Snap CircuitsIt's that time of year again, when you have to figure out what the heck to buy for the autistic child on your holiday shopping list. Depending where they are on the spectrum, kids with autism may be after the goodies on the hot holiday toy list, but then again, they may not be!

So what are your can't-fail tips for buying them something that will be a hit? The Stir asked moms of some kids on the spectrum for a little help to make your shopping easier this year.

Carol Greenburg knows the holiday shopping struggle all too well. Greenburg is editor of The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism and mom of a 10-year-old with autism. She's also East Coast regional director of the Autism Women's Network, and she is often asked what the perfect gift for an autistic child might be.

"I don't know what the perfect gift for any autistic child is," she says with a laugh. "What's the perfect gift for any neuro-typical child?"

Like shopping for any other kid, you want to get an autistic child something they will enjoy, Greenburg says, not some one-size-fits-all present. The challenge is in balancing the need to provide them with gifts that help them build their skills with gifts that they will really like.

"You need to think about what you want to work on, but also what will be the most fun, the most enticing," she says.

When in doubt, the special needs advocate suggests, play to their interests. "Autistic kids, and autistic people in general, tend to have special interests -- what some people call obsessions. The way to an autistic child's heart, the way to connect with an autistic child is to follow their interests! Don't be afraid that you're giving in to some obsession!"

Remember to consider the child first, Greenburg adds, not what age recommendation is on the toy box, but what the child is actually interested in and developmentally able to do at this moment in time.

Still looking for some great ideas? Greenburg and several other moms of kids on the spectrum gave a few ideas of what has worked with their kids!

Which one of these do you see working for your kids? Any other great ideas? 

Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl and Cup Set; $9.93

Shannon Rosa, who blogs about her family at Squidalicious, tries to ensure that gifts for son Leo, who is 12 and autistic, are about him and what he actually enjoys rather than what other people think he or a child his age should enjoy.

"He adores fidget or stim items, like his current beloved Guyot silcone Squishy Bowl and Cup Set," Rosa explains. "The cup or bowl let him keep his hands busy -- he can twist and turn and stretch and bend them, and carry them everywhere. Plus, the soft silicone is so touchable, everyone who handles them wants a set for themselves!"

Snap Circuits; $58.95

Jean Winegardner, better known in the blogosphere as the mom behind Stimeyland, has a 9-year-old son who was diagnosed with Asperger's just this year. When The Stir asked her for Jack's favorite toy, she said Snap Circuits are a hands-down win.

"They are cool, because they are not too complicated to put together and come with detailed directions," Winegardner explains. "But they teach kids to follow diagrams and they have a big payoff if you put it together right, because lights flash or propellers take off. Jack has even tried to make up some circuits of his own!"

Pin Art Tactile Fidget; $21.99

Leigh Merryday, blogger at Flappiness Is... and mom to 3-year-old autistic son Callum, recommends pin art like this for kids to express their creativity and experience the tactile feedback they crave. Callum is fascinated by this one!

LEGO Builders of Tomorrow Set; $29.99

LEGO is highly popular with a lot of kids on the spectrum -- to the point where there are LEGO clubs specifically for autistic kids. Mom Erin Mast prefers LEGO sets with "no preconcieved plan for building" for her boys on the spectrum because "it encourages creativity and problem solving."

This set includes 650 pieces of various sizes and colors and certainly fits the bill. As the item description states: "The only limit is your imagination!" Let the thinking outside the box begin!

Step-On Piano; $98.95

This step-on piano isn't "just" good for people trying to re-create the famous scene from Tom Hanks' Big. It's also great for little sensory seekers, says mom Leigh Merryday of Flappiness Is...

Gift of an Experience (price varies)

You don't always have to think about buying another toy for the house. Both Greenburg and Shannon Rosa of Squidalicious suggest gifting experiences that are great for kids.

Rosa has even come up with a way to make the experience "unwrappable" for Christmas or Hannukah:

"A custom photo book of a favorite experience, place, trip -- or of his favorite people. You can make books through any number of services, and I recommend the extra-sturdy padded hardcover editions when available. Leo loves revisiting past moments at his own pace, and having all his favorite people in one place -- and he treats his photo books like talismans. If your child is working on reading, you can include captions of appropriate complexity. Don't tell Leo, but this year he's getting a book about going to Disneyland!"

Guess Who? Game; $17.99

Mom Erin Mast has sons who are on the spectrum, and she swears by this board game. "It challenges turn taking and encourages a child to recognize differences in particular people, animals or items," she explains.

Gak; $9.75

Carol Greenburg's son 10-year-old son has limited verbal skills, but he is very tactile. He loves rubber balls with stretchy things that he can pull on or playing with slime. You can buy some, or make your own!