Handicap challenges gift-giver Suggestions: Art supplies, sports paraphernalia and outings are likely to appeal to child with special needs.

Child Life

November 26, 1995|By Beverly Mills

I have a 12-year-old mentally handicapped nephew, and I have exhausted my resources on what to give him for gifts. Does anyone have any ideas?

Janet Schlueter

Silver Lake, Minn.

"My rule is always talk to another kid," says Suzanne Ripley, director of the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities in Washington.

"You can be real honest," says Ms. Ripley, who also is the mother of two mentally disabled boys. "Say he's retarded, so a lot of stuff wouldn't do for him."

One sure bet is clothing that's popular with other boys his age. "He may not have a preference for styles, but he will get a positive reaction from other kids, and that elevates his status," Ms. Ripley says.

Once you get the hang of it, you'll find that shopping for a disabled adolescent is much like buying a gift for any adolescent.

"It's just that the part that's different is overwhelming, so people tend to focus on that," Ms. Ripley says. "Mainly you want to give him a gift that will let him know you love him and thought of him, a gift that will make him feel grown-up and something that won't make him feel stupid or incapable."

Here's our list:

* Art supplies. Readers suggested artist-quality colored pencils, modeling clay, finger paints, stamp pads, hole punchers, markers, poster boards, pipe cleaners, colored glue, jingle bells and the like. One aunt gave her mentally handicapped niece a stack of brightly colored felt squares.

Basic art supplies are good because there's no one right way to use them, says Joanne Oppenheim of New York, whose book "The Best Toys, Books & Videos for Kids" (HarperPerennial, $13, $18 Canada) contains a chapter on children with special needs.

"Art supplies offer children who might have difficulty telling people how they feel a chance to express themselves in #F nonverbal ways," Ms. Oppenheim says.

* Rhythm instruments or keyboards. "I've seen kids do very well with these," says Pam Morris of Miami, Fla.

* Sports paraphernalia. Readers called to suggest everything from trading cards and sports-magazine subscriptions to baseball caps. Anything with a favorite team's logo emblazoned on it is a safe bet.

"You could give him tickets to a sporting event," says Louise Hanaway of Dallas, Texas.

* Time. "It's easy to go buy a gift, but time has a lot of value and meaning to it," says Pat Lawrence of Williamsville, N.Y. Take the child to the zoo, a fair, a park, a farm, a restaurant, the mall or the swimming pool, or on a camping trip, readers suggested.

* A point-and-shoot camera and/or photo album, says Rita Mortara of Santa Rosa, Calif.

* Zoo, museum or club memberships. "Some have programs that cater to the needs of a mentally handicapped child," says Lynn Even Fortin, of Albany, Calif.

* Posters or other bedroom decorations. Robin Langston of Tacoma, Wash., suggests a lava lamp or holiday lights that blink.

* A wallet or other leather item, suggests Sarah Siwula, a special-education teacher in Jamestown, N.Y.

* Boxes that close, like his own briefcase or suitcase or treasure chest, says Beverly Roberts of Baltimore.

* Gift certificates to ice cream stores, movie theaters, bowling alleys, etc.

* Unusual wristwatches and alarm clocks, T-shirts and monogrammed items have all proved successful for Robyn Andrews of Ackworth, Ga., when giving to her mentally handicapped nephew.

* A parakeet. "They are very exciting to watch," says Connie Krueger of Appleton, Wis. Deborah Sturges of Pomona, Calif., suggests pet fish. (Get permission from parents before giving pets.)

* A weather radio. "My retarded nephew carries his around most of the time," says Ginny Johnston of Santa Rosa, Calif.

* Tina Szczepaniak of Tacoma, Wash., suggests labels printed with the child's name. Elizabeth Owens of Raleigh, N.C., suggests a rubber stamp with the child's name.

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