Buying Toys For Kids With Special Needs: 7 Smart Tips
Rule #1 of buying toys for kids with special needs: Make sure it’s their idea of fun. Just like any other child, kids with special needs won’t play with a toy unless it’s interesting to them (no matter how therapeutic you think it could be). Whether a child likes funny noises, blinking lights, things that go fast or all of the above, you want to keep his or her fascinations in mind when you’re looking for a toy that might give them a developmental boost. That doesn’t mean they won’t find the box the toy comes in more compelling, of course… like any child!
I know a thing or two about buying toys for special kids because I’ve spent 9 years getting them for my son, Max—not just for birthdays, but often when a therapist has recommended something. I’ve also done a couple of toy guides on my other blog, including this year’s Best Toys For Kids With Special Needs. A few pointers I’ve picked up along the way for buying toys for kids with special needs:
* Make sure the toy is at the child’s skill level. The age range printed on the packaging may have no relation to a child’s developmental stage, skills or attention span. Don’t get dispirited if you’re buying a toy for a kid who’s 6 that’s labeled ages 2 to 4. If it’s a toy that he’ll like that could also do him some good, it’s a Good Toy.
* Ask experts for recommendations. Check in with your child’s therapists, teachers, and even doctors. When I recently asked my son’s art therapist for ideas, she recommended a Cars 2 set of chalk that’s large size and will be easy for him to grasp (and that he’s going to hang onto 24/7, given his obsession with Lightning McQueen). Your child’s therapists will also be able to give guidance on the best way to position a toy for your child to play with.
* Ask other parents for recommendations, too. See what toys parents in your kids’ class are getting for their kids. Ask around on message boards, Facebook or Twitter. If you’re buying toys for a niece, nephew or cousin with disabilities or a friend’s child, don’t hesitate to ask the kid’s parents for recommendations. I’d much rather tell people what is going to work for my child than have them waste their money (or have to deal with returns).
* Give the gift of access. Look for enabling accessories, such as this Crayon Pinwheel that helps kids who have challenges with fine motor skills color or a switch that enables a child to press a big button to activate a toy. Good sites to browse: Abilitations, Pocket Full of Therapy, Different Roads To Learning and eSpecial Needs.
* Do a trial run. With big-ticket items, like adapted bikes, see if your child’s school or therapy center will let you borrow the item overnight or for a weekend to see how both you and your child do with it.
* Check out online lists. My toy guide is based on reviews by the ultimate experts—kids with special needs (with their moms’ help!). Other guides out there: The Toys R Us Guide For Differently-Abled Kids, 50 Toys In 50 Days at Let Kids Play, Very Necessary Holiday Gifts for Kids With Special Needs by Shannon Rosa at BlogHer, Time to Play’s Special Needs Toy Guide, and Oppenheim Toy Portoflio’s Special Needs Award Winners 2011.
Happy special needs shopping!
Image: Shopping cart with gifts via Shutterstock