How to Pack a Grab-Bag for a Special Needs Kid

Updated on July 26, 2017

What Is a Grab Bag, and Why Do I Need One?

Essentially, grab bags are a ready-packed bag of essentials, such as a hospital bag when you're getting close to your due date or the bag of passports, weapons, and cash a spy has in a movie.

Special Needs grab bags are made under the same premise; you need a bag of particular things, ready to go at a moment's notice for those unexpected events. In it, you place everything that your child may need to help them cope with a trip out, and it's completely unique to the child. Everything from a change of clothes to sensory toy and noise cancelling headphones can go in the bag. They should be placed near the door and are ready to go at the drop of a hat. You can, over time, teach your child to pick up their own grab bag, so that the will be able to have some sort of normality, even if you are having to leave the house quickly, or in an emergency.

Not only are they convenient when life takes an unexpected turn, but they can be used to help encourage independence by giving the child a task to do every time you go out, especially if you're heading out in a rush. It might not seem a lot to the uninitiated, but, for those of us in the thick of things, it can feel like winning an Olympic medal when they start to do something that they have otherwise been unable or unwilling to do, such as go out at short notice.

An example of a sensory toy grab bag
An example of a sensory toy grab bag

4 Items You Will Likely Need in a Grab Bag for Your Special Needs Child

  1. Clothing
  2. Sensory Toys
  3. Emergency Contacts
  4. Books

#1 Clothing

For children who are incontinent, or who have sensory issues, having a spare set of clothes in a grab bag is essential. What you'll likely need:

  • One or two changes of underwear (or nappies/pull ups, if that's what they wear) some wipes,
  • a pair of socks,
  • a skirt or pair of trousers,
  • a top, and
  • a jumper or cardigan can all be placed in the bottom of the bag.

I recommend having them in a plastic carrier bag, too, especially if your child is incontinent, as it is always useful to have a plastic bag to carry dirty clothes in so that you can wash them or dispose of them as you see fit.

#2 Sensory Toys

There is a huge range of sensory toys on the market nowadays, and I'm not going to go into any detail about any of them, as each child has their favourites, and they all have their pros and cons. If you're a special needs parent already, you'll know which ones your child prefers, and you're the best person to judge which ones would be best to go into the grab bag for your child.

The one thing that I will suggest is that, whichever sensory toys you put into the bag, buy them in pairs, so that you have one at home and one just for the bag. If you just take a favourite sensory toy and put it in the bag, then that bag is going to get turned out several times a day so that your child can have access to that toy at home, and that is entirely beside the point.

Don't just stick to sensory toys, though. Anything can be therapeutic if the person who needs its decides it is. A cuddly toy, a Rubix Cube, an etch-a-sketch, or a length or ribbon can all be just a calming for a child with special needs as all of the sensory toys on the market. Choose a few things, regardless of what their actual purpose is, and let them live in the grab bag.

#3 Emergency Contacts

This is especially important if you have a runner. Make sure that you have your contact details somewhere in the child's grab bag, and make them carry it themselves when they're out. That way, if your child gets lost or runs off, they will always have your contact details on them.

If your child has an Awareness/Alert Card, put that in there, too, and let them know that it is okay to give this card to someone like a police officer or shop assistant if they can't find you.

If they have a phone or tablet, enable some free tracking software, and get them to keep it in the grab bag when they're not using it or charging it. All of these things may seem a bit over the top, but, if you're the parent of a runner, you'll know how important it is to ensure that you have ways of finding them whenever they run off.

#4 Books

Books. There are so many types of books that Special Needs kids find enjoyable:

  • Reading books,
  • non-fiction books,
  • colouring in books,
  • puzzle books,
  • activity books,
  • magazines,
  • comic books...
  • the list goes on.

Having a bag that is heavy and full of books is not going to encourage your child to pick it up and take it with them wherever they go, so bear this in mind and only pack one or two smaller books, and a small pencilcase.

Try to pack a favourite book, or one that they are happy to read/do on their own. Part of the grab bag principle is to encourage a little bit if independance and self-sufficiency when out, and so, as much as you might like to see your child sat there with Homer's Illiad or Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, if they're happier with a Paw Patrol magazine, then put that in there. You won't be doing yourself or them any favours if you push them to have things they don't like in the bag.

Take a grab bag whenever you go out; you never know when you'll need it
Take a grab bag whenever you go out; you never know when you'll need it

What do you find most helpful when out and about with your child?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • The Small Stuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Orpwood 

      2 years ago from Oxfordshire

      Thanks, Denise! It's possible to put together a bag for any age, even adults, it just depends what they find calming and helps them to regulate. A toddlers bag would have sturdier items, for example, while a teen or adult may find a book, a phone, and a pocket-sized fidget enough.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      When our daughter with special needs was young, it would have been nice to have something like this! I am glad that you are getting the word out!


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