Looking for sensory-friendly gift ideas for someone special? We have pulled together our favourite ideas based on different sensory needs. We know that kids who would benefit from sensory-friendly gifts are not all the same, so we've group our recommendations by category:
- Communication/Social Skills
While one child may need to avoid or minimize stimulation related to one sense, another child may benefit from heightened stimulation related to that same sense (often referred to as "sensory seeking" or "sensory avoiding", and some children show a combination of reactions). We hope to offer parents, grandparents and friends gift-giving guidance tailored to the unique child they're shopping for.
As with all gift-giving, and especially for children with sensory processing issues, quality over quantity is key. Sensory-friendly gifts that are well made will go a long way to avoiding the extra stresses of a toy that does not work as expected or that breaks too quickly. Tender Leaf Toys, BC Playthings and Warm Buddy are three of our favourite local businesses who offer a variety of high-quality sensory-friendly options that will last for years!
Communication / Social Skills
Gifts that include pretend play and social components can be enjoyed by all children, but they are an especially useful tool for those who are prone to have heightened emotions or sensory meltdowns in unfamiliar social situations. Anxiety caused by doctor or dentist appointments, unanticipated guests coming to the door, or family leaving the house can be minimized by practicing through toys designed for role-play.
Tender Leaf Toys carries a wide variety of gorgeous doll houses & accessories made with a unique blend of soft cotton fabric, gentle non-toxic water watin, sustainable rubber wood and high quality plywood. One of our favourites is their portable Doll House Set from that offers endless hours of pretend play and the opportunity to role-play manners and situations inside the home. It offers a classic design with 2 storeys & stairs, and comes fully furnished and has 2 wooden people. Open the back cover, and plant flowers and trees to design your own beautiful garden!
Sensory-sensitive children often get extra anxious about doctor or dentist visits, and role-playing with a doctor's kit ahead of time offers a relaxed way to walk through expectations and a sequence of events they can expect to find. This beautifully-made medical set from Tender Leaf Toys comes with a wooden stethoscope, scissors, thermometer, syringe, 2 tubes of ointment, blood pressure monitor, and a wooden heart, just like a real doctor. It also includes a canvas bag for storage and portable play anywhere - even on the car ride to the appointment!
Tactile / Touch
Touch can be very soothing and a great distraction to some children, but it can be overly stimulating to others.
Luckily, there are wonderful gift-giving possibilities for all!
Touch -Seeking Gifts
Sensory-sensitive children who seek touch inputs often do quite well with varying degrees of temperature and pressure. Warm Buddies are incredibly soft stuffed animals that come with removable inner packs that can be warmed in the microwave (1-2 minutes) or cooled in the freezer. And Warm Buddy's luxurious warming blankets are carefully weighted to provide supplementary therapeutic acupressure that has shown to calm children and reduce stress. Children develop faster when they get a good night's sleep, and a Warm Buddy animal or warming blanket can help settle children at bedtime so they can achieve deep, restful sleep. Their food-grade milled rice holds heat the longest by far and is safe to use repeatedly, whereas wheat and flax dry out over time and become flammable in the microwave and gel packs tend to leak and explode upon heating.
Difficulty adjusting to changes is a common issue for children with ASD. This can include getting into an uncomfortably cold bed. Many children rely on a standard schedule that does not change. Not only can the jolt of a cold bed influence behaviour issues, but it can also keep children awake, prolonging bedtime and interfering with their routine. Preparing a high-quality heated blanket or stuffy and placing it in the bed for about 10 minutes before bedtime can avoid these challenges and make sure there’s a comfy and relaxing bed to climb into it each night.
Another wonderful idea for children who find the combination of soft textures and pressure to be soothing are Wild Republic Hugger wrist bands from BC Playthings in North Vancouver & online. These Huggers are cute plush toys and versatile slap bracelets that can be worn wrapped around a child's wrist and other objects such as backpacks, bikes and strollers. Spread the arms wide open, give the belly a squeeze, then SNAP...the arms instantly wrap around and give you a hug. Parents have reported that these bracelets offer comfort and distraction in challenging situations (e.g. getting a shot at the doctor's office). And since they hug onto anything, they are also easy to keep track of!
BC Playthings carries a wide variety of other unique gifts for touch-seeking kids, including:
- Harmony Roller Massagers
- Thinking Putty
- Chewable Armbands
- Chew Stixx Pencil Toppers
- Relaxus Magic Stress Balls
And Stimtastic is another great online resource for sensory-friendly, stim and fidget toys. The company's founder is autistic, their original designs are created by neurodivergent artists, and they give 10% of all sales proceeds to the autism community.
