|Choosing the Right Toy for Children with Special Needs
Choosing the right toy for any child can be difficult; parents sometimes need extra help narrowing down a
toy for a child with a disability. These children have the same basic needs as other typical children. They are
curious about their world. A special needs child may require extra support based on their individual needs,
but should not be treated as if they are different. However, selecting a toy for any child begins with two
steps: first, learning what the child is interested in, and second, assessing his or her skill level. Choose a toy
that is age appropriate and will inspire the child’s interest, creativity and exploration.
Special needs children should be given toys in which they are capable of achievement. They want to learn;
and enjoy activities such as going to the park, picture books, toys, and games. These children need to
experience success and learn how to deal with failures. Helping a child experience success through play has
a significant influence on brain development. In fact, researchers have found a direct link between brain
function and the rising stress level caused by a losing during play and other activities. Toys that are
appropriate to a child's developmental stage and abilities help assure repeated successes, building brain
function as well as self-esteem.
Educational toys enhance a child's skills in sensory, motor, and cognitive development. All special needs
children can benefit greatly from toys for their therapeutic, educational, and entertainment values. Toys for
special needs children should be action-oriented, attracting the child to center their attention on it.
Special Needs Children and Play
For a typical child playing comes natural but for children with special needs, play is often not self-initiated.
They need demonstration and encouragement, and some children may have trouble choosing one toy from
numerous. Children with cognitive problems do not have the same plan of action that typically developing
children do, so organizing themselves and their activities is more difficult.
When teaching a child with special needs how to play, one must not cross the fine line between
demonstrating and dominating the play. Adults provide the environment and the tools, but only the child can
match the play to his/her skills and interests. Too much adult interaction, particularly when the adult's idea
of the desired outcome of that play is pressured on the child, it causes stress levels to rise. Likewise,
independent play can relieve anxiety and stress. So even if adults have a specific result in mind for each toy,
such as fitting a small cup into a larger one, that should not be the sole purpose of success in playing with
that toy. Play should focus on the process instead of the results. The joy of play has to be the exploration
for special needs children.
Children with special needs include children of all abilities, cultures, races, and backgrounds. Like all
children, they have individual interests, likes, and dislikes. Some children with special needs have physical
disabilities, speech or other developmental delays, or difficulty interacting with other children or adults. The
disability may be mild to moderate to severe in range. Whatever the range, children with disabilities are more
like other children than they are different; as they play, make friends, feel happy or sad.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Children with autism often have a few unusual heightened skills, such as solving jigsaws, artistic drawings,
incredible block builders, and computer wizards. Toys for children with autism should stimulate all the
senses. Autistic children enjoy listening to music which offers auditory stimulation and picture books
enhance visual thinking. Tactile toys expose children to a wide variety of textures. These include sand and
water tables, squish balls, Play-doh, and finger paints. For the development of gross motor skills children
should play with bouncing balls, pounding toys, riding toys, and swings. Toys for fine motor improvement
include puzzles, stacking toys, shape sorters, and lacing beads.
Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Children with sensory integration dysfunction experience problems with skills such as tying shoe laces or
riding a bike can be difficult as they involve sequences of movements. Activities to help in these areas may
include swimming, construction toys and building blocks. Hand and eye coordination can be improved with
activities such as hitting a ball with a bat, popping bubbles, and throwing and catching balls, beanbags and
balloons. Difficulty with using both sides of the body together can occur in some cases of sensory
integration dysfunction. These children may benefit from hopscotch, skipping, playing musical instruments,
playing catch and bouncing balls.
It's important for children with disabilities to frequently play, because physical disabilities can have a major
impact on the motor systems of an infant or toddler, limiting a child's ability to reach, sit, stand, or even
move at all. When toy shopping for a child with a physical disability, make sure the product is simple to use
and provides a clear cause-effect relationship that the child can see. It should have large buttons or other
Depending on whether they are totally deaf or hard of hearing, children with hearing impairments must be
challenged to absorb environmental information to fully enjoy their toys. So in picking toys for these
children, make sure the volume can be amplified if it's a product with a voice or generates noise. Both bright
lights increase sight and other sensory stimulation. Textured toys are great for children with hearing loss
because the feel of the toy can heighten their appreciation.
Children with visual impairments enjoy toys that are simple to operate, produce familiar sounds, and have
large, raised parts or other tactile textures and shapes. Also great: toys that give off distinctive scents or
provide auditory directions, vibrations, and noises. Bright, bold colors are important for children who are
sighted. Visually impaired children enjoy playing cards with large numbers and letters.
Speech and Language Delays
Children with speech and language delays enjoy playing simple games such as itsy-bitsy-spider, peek-a-boo
and patty-cake. Read books appropriate to the child’s age and interests out loud. Sing to the child and
provide him/her with music. Learning new songs helps children learn new words, and use memory skills,
listening skills, and expression of ideas with words. Blowing bubbles can develop oral muscles, and toy
telephones and pretend play encourage talking. Play with your child one-on-one, and talk about the toys and
games while you are playing.
Mentally challenged children often enjoy activities involving sorting, counting, identifying, and planning. So
toys that challenge them to engage and think are ideal. Some toys to consider for cognitively challenged
children are clay and Play Dough, bubbles (to improve a child's visual pathway), finger-painting supplies,
jumping games, ball games, cards, and play-fishing games.
When buying toys
Choose toys with care. Keep in mind the child’s age, interests and skill level. Look for quality design and
construction in all toys for all ages. Make sure that all directions or instructions are clear—to you and, when
appropriate, to the child. Plastic wrappings on toys should be discarded before they become dangerous
Be a label reader
Look for and regard age recommendations, such as “Not recommended for children under three.” Look for
other safety labels including: “Flame resistant” on fabric products and “Washable/hygienic materials” on