Appropriateness of Toys for Children with Special Needs

Children with disabilities or developmental delays have to deal with various difficulties and challenges in their play because of physical restrictions or intellectual limitations. It becomes difficult to choose appropriate toys for children with special needs as their toys depend on age instead of development skill level.

For instance, these children play with objects non-functionally (tapping the toy phone on the ground instead of using the phone for talking purpose) or repetitively (like stacking blocks in the same order again and again, however, not constructing anything). Moreover, typical behavior among children with special needs disrupts social interactions themselves instead of playing with toys. The differences in developmental capacities are exhibited in various domains, and, as a result, it limits the ability of the children with disabilities to learn and develop with their toys from peer play opportunities.

Toy ideas for children with special needs

Adaptations of toys accommodating a visual, motor, or any other disability are important for children with disabilities. This can be achieved by integrating multisensory feedback with easy access, such as sound and light. For example:

  • Adding a foam piece around a marker makes the art utensil easier to hold for a child who faces difficulty to grasp utensil
  • Using a larger push button that will help in activating the toy for the child who finds it difficult to manipulate a small switch
  • Including Velcro strips to help the child to hold any toy

Toys are used as a mode of incentive in accordance with physical therapy and early intervention services. For instance, toys are used by therapists for stimulating the use of the “non-dominant hand” by placing the toy on the specific side of the body. Additionally, using a toy as a “reward” will help in eliciting verbalizations in a child that may have a language disability.

Choose toys that promote child development

American Academy of Pediatrics report highlights the five important areas that need to be considered by caregivers as they will help in making the decision of selecting appropriate toys for young children. These factors include –

Social-emotional skills – make sure to choose toys that will help in developing the social skills of the children through social interaction like games that require sharing or taking turns. These types of toys promote interaction with real human beings as compared to Artificial Intelligence toys.

Literacy skills –always select those toys that promote concept-learning and language skills like traditional board games, books, and toy letter blocks.

Math, science, and spatial skills – playing puzzle games are an ideal way to address these skills. These games support cognitive development, language, and fine motor skills predicting both early mathematics and spatial skills.

Creative and imaginative play – free play like toy characters including stuffed toys, paper dolls, etc. help children to learn the use of words by describing real-life feelings and events that allows them to learn how to deal with such situations.

Electronic media exposure – caregivers must consider the guidelines recommending media exposure for children.

  • Children under 2 years have limited exposure like video chatting with the family
  • Children in between 2 – 2.5 years must not be allowed to use electronic gadgets more than 1 hour

AAP recommends that caregivers and parents –

  • Understand that educational toys are those that promote interactions between children and caregivers in unconditional, supportive play
  • Recognize that the major purpose of toys, particularly in infancy, is to facilitate supportive, warm interactions and relationships instead of educational purpose
  • Select toys that encourage children to use their imaginations
  • Use books of the children for developing ideas to pretend together when playing with toys
  • Be aware of the toys that promote gender or race-based stereotypes
  • Remember to include toys that encourage the child to be physically and mentally active

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
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