The Best Toys for Kids With Muscular Dystrophy

Finding the right toys for your child with muscular dystrophy can be a challenge, but our experts make it easier with these tips on what to look for.
child playing

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of rare genetic diseases that cause muscles to weaken and atrophy. People with MD tend to lose control over their arms, legs, trunk, and face over time. The best playthings combine easy accessibility with age-appropriateness. Toys that are simple to use but too basic for your child's intelligence may quickly end up forgotten in a corner.

Web sites like beyondplay.com have adaptive toys made specifically for children with physical impairments. These sites also sell toy adaptors and switches that can convert mainstream battery-powered playthings into more accessible switch toys.

Whether mainstream or adaptive, look for toys that help improve balance, coordination, fine motor skills, and strength. Ask yourself whether your child is strong enough to hold and play with the toy, suggests Jacqueline Montes, a physical therapist and neurologic clinical specialist in the Pediatric Neuromuscular Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian. "The ideal toy would also be appropriate for the child's cognitive abilities and age," Montes says.

If your child can walk but has endurance and strength limitations, seek out toys that encourage gross motor skills, such as soft building blocks, large inflatable exercise balls, or activity mats. For children with less strength, lightweight toys are ideal, Montes says. Some have Velcro straps for the wrists and ankles. Feathers, interactive toys that are activated by touch, finger puppets, and water toys for the bath or pool all work well, Montes says. She recommends the blog Starfish Therapies for a comprehensive list of toy suggestions for kids with MD.

Tech toys are easily accessible for kids at different stages of MD. Tablets and iPads, with the wide variety of available apps, are ideal for kids of all ages, Montes says, particularly for weaker children with impaired gross and fine motor function. She adds that video game systems such as Kinect and Wii can promote gross motor function with games like tennis, baseball, and dancing.

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