Touch Avoidance Gifts
Sensory-friendly clothing can be a great gift for children some who are touch-sensitive. Taking the time to choose a piece of clothing that is not going to irritate a child in any way is a very thoughtful gift. Sensory Smart Clothing offers seamless clothing made in BC, made of ultra-soft fabric with no tags or outside seams, and we love that most items are gender-neutral. Independence Day Clothing is another great option that offers soft fabric, lay flat seams with no tags, zippers or buttons, and are adaptive - fits front and backwards, right side and inside out. And Calm Wear clothing from Australia features external stitching, tag-free, soft breathable fabrics, close fitting for compression therapy
And for children who are touch-sensitive but still want to join in with pretend play, smooth wooden blocks are a great option. This lovely set of Designer Magblocs from Tender Leaf Toys contains 8 smooth magnetic blocks in warm and cool colours, made from solid wood and concealed multi-directional magnets. The smoothness is great for little hands who have difficulty with rougher / textured bricks like lego. And since these blocks are held together with magnets, they are also a good choice for sound-avoidant children who may not like the crashing sound of blocks falling down.
Visual / Light
Vision & light is another area where some children seek it out and others need a reprieve from the stimulation. Even children who are overwhelmed by the visual stimulation in busy situations can enjoy a soft and soothing light in a secluded space, like a soft glow in a play tent.
Visual Avoidance Gifts
Visual Seeking Gifts
Lights and visual toys are appealing to many children, but particular ones are especially well-suited to visual-seeking sensory-sensitive children. Lower stimulation options like kaleiscopes and light crystal prisms from BC Playthings provide a calming, soothing focal point of colour, allowing a child to be mesmerized and block out surrounding noise. These options are also portable and handy to have on hand in crowded situations!
Other sensory-friendly light-based toys include Lite Brite, wind-up flashlights and the Tranquil Turtle.
Auditory / Sound
Some children are drawn to sounds and enjoy toys that create music and sounds. And sound can be extremely challenging for other children - the noise level in a room can go from manageable to overwhelming very quickly. Sound is also something that can wear on a child over time even if the level was tolerable at first.
Sound Avoidance Gifts
Gifts for sound-avoiding children can either be silent themselves, such as silks, or gifts that allow a child to block out all or some of the overwhelming sounds around them.
Sound Seeking Gifts
Gifts for children who are drawn to sound can be the more obvious bells, xylophones or even a roll-up drum kit from BC Playthings, but can also be fidget toys that include a sound component or even the snap of a simple measuring tape. A pocket-sized measuring tape available from most hardware stores has a crisp snap that is very appealing without being overwhelming. A measuring tape is also very handy as a distraction activity to pass a lot of time while traveling or waiting in and office..."measure my foot, measure that chair, etc."
BC Playthings is a cozy neighbourhood toy store in beautiful Edgemont Village, North Vancouver! They pride themselves on being a team of courageous "Play Specialists!" and it shows. Their selection of unique, quality toys focused on pretend play and imagination are not to be beat. BC Playthings offers a wide array of quality, wholesome toys, fidgets and educational tools. They are a reliable and popular resource for parents, educators, therapists and medical professionals with many different philosophies and needs. BC Playthings is one of the best local sources for pretend play and imaginative toys! Learn more at www.bcplaythings.com.
Warm Buddy offers a full line of Canadian-made natural hot/cold therapy products from shoulder wraps, warming blankets & eye pillows to slippers, socks & adorable plush animals. They also carry luxurious robes, novelty mitts & essential oils, mists & salts. Something for everyone - especially children & their parents! Founded by former Registered Nurse, Karen McKee, in 1995, Warm Buddy products have been classified as a Class 1 Medical Device and have a solid safety record based on intestive product testing. And they generously give back to the community by donating to various hospitals & non-profit societies. Learn more at www.warmbuddy.com.
Open up your child’s imagination with the Tender Leaf Toys Canada product line that has been promoting learning through natural play for over 30 years. These toys are traditional in concept but contemporary in design, with a unique blend of soft cotton fabric, gentle non-toxic water stain, sustainable rubberwood & high-quality plywood. We love that many of their beautiful wooden toys are particularly well-suited for children with various sensory-processing issues, and that for every tree that becomes a beautiful toy, another is replanted! Learn more at www.tenderleaftoys.ca
Metro Vancouver offers several sensory-friendly Holiday events including Santa visits. See the full list here.
Wondering what to do with the kids in Metro Vancouver this weekend, or what to make for dinner? You can find it at HealthyFamilyLiving.com! From the Sunshine Coast to the Fraser Valley, we’re the best online resource for busy parents looking for practical tips for healthy, active, sustainable living. For the latest on family events, outdoor adventures, birthday parties, camps & classes and kid-approved recipes, follow us on Facebook and sign-up for our parent-approved e-newsletter!