BY DANIELLE SWEENEY
All children love to play with toys, and children with disabilities are certainly no exception. Toy manufacturers and marketers have realized that kids with disabilities play as much as their non-disabled peers and are focusing attention on this “new” segment of the children’s market.
As a result, more and more adapted or adaptable toys have become available in the mainstream marketplace and their cost has gone down considerably. Today, children who use wheelchairs or hearing aids can have dolls that look just like them for about the same price as, say, an American Girls collectible doll. Mainstream toy stores, like Toys “R” Us have even developed special needs shopping guides to help consumers make wise choices. Buying a gift for a youngster with special needs is easier than ever. You just need to know where to look and what kinds of toys to look for.
Buying a Holiday Gift for That Special Someone
Before you set out to buy a gift for a child with a disability in your life, you should ask the child’s mom or dad for suggestions. You may not necessarily need to buy a “special needs” toy at all. So many kids, disabled and non-disabled alike, love simple toys like bubbles or blocks, or puzzles and cutouts, and mom or dad may have some ideas for you based on the toys the child has or already enjoys.
Here are some other factors to keep in mind, from the Lekotek Center, a national organization that specializes in adapted toys and play.
From “Lekotek’s Top Ten Tips for Buying Toys for Children with Disabilities”
1.Multi-sensory Appeal: Does the toy respond with lights, sounds, or movement? Are there contrasting colors? Does it have a scent? A texture?
2.Method of Activation: Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration? What is the force required to activate?
3.Adjustability: Does it have an adjustable height, sound volume, speed, level of difficulty?
4.Opportunities for Success: Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way? Is it adaptable to a child’s individual style, ability, and pace?
5.Child’s Individual Characteristics: Does the toy provide activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages? Does it reflect the child’s interest?
6.Self-expression: Does the toy allow for creativity, uniqueness, and choice-making? Will it give the child experience with a variety of media?
7.Potential for Interaction: Will the child be an active participant during use? Will the toy encourage engagement with others?
8.Safety and Durability: Consider the child’s size and strength in relation to the toy’s durability. Can it be washed and cleaned?
9.Where will the toy be used? Will it be easy to store? To use on a wheelchair tray?
10.Current Popularity: Is it a toy most any child would like? Does it tie-in with popular books, T.V. programs, movies, etc?
“Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids” available free at Toys “R” Us Stores.
“National Lekotek Center” has a toy resource hotline, (800) 366-PLAY) for parents to request information on appropriate toys for children with special needs. Lekotek centers offer in-person consultations to families of children with unique play/recreation needs.
Dolls with Disabilities People of Every Stripe — Numerous dolls with special needs are available including dolls with Down syndrome, dolls with wheelchairs, g-tubes, colostomy bags, prosthetic limbs, and walkers. Call (503) 282-0612 for a catalog.
Dolly Downs — Each pig-tailed, stuffed doll with slanting eyes comes with a small book in her dolly backpack that tells the child she’s not alone in looking different. For information, call (800) 682-3714.
Share A Smile Becky — Barbie’s 11 -1/2-inch fashion doll friend who uses a wheelchair. Becky is available at local toy stores.
Different Roads to Learning – Toys designed to develop a range of cognitive skills (800) 853-1057.
Childcraft – Toys for children of all ability levels (800) 631-5657.
Therapro – A large therapeutic activities section lists toys and activities that stimulate oral and motor skills. Call (800) 257-5376 for a catalog.
Dragonfly Toy Company – Many toys, games, educational products, and even recreational products, like bicycles. Call (800) 308-2208 for a catalog, or visit them on the web at http://www.dragonflytoys.com.