Finding the right gift for a child with learning problems can be a challenge. It can also be an opportunity to build a child’s self-esteem and provide her with hours of fun.

One key to selecting presents is to think about the whole child — her struggles, skills, strengths, and interests. Another key is learning what toys, books, software, and other gift items are available.

How can you match the gift to the child? Consider the following tips, and you’re bound to find a gift that’s engaging, rewarding, and fun.

The value of play

Play and the pursuit of hobbies can help a child:

  • build on her skills and talents
  • learn new information
  • reinforce new skills
  • use her imagination and express herself creatively
  • explore special interests and the world around her
  • find structure for social interactions
  • boost her overall health and well-being

Method of learning

Every child has a preferred method of learning — visual, spatial, physical, auditory, musical. Kids are naturally drawn to toys, hobbies, and games that use their strengths.

Consider a child’s favorite method of learning when choosing a gift. Terrell, age 6, learns math best by using blocks and other objects to count and group. Because he’s a spatial learner, he might enjoy playing checkers or building with Lego blocks.

Learning difficulties

Giving gifts that help kids address their learning difficulties is a great idea. Just be sure the toy or other item:

  • Is geared to current skill level. For a child with poor hand-eye coordination, trying to assemble a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and failing might only deflate her self-esteem. She’ll succeed if you start with a simple puzzle and offer more difficult puzzles as she experiences mastery and self-motivation.
  • Uses strengths to improve areas of weakness. Consider 7-year-old Amy, who struggles with phonics skills but is a whiz at playing hand-held electronic games. A great gift for her might be a self-checking, electronic phonics game that rewards each correct answer with sound and flashing lights.
  • Plays to interests while addressing needs. Maria is a fourth-grader who struggles with reading but is fascinated by maps and geography. An electronic “talking” globe would help her read the names of countries and landmarks. Better yet, talking globes often tell kids interesting facts about different regions of the world, satisfying their desire to learn.

Finally, look for toys, games, or software that let a child adjust the speed, sound, and difficulty levels to her own comfort level. As with any child, you’ll want to choose items appropriate for her age group.

Social preferences

Some kids with learning problems also struggle with social interactions. How can you find a gift to match their preferences and interests?

  • Steven likes to spend his free time playing alone. Because he enjoys the computer, he might appreciate an interactive software program that engages him and gives him a break from other kids.
  • On weekends Alison likes to relax and watch movies with a trusted friend. She’d probably appreciate a gift certificate to the local video store or Netflix.
  • Martin is outgoing and competitive but needs to learn how to be a better team player. For him, a noncompetitive board game might be a better choice than a winner-takes-all game.

Gifts that keep on giving

Your thoughtfulness in selecting a gift for a child with learning difficulties will enrich her life now and in the future. In the short term, your gift will provide her with hours of fun and a sense of success. And the self-confidence she experiences today is something she can carry into the future.