American Asperger's Association Support Group

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Tips on choosing toys!

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1 Tips on choosing toys! on Mon Jan 05, 2009 12:55 pm

csweepigirl

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Choosing the Right Toy for Children with Special Needs

Choosing the right toy for any child can be difficult; parents sometimes need extra help narrowing down a toy
for a child with a disability. These 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 enhance 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 a typical child playing comes natural but 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 a child with special needs 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.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Children with autism often have a few unusual heightened skills, such as solving jigsaws, artistic drawings,
incredible block builders, and computer wizards. Toys for children with autism should stimulate all the senses.
Autistic children enjoy listening to music which offers auditory stimulation and picture books enhance visual
thinking. Tactile toys expose children to a wide variety of textures. These include sand and water tables, squish
balls, Play-doh, and finger paints. For the development of gross motor skills children should play with bouncing
balls, pounding toys, riding toys, and swings. Toys for fine motor improvement include puzzles, stacking toys,
shape sorters, and lacing beads.

Sensory Integration Dysfunction

Children with sensory integration dysfunction experience problems with skills such as tying shoe laces or riding a
bike can be difficult as they involve sequences of movements. Activities to help in these areas may include
swimming, construction toys and building blocks. Hand and eye coordination can be improved with activities
such as hitting a ball with a bat, popping bubbles, and throwing and catching balls, beanbags and balloons.
Difficulty with using both sides of the body together can occur in some cases of sensory integration
dysfunction. These children may benefit from hopscotch, skipping, playing musical instruments, playing catch
and bouncing balls.

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 toys

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.

Be a label reader

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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