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Finding gifts for BJ gets harder every year.  I feel immense pressure because he loves his birthday and adores presents – a bit like his mother really.

He’s fortunate to have had amazing experiences and presents over the last 20 years so doesn’t really want for anything. We know he is very lucky in many ways but he works so hard for all his gains I want him to enjoy every minute of his birthday.  He deserves a great day.

BJ’s joy at opening presents is infectious.

This year I felt particularly stuck for inspiration so, out of desperation, I googled, “gifts for an 18-20 year old male.”  That didn’t help much with items like a beer glass, navman system, sunglasses, running gear, mp3 player, car accessories being listed as ideal gifts.  There was nothing appropriate for BJ.

My biggest struggle comes from the fact that BJ isn’t doing the things that a 20 year old would generally be doing.  He has advanced in many ways but his physical limitations mean that he hasn’t been able to access things at a younger age.  While other kids were exploring the intricacies of toys he was still just looking at them, unable to access them until many years down the track.

There is pressure for gifts to be age appropriate but there seems little point in giving a gift that he can’t use or that won’t excite him, just for appearance sake.  I liken it to me being a woman and being handed a sewing machine.  Many women would delight in receiving a sewing machine as a gift but I have no clue or interest in sewing so there would be no joy.  It would be a pointless gift.

Don’t get me wrong, I love finding age appropriate gifts.  Usually I find a combination of items but I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be for BJ to receive a pile of gifts that he has no ability to use.

BJ was thrilled with the video messages he received from family and friends.

It appears that despite beating myself up about it this year, I have done okay on the gift front.  One idea actually proved an extraordinary hit and it was a light bulb moment after working through what BJ likes most.  He loves his family and photos but there was no space for any more canvas prints in his room.  I asked the family and some friends to record a video message for BJ.  AJ then put them into a movie on the iPad for BJ and he loved it.  He has watched it over and over.

It took a bit of effort for people to put together a short video and email it but I am so grateful because it brought BJ so much joy.

One of the items BJ received as a gift would probably come under the banner of ‘inappropriate for his age’ but he loved it.  I saw it in the shop and couldn’t decide whether I should buy it or not.  I contemplated it the whole time I was shopping and decided that if it brought BJ joy, then why not.  We are big fans of the Minion movies and BJ loved his new talking Stuart.  The button on Stuart’s overalls is something BJ can manage to push for himself so I imagine there is a great sense of accomplishment as well as fun.  Grown men collect toy cars, movie figurines and other collectibles so I decided to let go of the age appropriateness of this one and I am so glad I did.  Mind you, when Stuart is talking non-stop everyday I may regret that decision!

Stuart the Minion is easy to use and a bit of fun.

I always look for gifts that will continue to improve BJ’s hand function.  He has had just about every kind of remote control vehicle and the level of success always comes down to the joy stick on the remote control.  I found this wall climbing remote control car.  It has lights that look like police lights when used in the dark and it is different to other vehicles BJ has had in the past.

Wall climbing remote control car.

The fact that we had to wrestle the remote control from Hubby says to me that although this is found in the toy section of Kmart it appeals to all ages.


Shopping around Father’s Day turned out to be the best time to be shopping for a teenage boy.  BJ loves his graphic t-shirts and there are plenty around at the moment.  Target, Jay-Jays and other stores have a good variety.  BJ was happy with the pictured tops.

BJ’s graphic shirts.

We don’t have space for a full size foosball table but I spied a table-top version at Australian Geographic and this was hit number two.  It is age appropriate and encourages interaction with others.

Foosball was a big hit with BJ for his birthday.

Books and dvds are always popular with BJ but they are fairly routine in his present line up.  He likes them but I could see his excitement at the more original items like the foosball table and the family and friends video.

Some smaller inexpensive gifts that were a hit with BJ are pictured below.  He was amused by the solar-powered Mr Bean and thrilled with the pinball game. I am impressed BJ can manage the small pinball trigger to shoot the balls.  The hand held pinball game was from Kmart and was $5 and Mr Bean was from a dollar store and cost $4.50.  Neither were big-ticket items but both proved popular.

Pinball hand-held game and solar powered Mr Bean.

BJ loves other touches that are a tradition in our family.  He loves helium balloons and this year we are all obsessed by Minions so a Minion made his way to the birthday celebration.

Helium balloons and novelty cards add to the fun for BJ.

Musical or talking cards are a novelty and although expensive BJ gets his mileage out of the ones he receives.


BJ’s Bart cake was a combined effort but very popular.

When BJ was younger he had different types of cakes but as he got older we started going for a plain cake.  AJ had the idea earlier this year, while watching Cake Boss, that a novelty cake would be great for BJ.  She was right.  BJ loved this Bart Simpson cake.  It was a collaborative effort with me making the cake and Hubby and AJ cutting and decorating it.  Getting older doesn’t have to mean boring or plain cakes.  Buddy, the Cake Boss, certainly showed us that.

If you are looking to buy for a friend or relative’s child and you are not sure what to buy, ask what were the most popular gifts the child received last year.  Check if they follow a particular sporting team or have a favourite tv show.  I love it when someone comes up with their own idea for BJ, sometimes it is a hit and other times a miss, but I appreciate the thought and effort.  I don’t mind people asking for suggestions but often I am struggling to come up with gifts for him from us.

Over the last couple of years I have compiled a few gift guides for all ages.  You can read Gift Suggestions for kids with special needs here and Gift suggestions for someone with special needs here.  I am already working on another one for Christmas so stay tuned.

I’d love to hear your ideas on the age appropriate dilemma, so leave your comments on the here or over on facebook. 

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  1. Thank you so much. This makes shopping for son who is 22 seem like I’m not the only one who struggles to find something. It has given me plenty of ideas for thought. Especially someone who loves the minion movie, furious 7 and fast cars and motorbikes. Thank you that you do occasionally buy things not totally age appropriate. This is so hard when your Pwd has less skills or unable to be doing the things that other people of a similar age are doing.

    • Hi Ann, I am so glad it is helpful. It is one of those things you can only truly understand if you are living it and facing it. I’m glad you have got some ideas from the post. Julie

  2. Your post is amazing and it has given me some great ideas for our son who is turning 21 and has a severe intellectual disability. I don’t believe in age appropriate toys – if it brings him joy and he is able to use it then that makes me happy!! 😀. .. And the grandchildren really appreciate his toy collection!! Haha.


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