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Little effort nets special gifts for special kids

November 23, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Whether they're for children with special needs, girlie-girls or artists in the making, you can find awesome gifts for kids by expending the same effort needed to slip five bucks in a greeting card.

The shopping is easy if you know kids' individual tastes. But if you're unsure, the best way to get the scoop?

"Talk to the parents," said Doug Busch, program director of Stepping Stones of ARC of Washington County, a program that primarily serves autistic children.

Busch's advice can be applied to any child.

The gifts don't have to be expensive or elaborate either.

"You can get the biggest box of crayons you can find and some good paper," said Kevin Moriarty, executive director of Washington County Arts Council.

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"As a kid, I was always jealous of the kid who had the box of 64 crayons because I always had the box of 16."

For many, today kicks off gift-buying season. The trade group National Retail Federation estimates that as many as 132.9 million Americans plan to shop this weekend, many of them shopping for tots, tweens and teens.

Got a fickle, girlie-girl on your hands? Try anything colored pink and know that it will probably work. It's still an "it" color among young girls, said Toys "R" Us spokesman Bob Friedland.

The company is peddling its Think Pink Game Collection, which includes pink, girlified versions of Monopoly, Jenga and Twister.

Clothing is another safe bet.

Limited Too, a chain clothing store at Valley Mall that caters to girls, has plenty of pink to boot.

In its holiday press materials, Macy's has been pushing its Hannah Montana collection for girls, riding the wave of popularity behind the Disney Channel show and brand.

What about little boys?

Transformers topped the list of a National Retail Federation survey to determine the most sought-after toys. The survey polled 7,982 consumers between Oct. 31 and Nov. 7. Video games in general and Nintendo's Wii were Nos. 2 and 3 on the wish list for boys (Wii ranked No. 7 on the girl's list, just below Disney's Hannah Montana brand).

Retailers are expecting the Wii to be hard to come by this season due to high demand, but toy cars and remote-controlled vehicles also had places in the survey's top 10, as did LEGOs - toys more abundant throughout the season.

For any child, nurturing a talent is a good way to go.

For young, creative types, this could be as easy as buying a coffee table book of artwork - often on sale at Borders, Moriarty said. Or kids might appreciate a basket chock-full of art supplies, enrollment at an art camp, or a trip to an art gallery or museum.

Young musicians might appreciate concert tickets, he said.

Andrew Kipe, Maryland Symphony Orchestra's executive director, recommended "The Heroic Symphony," a book by Anna Harwell Celenza. The book is about Beethoven's symphony of the same name and comes with a CD.

For those seeking toys for special-needs children, know that "you don't have to get a toy with 'therapeutic' on it," Busch said. "Buy it that way, and the price doubles."

Autistic children, for example, will enjoy toys with sensory appeal. These toys can be found at Target, Wal-Mart and even craft stores. Busch says finger painting kits are appreciated.

"Just check with parents to see what (the children's) sensitivities are," Busch said. "If they don't like 'rough' don't get them corduroy."

The Web has helpful resources for parents seeking gifts for children with autism and other disabilities, Busch said.

Toys "R" Us has an online toy-selection guide for parents and friends with disabilities, www.toysrus.com/differentlyabled. Users can search by category, such as "Auditory" or "Fine Motor" and narrow the search further by age, gender, toy brand and price.

Visitors to the Web site can download a 56-page guide in PDF format.

Busch also recommends www.specialneedstoys.com/usa, a Web site that specializes in toys for children with disabilities. Visitors can purchase toys on the site.

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