Toys for Children with Special Needs

by Cheri Riehle

When choosing toys for children with special needs, keep in mind that specially designed or modified toys are not always necessary. For all children, toys are only props used in play, and the process of play itself is valuable for development of physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills.

Too many toys can be overwhelming to any child. Think back to your childhood days, when cardboard boxes became doll furniture or tunnels for cars. There are many wonderful toys on the market; let your child use his or her imagination and creativity to develop ways of expanding play. Consider purchasing toys that are open ended and allow play to be taken in different directions. Dolls, car sets and art supplies are good examples of-open ended toys.

Organize your child‘s play area. Divide toys into boxes or bins and continually exchange bins, rather than keep all toys out at once. Toys that have been put away for a while, seem almost brand new when brought out again. And, because your child‘s play has most likely matured over time, they may see new ways of using the same toy over and over again. This technique also works well for a child that has a short attention span or difficulty moving from one toy to another. Many children will pick up a toy, look at it and then move on to something else, often making a play area look like a disaster zone. It often helps to have the child, when finished playing with a toy, place it in a bin, called the" all done bin." Once in this bin, the toy cannot be selected again until the next play session. This encourages children to play with toys for a greater length of time and greatly reduces clean up time!

Shopping Tips from ToyTips.com offers some guidelines for parents, grandparents, or anyone with children on their shopping lists.

Play fosters intellectual, social and physical development. Adults are encouraged to view toys as learning tools with different types of toys as builders of various life skills including creativity, self- esteem and cooperation. Another bonus: a toy that is fun, as well as educational, will engage children for more than one holiday season. The following are general guidelines to keep in mind when choosing toys for the child, or children, on your holiday list:

  1. Allow children to identify their own strengths with self-discovery toys. Toys kids play with by themselves, such as dolls, science activity kits and magic sets, help teach them important lessons about responsibility, values and respect for others.
  2. Increase confidence and build pride while children are young with self-esteem toys like art projects, model- building and construction toys.
  3. Support open-ended play that allows free expression and lets kids use their imaginations. Bring out the creativity in kids with theater/puppet shows, cooking sets and pretend play projects such as tea parties.
  4. Help children learn how to think independently with toys that promote concentration, competition and deductive reasoning. Thinking and logic toys include detective puzzles, ant farms, construction sets and memory games.
  5. Build social skills and family togetherness with family interaction toys. Recommended games include dress up, board games, sports activities and battery-controlled car and boat races.
  6. Encourage cooperation with friends and peers with relationship toys. Team communication skills are improved with sports, contests of skills, and toys such as medical and chemistry kits.
  7. Let kids run, crawl, climb, throw and kick with toys like climbing structures and ride-on toys that use large muscle groups. Gross motor activities help kids develop balance and exercise gross motor skills.
  8. Improve hand-eye coordination with fine motor activities that require hand movements such as grasping and pinching. Smart choices include stacking games, puzzles, writing and coloring books/ activities.
  9. Strengthen language skills and stimulate listening, speaking and imitation sounds with speech and hearing toys. Musical toys, play telephones, phonics-based sets and voice-command games are suggested.
  10. Teach kids, especially infants and toddlers, about their environment through textures, tastes, smells and sight with sensory activities. Clay, activity quilts, blocks and shape games are all good choices.

Visit ToyTips.com, "The Independent Voice on Toys for Child Development," for more information about toys: news, product reviews, safety issues, kid tips, and toy search, and links to online shopping.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 6, Number 2 - Fall, 2000]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.


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Page last modified: February 23, 2009
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