this one, are available here.
If you already “did all the puzzles” during lockdown(s), you could try this Djeco ClipaClip wooden game. It’s a similar idea: you clip the little wooden animals and fruits onto the big tree with the press studs, and pull to pop them back off again. It helps develop fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, and provides proprioceptive input (with the pressure applied for pushing & releasing the press studs). There are 8 image cards to recreate on the tree, or make up your own design.
PULL STRING TOYS
In the height of Braeden’s passion for Toy Story he received a pull string Woody character. It has a ring pull string making it easy to use. He was thrilled when he pulled the string and had the reward of Woody talking. It’s a good motivator if you’re trying to encourage hand function skills. We also have a Jessie with the same pull string activation. I’ve seen these in Target & Big W this year. Our overseas friends can look at them here – Toy Story Pull String Woody 16″ Talking Figure – Disney Exclusive.
The Tosy UFO toy is fantastic to take on picnics. Braeden has no problem pulling the string and it is an impressive flyer. It is a good ice breaker with other kids too. I purchased this at Toys and Tales (a specialty toy store). There’s something similar on Amazon for our overseas friends here.
Remember those wind-up dogs you could get at shows and fairs? Well, for the 2021 gift guide, this is the new and improved therapeutic version! The Wind-Up Racing Pugs are great for grip, twisting, and other fine motor functions. The wind-up key is bigger than the winders on traditional wind-up toys. Start off by winding them up with thumb and pointer on the preferred hand, then gradually make it more challenging, using your thumb and other fingers, or your non-preferred hand. They can be used for solo play or racing in teams. Get them here.
For us here in Australia, summer is just around the corner and warm days mean it’s the perfect time for water fun. There’s something for all abilities. Here’s some of our faves from throughout the years…
When Braeden learnt to use a water gun we were so excited. While we are still thrilled he can do it, being his target is not always fun! Braeden doesn’t have the fine motor skills for a trigger action gun so we always look for pull/push water guns. I found the above Critter Blaster in Big W for $6. Alternatively, the Nerf Super Soakers (below) can be found in Kmart, Target, Big W and Myer for around $15. A three pack is available on Amazon online here.
A few years ago one of our readers sent me a step sprinkler that was designed for animals and she had found it worked well for her son who is a wheelchair user. That animal sprinkler has been discontinued but I found the above Step-N-Splash sprinkler above. Without having tried it, I can’t say how hard it is to activate and that’s probably my main reservation. I’m still sharing it in this 2021 gift guide as I know it’s something Braeden would get a kick out of. I found it at Big W for $29.
Zoom Ball Hydro encourages interaction and uses upper body strength to move the ball full of water between players. It does take some coordination to get the tension right and to pull but lots of fun. The Wahu Zoom Ball Hydro is available at Big W and Kmart Australia for $20. It’s also available on Amazon here.
When Braeden was younger we’d always pack an inflatable boat for our holidays at the lake. Hubby would fit both Braeden and Amelia in the boat with him and they’d paddle around the lake together while I took a breather for a while on the sand.
The Intex Explorer 200 is $20 at Big W or our overseas friends can see it online here.
Imaginative play and having a special toy is an important part of childhood. When Braeden was younger I didn’t see anything that represented our family in the dolls and toys section. Last year Kmart introduced an inclusive range of dolls with various disabilities represented. The Kmart inclusive range of dolls introduces children to disability equipment including a prosthetic limb and a cochlear implant. These dolls are also affordable at only $6 per doll.
Wheelchair users Barbie and Ken can also be found at Kmart and Target. Amazon also stock these dolls here.
Kmart also has a boy and girl doll with Down Syndrome for $15 each. Miniland has something similar on Amazon but much more expensive. Perhaps better quality? You can see that option here.
It nearly killed me (an exaggeration but it was an incredibly frustrating time) when Braeden was little and needed to wear glasses. He would have them everywhere but on his face – often under the pram wheel, in his mouth, under his nose etc. I wonder if he would have been any better if we’d had a doll to do some modelling with him? Probably not, but I did have a little smile when I spotted a Generation doll at Kmart with glasses.
2021 GIFT GUIDE: FOR HOMEBODIES
I’m not usually one to recommend pets as a gift but earlier this year Amelia got a couple of fish in a tank for her room. They were purchased to provide a bit of relaxation and positive distraction while she studied for her final exams. They have been a wonderful addition and I find them quite calming myself.
I’m not going to lie, a fish tank is an ongoing commitment and Hubby isn’t a fan of the cleaning and water testing, but Fish & Chips – the names of Amelia’s fish have brought her much joy so they’re included in this 2021 gift guide. The starter tank set was around $60, the fish were around $20
If your loved one gets allergy sniffles, or just loves gentle scents and pleasing aromas, you could get them a shower steamer – it’s like a bath bomb for the shower! I bought Amelia one that smelt like the beach and it was a hit with her.
It’s so refreshing, perfect for calming olfactory stimulation – and a great stocking stuffer! Shower steamers can also be found on Amazon in multi-packs here.
Braeden was given a plasma ball as a gift and he loved it. Touching the surface attracts streaks of light. If you’re encouraging pointer isolation this is a great motivator.
I found these at Kmart for $20. Our overseas friends can find them online here – Unido Plasma Ball 6″ Inch Interactive Touch Activated – Science Educational Gift.
RAINBOW MOTION LAMP
The Rainbow Motion Lava Lamp Speaker is a fabulous visual and auditory addition to any sensory space, bedroom or classroom. It plays music via bluetooth and is also a rainbow lava lamp, super calming to watch. Plus it’s easily portable – as long as you have a power point, you are good to go. As it gets quite hot once it’s been running a while, it’s best for older children and adults. You can get it here.
Amazon has something similar here.
If you’d prefer a classic lava lamp, or you don’t need the Bluetooth speaker option, Starfish Store also does silver and gold retro version. It takes a little while to warm up and get going, but the effect is mesmerising!
Anyone who has been following the page for a while will know that I am a bit obsessed by anything that will improve a child’s hand function, which is why so many of the items in my 2021 gift guide are focused on that. When I look at sound books I see a good opportunity for a child to be motivated to isolate their pointer. Braeden got this book years ago and it worked very well for him. It took him a while to master it but he did.
These books are easy to find in Big W, Target and Kmart. Our overseas friends can find them here.
This whistle necklace is both pretty and useful! The design is inspired by Komuso Monks who used them to meditate, so they’re great for teens and adults with disability who could use tools to help them relax and regulate. You breathe in, pause, then exhale gently through the tube (in a relaxed way, rather than “blowing”), and repeat until you feel more calm. It’s discreet (looks like a charm on a necklace when not in use), and a nifty way to work on breath control for anxiety. You can get them online here.
This little guy is ADORABLE! The Cloud B Tranquil Turtle is specifically designed for calming, relaxing sensory experiences that will help with sleep. His shell glows and projects an underwater light effect onto the walls and ceiling. He has a speaker with options for relaxing melodies or ocean sounds. The brightness, the volume, and everything else is completely adjustable so you can find the right balance. A brilliant idea if the recipient is going to be travelling or moving – bring the tranquil turtle with you to make bed-time a little more consistent, even in different spaces! You can get him here.
A vibrating sensory cushion can be a really useful tool for soothing anxiety, calming hyperactivity, and improving focus. Senseez have designed this particular cushion so that when it’s sat on, pressed, or squeezed it will vibrate softly. You can cuddle or squeeze the cushion until you feel calm or sleepy. It can be used in any number of situations: in classrooms, at the dinner table, on road trips, watching movies… It’s high-quality vinyl, too, so it’s long-lasting and easy to clean.
2021 GIFT GUIDE: PERSONALISED GIFTS
As Braeden’s grown older, it’s become harder and harder to find unique gifts for him, so we’ve turned to many items we can personalise and found some fabulous options to include in this 2021 gift guide.
I met John (pictured right) a few years ago when I was doing a social media workshop. He and his partner write personalised songs for people. After I shared it in a previous gift guide, John sent me an email to say how much they’d enjoyed writing songs for some of our readers and sent me an example (with the permission of the person who had purchased the song). You can read more about their service and hear the song by clicking here.
It’s no secret Braeden loves his pictures. We’ve pretty much exhausted hanging space in his room so for his birthday Amelia made him a photo book. It’s been a hit. We went for a smaller size so the pages were less likely to rip with his enthusiasm.
Braeden loves sitting with someone looking at the variety of friends, families and experiences he’s had.
We ordered ours from Snapfish when they had a promotion and paid under $20 for it. Grandad likes the ones he received for his birthday and Father’s Day too.
Braeden’s walls are adorned with various canvas prints. He particularly likes one of he and Hubby in a dodgem car and a family print of us all in New York. Thinking ahead last year at his 21st birthday party we took a group shot and that canvas has had to stay in the family room as it’s way too exciting for Braeden to have in his room. He loves showing it to everyone who comes to visit and it’s turned into a great conversation piece.
We had our canvas prints made at a local photo store but places like Snapfish also do them for a reasonable price. Ordering can be done online and delivered to the door. Order early to avoid disappointment and last-minute additional costs for expedited shipping.
2021 GIFT GUIDE: EXPERIENCES & EQUIPMENT
Earlier this year we met friends at the lake. They brought their kayak to the beach and we were so impressed by how well Braeden could sit in it. It has a seat which slopes slightly which seemed to really suit Braeden. He had such a wonderful day he didn’t want to give it up.
RIDE IN VEHICLE
Braeden got this little ride in car when he was younger and although he had limited success with driving it himself he was more than happy for his pals to jump in and take him for a spin. It was very good for encouraging interaction with other children. We would take it to the park when we met friends and instead of Braeden being left behind while the kids ran off to play on equipment, he went too. Have car, will travel! You can find these electric vehicles at specialty toy stores and for our overseas friends, Amazon has several options here.
If you’re looking through this and feeling smug that you’ve finished off all your major shopping, then I also have a list of smaller items in our stocking filler post.
We also have more ideas in this post.