A Monopoly set may exasperate a child who can't pore over the instructions, and even Leggos could frustrate some who can't sit still, says Stephanie Oppenheim, the co-founder of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, which gives out awards to toys and books.
"The big advice I always give people is 'play to the strengths of your child,'" she says. "You build up their sense of confidence in terms of what they can do."
Here are 13 tips to guide you in choosing a present for that special child in your life who has ADHD.
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Keep it simple
Play-Doh, in all its infinite varieties, is a great bet for younger kids.
But rather than choosing one of the fun, but rather complicated, playsets, try something a little simpler to handle (and less expensive), like the Fun Factory Gift set ($10; amazon.com).
You could even put together some cookie cutters, a rolling pin, and other sculpting tools yourself.
This way a child can make his own creations and experiment with crazy colors and shapes, without getting frustrated when things don't exactly fit the mold.
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You could try a Crazy Aaron's Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kit ($20; amazon.com) which lets kids create their own type of putty and name it. Once the putty is made they can knead, stretch, and shape it, and it will stay pliable when stored in a container.
The Pin Art Sculpture ($14; amazon.com) is a tray of plastic pins that kids push to create colorful sculptures, and makes a fantastic gift, says Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt, PsyD, an ADHD specialist in the Los Angeles area.
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Some ADHD experts say toys that allow kids to channel their "fidget energy" help them to focus better.
Popular "fidget toys" include Tangle Therapy ($9; amazon.com) a flexible loop of links a child can twist and turn (just one of several from Tangle Creations). Or the ever popular Fidget Spinner ($4; amazon.com).
Frick Frack Fidgets ($9; amazon.com) are great at relieving stress and anxiety in kids are good because they don't make noise and can fit in their pocket making it a good option for the classroom.
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Games with quick rounds are best for children with ADHD, Oppenheim says. The Toy Portfolio recommends Zingo ($20; amazon.com) which is like Bingo, but with pictures, and Hisss ($11; amazon.com) where players compete to put together snakes from head to tail by matching colors. Each game takes about 15 minutes from start to finish.
There are all sorts of ways to play with cards—and they're portable. In EeBoo's Storefront Bingo ($17; amazon.com), kids match up picture cards with their storefront, and Apples to Apples ($22; amazon.com)is a fast-moving and hilarious game of word matching.
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Some simple, old-fashioned games can make great gifts for slightly older children who have ADHD. Checkers, Connect 4 ($8; amazon.com) and Sorry! ($9; amazon.com) are all great gifts.
Leavitt says that Chutes and Ladders ($15; amazon.com) and Candy Land ($13; amazon.com) are games that children of all ages can enjoy.
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Games that get your whole body involved are also great fun for children with ADHD, and they're fun for grown-ups to play tooor at least to watch.
In Sturdy Birdy ($19.99), players try to copy Reggie the Pigeon's high-wire balancing poses (he's trying to get a job with the circus). The winner is the first to master all 12.
And there's also good old Twister ($16.99)just make sure your gift recipient-to-be has learned how to tell left from right.
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Many children love puzzles, but when choosing one for a child with ADHD, it's not always helpful to go by the age recommendations on the box. "[They] can lead to disaster since a child with ADHD often does not have the ability to stay with the task of putting together a puzzle with lots of pieces," says Oppenheim.
Better to pick puzzles that will be fun for children even if they play with fewer pieces. Choo-choo fans 3 and older will love Ravensburger's Thomas the Tank Engine 24-piece shaped floor puzzle ($14.99), Oppenheimer says. "It's very satisfying because it's very big."
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Building toys are a possibility as long as they're simple and open-ended, with play guided by a child's imagination rather than a model to copy.
Wooden blocks are always a great bet. The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio recommends Guidecraft's Interlox ($16.00), square pieces of colorful plastic that slot together to make all sorts of interesting structures.
Valtech's Magna-Tiles ($49.50 for a 32-piece set) are another fun choice; these building tiles come in triangle and square shapes and link together via magnets along their edges. There's no end to the cool stuff older kids can make with them, and even 3-year-olds will enjoy making patterns with them on the floor.
Backyard Safari sells several toys for young adventurers, like the Extreme Suction Bug Vacuum ($19.99). Kids 5 and up can suction up insects into a magnified chamber to get a closer lookwithout hurting them.
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On the move
Toys that encourage children with ADHD to head outdoors and burn off some of their energy are always welcome.
Stay away from toys that require extra coordination or hours of practice, like a Pogo stick.
Instead, Ball Hoppers ($10.99 to $19.99), which are similar to a yoga balance ball and on which kids sit on and bounce, are a great way for children to "jump off that extra energy," says Leavitt.
Scooters, which come in three- and two-wheeler models, are fun for almost all ages ($24.99 to $199.99; Amazon.com). Bilibo ($25.20; Amazon.com) is a plastic shell-shaped toy that can be used as a kid-size seat, spinner, sand toy, and more.
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Fantasy and pretend games are key for children's emotional, social, and intellectual development, and may be especially important for kids with ADHD. "They give them a safe outlet for expressing some of the issues that they may be working on at home or at school," says Oppenheim.
The possibilities are vast. You can choose from deluxe animal and people puppets, like Folkmanis Puppets' Snowy Owl ($25.99). The owl has a head that turns 360°, just like a real owl! Melissa & Doug's Firefighter Puppet is a good choice. Other characters are available, including a doctor, chef, and princess ($16.99 and $19.99).
Costumes and dress-up gear of all kinds, from homemade superhero capes to old prom dresses, will offer hours of fun.
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Art supplies and projects can be a good choice as long as they're more about the process than the final product.
Pay close attention to the age recommendations on arts and crafts-related gifts. A 6-year-old jewelry lover may not be able to handle a complicated kit, like Klutz's new Charm Chains ($19.99), which is appropriate for kids 10 and up. But she might love a simpler bead-stringing set, like the Bead Bazaar's Beads Kits ($19.11 to $23.91), which are recommended for ages 3 and up.
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The colorful and intricate designs in the Coloring Mandalas books ($12.89) are a "must" for kids with ADHD, Leavitt says. "Children do not even realize they are using their concentration skills [and] a child will be drawn to the Mandala to chill out after a particularly frustrating day."