Selecting a toy for a child who has a disability? Here are the questions the play experts at the National Lekotek Center ask when choosing developmentally appropriate toys for kids with special needs. Use these questions to guide you in making the right match between the child for whom you're buying and the toys in the Toys"R"Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids.
1. MULTI-SENSORY APPEAL (my all-time, numero uno rule for all times: give your child something to feel, something to see, and something to hear!)
Does the toy respond with lights, sounds or movement to engage the child? Are there contrasting colors? Does it have a scent? Is there texture?
2. METHOD OF ACTIVATION (each child has their own strengths and weaknesses; some having more purposeful movement in their hands, others in their legs, and even others with their heads; play to those strengths and teach them through immediate reward in response to that action to continue their purposeful movements!)
Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration? What is the force required to activate? What are the number and complexity of steps required to activate?
3. PLACES THE TOY WILL BE USED (this is especially true for higher-dollar items; think, "how many different uses will this toy have?")
Will the toy be easy to store? Is there space in the home? Can the toy be used in a variety of positions such
as side-lying or on a wheelchair tray?
4. OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUCCESS (think out of the box when selecting toys! One of our favorites, for example, are "space blankets" which are generally found in first aid kits and used mostly during camping trips and rescue missions: yet, there is no right or wrong way to utilize this and it's become a huge hit)
Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way? Is it adaptable to the child's individual style, ability and pace?
5. CURRENT POPULARITY (a great option is to learn how to turn "regular" toys in to switch activated toys; this helps recognition of familiar toys from favorite tv shows and you'll be impressed with how much your child shows preference of their likes and dislikes!)
Is it a toy that will help the child with special needs feel like "any other kid?" Does it tie in with other activities, like books and art sets, that promote other forms of play?
6. SELF-EXPRESSION (don't be afraid of messy toys! Making messes also makes memories, which also equals a fun learning opportunity for your child!)
Does the toy allow for creativity, uniqueness and making choices? Will it give the child experience with a variety of media?
7. ADJUSTABILITY (be sure the toy will be easy to see, hear, and interact with; as well as tolerable, as in not startling or obnoxiously annoying to the rest of the household!)
Does it have adjustable height, sound volume, speed and level of difficulty?
8. CHILD'S INDIVIDUAL ABILITIES (while a stuffed animal is an easy option for a child with hydranencephaly that seems "difficult" to shop for, it doesn't offer much challenge to their abilities; don't be afraid to ask what things the child CAN play with and remember, again, to think outside of the box for things that otherwise may not be considered "toys": window clings, sensory boxes full of beans, pom poms, rope lights, etc)
Does the toy provide activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages? Does it reflect the child's interests and age?
9. SAFETY AND DURABILITY (above all else, consider safety; children with hydranencephaly often continue to bring items to their mouths for exploration or display movements that are uncontrolled at times... be on the lookout for challenges that could injure the child or be a choking hazard, as well as looking at the washability factor!)
Does the toy fit with the child's size and strength? Does it have moisture resistance? Are the toy and its parts sized appropriately? Can it be washed and cleaned?
10. POTENTIAL FOR INTERACTION (ask yourself if the child will actually benefit from the item, or if it is just for "looks" or will not be interesting to others to play with along with the child... the best gifts are oftentimes the least expensive items that turn in to fun for everyone!)
Will the child be an active participant during use? Will the toy encourage social engagement with others?
The toys featured in the Toys"R"Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids have been selected and evaluated by the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making play accessible for children with disabilities. For assistance in selecting toys or play activities for a child who has disabilities, please visit the Lekotek website at www.lekotek.org.