The Christmas Holiday season is the most joyous time of the year worldwide. It is an altruistic time of giving.
Trans the globe, people are giving gifts to friends and family. For more than a decade, during this time of the year, people have contacted me and asked, “Will you tell me where I can find gifts for my disabled child?” I always answer with an enthusiastic yes. Parents and other family members want to ensure that the child with a disability is included in the holiday spirit of giving and receiving.
There are more than 6.2 million children with disabilities in the United States, roughly 13 percent of the total child population. These children should be given the opportunity to enjoy the holidays as much as children without disabilities.
Just recently, Samantha Childs said to me, “Can you recommend a building toy for my 15-year-old brother who has limited usage of his hand and poor vision?”
Instinctively children naturally play. The development of cognitive, physical, sensory, social and emotional skills prepares the child to engage in elaborate imaginative, and original renditions of what they experience, wonder about, and wish. Play teaches children to take another's perspective; to “step into someone else's shoes”, and to use language to relate socially to others.
For example sensory toys “do something” as a result of a child's action with the toy. They provide feedback (sound, light, movement, vibration, texture and pressure) that help children with autism sustain their attention, calm themselves more quickly and decrease hyperactivity. Materials that offer an opportunity to jump, move, spin, feel, push, squeeze, pull, watch and listen can be stimulating and arousing to an otherwise unengaged child. Other children with special needs find them soothing and calming. Sensory toys retain their utility as play skills develop. With the emergence of original creative ideas, trampolines become ships in a storm, play dough becomes food, and a tub of sand becomes an ocean teaming with sea creatures!
Toys that build upon themselves offer the child an opportunity to build upon their ideas and solve problems. Initially basic and simple, each addition is built upon what has come before. They learn about concepts such as balance and spatial relationships as their piles grow higher.
The task of finding the right toy that not only is age appropriate but will also accommodate the needs of a child with a disability, falls in the hands of parents and family members who want nothing more than to please their child. However, their toy-shopping experience is different than other parents or family members whose children do not have special needs. There are thousands of toys from which to choose, but finding just the right toy to match the varying abilities of each child with special needs is challenging.
Enter Ableplay, a toy rating system and web site that provides comprehensive information on toys for children with special needs so parents can make the best choices for the children with disabilities. Developed by the National Lekotek Center, AblePlay provides parents access to the most useful, product-specific information about toys for children with disabilities.
Toy Industry Foundation (TIF™), in partnership with Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) and American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), has researched and tested hundreds of toys, and the end result — a comprehensive guide of the best toys for children with all types of special needs, of all ages, with different interests kept in mind. Toys in the guide were tested by over 100 "toy experts," children with a variety of special needs at a number of testing centers all over the country. The toys featured in this Guide were selected by individuals from these two organizations based on the toy's play value for children with special needs.
As you rear the Guide, you will find a description of the toy, along with an explanation of skills the toy will encourage and build during playtime. Each toy contains one of the following labels:
PI = Physical Impairment. Children with physical impairments (children with less than optimal use of their hands or children with some motor control challenges) include cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. Features to look for when selecting toys for children with a physical impairment include large parts that make a toy easy to grasp, and a sturdy base to secure a toy in its place.
HI = Hearing Impairment. These toys include one or more of the following: lights or visual feedback, volume control, interesting texture or surface or some other unique feature that made it appropriate for a child with a hearing impairment.
B/LV = Blind or Low Vision. Although children with visual impairments may enjoy many toys in this Guide, these toys are rated particularly high because of their sounds and interesting textures or surfaces that provide sensory stimulation. Also, children with moderate visual impairments can enjoy toys that include bright lights.
DD = Developmental Disabilities. When selecting toys for children with developmental disabilities including Down syndrome, autism and mental retardation, look for products that encourage them to act out real life situations such as playing school, or interacting with action figures and dolls.
When picking toys remember they can be adapted for even more children to use, especially those with special needs. For ideas and instructions on how to adapt toys, visit the "Family Place in CyberSpace" section at the Alliance for Technology Access website.
I encourage you to be creative and imaginative when selecting toys.
Some suggestions are building toys (blocks, Lincoln Logs, legos) action figures, balls, Frisbees, bikes, battery operated toys, wind-up toys, talking and musical globes, Yo-Yos, toy trains, board games, model kits, model rockets, bikes, talking toys, audio books, puppets, toy robots, radio controlled toys, stuffed animals, trading card games, TV/movie characters.
For information on Toys for the Holidays visit these web sites: