Since I work for an early intervention program, I have the luxury of going into the family's natural environment whether it be the home, daycare, relative's home, or the community. The community settings could be anywhere the family naturally goes and where "typically developing infants and toddlers" would go. This could be the library, park, restaurant, or store. I may go into these public places to help figure out some strategies to make the routine more functional for the child and family. So, if the child is scared of the playground at McDonald's, but the family goes there on a weekly basis, then I can justify doing a therapy session at that setting. An occupational therapy visit in the grocery store may be to figure out ways to help the child balance in the front section of the cart. The list goes on and on of ways that I can help the family in the community.
The biggest way I can help this time of year, is to go holiday (AKA Christmas) shopping with the family. Maybe I am going with the child and family because of typical therapy reasons such as helping reduce sensory stimulation, transitions, following directions, balance, etc, etc, etc. But I can also use my expertise and background in "activity analysis" to help the parents pick out appropriate toys for the child. When a child has a developmental delay or medical diagnosis, it is not always so simple to pick out toys. My experience is that families tend to purchase toys that are too easy for the child as opposed to challenging the child.
Toy ideas for a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) might be geared toward improving social-emotional, sensory processing, cognition, or language skills. For example, a doll and stroller set or textured formboard puzzles. In comparison, toy ideas for a child who has suffered a stroke (AKA hemiparesis or hemiplegia) might be the ones that encourage both sides of the body to work together such as a ball, t-ball stand, golf set, wagon, tricycle, and Mr. Potato Head (R).
If your child is too old for the local early intervention program because of being over the age of 3 years or if he receives therapy services privately, then see what kind of deal you can make with the professional seeing him. Maybe since insurance wouldn't pay for a shopping trip, you could pay privately. If this is not an option, then maybe the last 20 minutes of the therapy session could be used for the parent and therapist to go to websites for the stores they will shop at (e.g. Target (R), Toys R US (R), Wal-mart, or Amazon (R)), and discuss toy ideas and why they would be good for that child. If that is not an option either, then maybe call the therapist a few days in advance of the therapy session and ask her for a list of toys that would be good for your child to have; not just a generic list of toys, but one that is indivualized to your child.
Don't be afraid to ask! This is my favorite time of year for more than one reason, but one of those reasons is shopping with my clients and their families!