It’s that time of year again. Holiday shopping is underway. If you have friends or family members on your holiday gift list who have special needs, how do you go about choosing the right gift? This year, it could be fun to look at your gift giving in a new light.

What gift do you get for someone with special needs?

While it might be natural to reach for that rack of colorful sweaters, or the wildly decorated pair of socks, why not think about gifts that encourage creativity and connectivity?

Board games with easy instructions are fun in group settings and puzzles can be enjoyed solo or with someone else. Many of today’s puzzles go beyond the flat pieces of colored cardboard. The simple act of putting a puzzle together gives a feeling of accomplishment and imagine the fun challenges the digital puzzles present. They promote interactive learning and some even provide experiences that are multi-sensory, with sound effects and music.

Modeling clay provides a wonderful opportunity for your special someone to explore their creativity and mold everything from fanciful creatures to earrings, beads or candle holders. A paint set can prove just as inspirational. Experimenting with colors and textures can open a world of exploration.

If you are shopping for someone who struggles with sensory input, there are a number of gifts to choose from. The first that comes to mind is a weighted blanket. They even feature vibrating pillows. Noise cancelling headphones are a great option for those very sensitive to sound. Consider headphones that offer comfort of fit, battery and plugin options, and their Bluetooth capacity. Be sure to avoid a model that would be hard to manipulate for anyone with dexterity issues. Sensory chairs score high on the holiday gift giving list, too. A Guide to Sensory Chairs explains it this way:

They may wobble or rock, spin, and/or provide compression or the feeling of being hugged. Each of these sensations can fulfill our natural human needs for movement and fidgeting, which can be magnified in people with sensory processing conditions such as autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and more.

Are you a DIYer?

Let’s not forget the range of Do-It-Yourself craft projects that could provide wonderful opportunities to be creative. Stephen’s Place details 16 craft projects designed for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Check it out if you love hands on experiences in creativity. You could multiply the experience by creating a project together. Making simple crafts can help with a number of skills building tasks and they encourage interaction.

The Bay Area also offers a number of places where you can buy gifts made by individuals with disabilities. Seeing the arts and crafts created by someone else often serves as an inspiration for others. They also make great gifts that add beauty and color to anyone’s home.

What do you give someone who is homebound?

The list here could get pretty long. If they enjoy reading, you could give them a book, or a subscription to audio books, or help them with a library subscription (if they don’t already have one). If they enjoy movies, or music there are many streaming services to choose from.

A home delivery subscription can be a lovely weekly or monthly reminder that a gift can give all year long. Whether you arrange for 12 months of fruits, 6 months of flower arrangements, 3 months of gourmet meals, or a chocolate of the month treat, the choice is yours.

Comfortable clothing for lounging is another idea. Also think about things like a lap desk that can be used in bed or in wheelchair. Even better for someone who spends a great deal of time in bed would be an over-the-bed table, on wheels.

If you’ve ever had trouble getting comfortable when trying to get a good night’s sleep, you’ll appreciate this next idea. There are more than twenty choices of pillows designed to provide the right support to relieve pressure on various body parts. This can be especially important for anyone spending most of their time in bed or sitting in a chair. This gift will take a bit more research and conferring closely with the giftee would be a wise idea.

A meaningful gift you can’t wrap in a box, could be a gift of your time. Isolation and loneliness often mark the lives of people living with a chronic disability that keeps them at home. Spending time talking and even sharing a meal, can mean more than the gifts money can buy.

What do you get someone struggling?

Ever since the isolation of the pandemic, we’ve been reminded of the need to continue connecting with other people. That is easier for some of us, than for others. If you know someone who is struggling with their disability, the kindest gift you can give them is the gift of connection. That can actually take many forms.

Does the individual have access to the internet and the ability to use a cell phone or tablet to contact other people? There are organizations that help older adults and those with disabilities gain digital equity. They will provide an individual with a device and the training in how to use it at no cost. If internet access is needed, their trainers will find out who is providing an internet connection in their area and will get them hooked up, all at no cost to the disabled individual. Vivalon, an organization in San Rafael, is offering this program in 2023.

If someone is struggling mentally and emotionally, providing options for that individual can be the kindest gift. Making sure they connect with the right nonprofit and government social services and mental health care can be vital. Helping them find the resources they need can enrich their lives throughout the year.

 What to give someone who uses a wheelchair for mobility?

The rain is a good reminder that a regular raincoat won’t work very well for someone using a wheelchair. Luckily, there is a whole line of clothing designed for people who use wheelchairs. You can choose from ponchos, special pants, lap robes and roomy tops.

Accessories are a good gift idea, too. Sidesaddle storage, arm rests with storage space and bags, designed to be used on the back of the chair for extra storage space, top the list.

Gift Giving Made Easy

Of course, we’d love to see you visit Helpers Artisan Boutique, 1947 Union Street, in San Francisco. We feature handcrafted items for unusual and thoughtful gift giving, crafted by talented individuals with developmental disabilities. In fact, you could do a fair share of your holiday shopping for your entire family.

Gingerbread man plates, woven napkins and pottery.

All items featured at our Artisan Boutique and our online store are either made by, designed by or produced by individuals with development disabilities. We work hard sustaining ongoing partnerships and developing new relationships with other nonprofits, to ensure the widest reach for these amazing, often one-of-a-kind treasures.

interior of Artisan Boutique

This Fall, we’ve seen increased activity at the Boutique, as we’ve been hosting special Artist in Residence days, in partnership with the ARC SF, the Pomeroy Center, Cedars of Marin Artist Within and individual artists. In addition, Helpers was invited to share the bounty of items featured in the Artisan Boutique at several Bay Area Arts and Crafts Fairs. We were also honored to be invited to participate in the Textile Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, in November. Please check out the News section of this website to discover upcoming events.

Another very special aspect of our Artisan Boutique is our employees. They are individuals with developmental disabilities who are preparing for retail careers. Our store offers our eager trainees a wonderfully vibrant shopping location to learn customer service and retail operations. Helpers partners with the ARC of San Francisco and the Pomeroy Recreation and Rehabilitation Center to deliver the workforce development and employment program.

Whatever your gift giving needs, we hope our ideas prove to be inspirational.

 Happy Holidays!