Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Toy-FULL Tuesday: YOU!

Don't forget, it's Brain Awareness Week and we just so happen to be brain aware every week! Check out our Facebook page and Twitter for fascinating brain aware facts all week long!

On Tuesdays we feature great products, equipments, and therapies that have been recommended or tried by our little ones with extra special "powers"... the market is chocked full of the latest and greatest in toys. Coinciding with brain awareness week, I'll be sharing what I believe to be the best toy for boosting the brain development. 

Yes, our kids with hydranencephaly are missing their cerebral cortex. Yes, doctors imply that they will be living in a persistent vegetative state. Yes, those factors should mean that toys are not a part of our kids' developmental play. 

None of that is true. Our  kids make their own rules, remember? And part of that means that they LOVE to play with toys!

Fact is, you can buy all the toys on the planet... lights, sounds, sensory stimulation, or even robotic arms that interact with your child's movements or sounds. The best toy for boosting brain development is (drum roll please.....)

Yes, that's YOU! 

And, while the human brain continues to develop those 100 billion neurons for the first 25 years of life; the very first 5 years are crucial in building pathways for development... even in our kids with hydranencephaly!

Parents oftentimes feel that having technology to stimulate their children is the fast track to success in development... think iPads, television, and smart phone games. While it helps, personal interactions with your child has been proven to be the best. 

"Good old fashioned parent to baby contact is the number one developmental factor for the developing brain." 
~Nina Sazer O'Donnell, director of National Strategies for Success By 6, a United Way of America learning initiative.

Some great ideas for your special needs child are:

~reading with, not just to, using tactile books that your child can feel and see. I made my own with fabric scraps, sandpaper, foil, feathers, and other scraps with texture and a lot of glue!
~infant massage; pair it with a song and they'll learn to associate the experience with the song and anticipate what will happen when they hear it. My personal expertise is with the "Loving Touch" method so feel free to contact me for details on that if you're interested!
~children's yoga, a great resource is "Yoga for the Special Child" by Sonia SumarIt's actually sold out on Amazon, I believe the book is no longer manufactured, so if you're interested in obtaining a copy... let me know and I'll happily shoot it to ya in exchange for a simple gathering of more followers for the blog ;)
~any general play therapy, even crafts, that you are doing with your child using a hand-over-hand technique to engage your child. Sensory tubs are a huge fav of mine.

Toys are great, don't get me wrong... I'm by no means discouraging them! I always advise that your child have the following:

"something to look at, something to hold on to or touch, and something to listen to"

So, to help with the navigation of toy products and advertising ploys, check this out from Bright Tots:

Choosing the right toy for a special needs child can be difficult; parents sometimes need extra help narrowing down a toy. Special needs 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 for children with special needs enhances 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 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 special needs children 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.

Physical Disabilities

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 easy-to-use parts.

Hearing Impaired

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 colors and
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.

Visual Impaired

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 partially
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

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 special needs toys

For children with special needs 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 playthings.

Toys for Children with Special Needs
When selecting a toy for a special needs child 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 stuffed toys and dolls.

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