Toys for Kids With Special Needs

The writer of the blog To the Max asked parents which toys most benefited their kids with special needs this past year. These toys have encouraged children to move, communicate, manipulate their hands, be social -- and have lots of fun too.

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Go Baby Go! Poppity Pop Musical Dino (Fisher-Price)

Go Baby Go! Poppity Pop Musical Dino

"I saw this at Target and fell in love," says Jennifer, mom to Joey, 2, who has Down syndrome. "It has helped Joey learn to release objects. He loves putting all sorts of objects in it. It helps him focus (which helps strengthen his vision) and, when we put it on the table, it motivates him to try to stand up. I love watching Joey try to put in the dog's toys, which don't fit -- a wonderful lesson in cause and effect!"

Development: Fine motor skills

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InterStar Rings (Edushape)

InterStar Rings

"Joe, who's 4, has only begun to manipulate toys with both hands -- he has global developmental delay," says his mom, Lia. "These have a design that's easy to manipulate. The ridges have a texture that is appealing to his touch and vision, and he can combine two with very little effort. He loves taking them all out of the container. He's not as fond of putting them back in, of course."

Development: Fine motor skills

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LEGO DUPLO Building Set (LEGO)

LEGO DUPLO Building Set

"The big pieces are easier to hold and join together than with standard LEGOs," notes Bronwyn, mom to Cooper, 7, who has cerebral palsy. "The pieces allow Cooper to be creative and use his imagination -- there's no right or wrong way to use them. They're a great way to discuss math concepts too!"

Development: Fine motor skills

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Ice Cream Parlor Pretend Play Set (Melissa & Doug)

Ice Cream Parlor Pretend Play Set

"I bought two sets of this!" says Cate, mom to Abby, a 5-year-old with Down syndrome. "We make and stack a lot of cones, and the pieces are also good for matching, counting, sequencing and patterns, and teaching her to ask for what she wants. It came on vacation with us!

Development: Fine motor skills

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B. Parum Pum Pum Drum (B. Toys)

B. Parum Pum Pum Drum

"This was recommended to me by his occupational and speech therapists because they've learned that music is a powerful motivator for Matthew," says Brandi, whose 2-year-old has cerebral palsy and visual and hearing impairments. "The bright colors of the instruments attract his attention, and the different shapes have forced him to open his hands more and grasp different textures. He laughs, smiles, coos, and dances side to side in his chair."

Development: Fine motor skills

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Brilliant Basics Boppin' Activity Bugs (Fisher-Price)

Brilliant Basics Boppin' Activity Bugs

"This toy helped my son in several ways," says the mom to Champion, a 3-year-old who has Miller-Dieker syndrome. "It helped to open his hands to push down the pop-ups, helped with finger isolation when putting them down and opening them, and helped him with using both hands when holding the toy in place while putting down the pop-ups. It also taught him to bend his elbows to play with the toy."

Development: Fine motor skills

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Robot Claw (Sensory University)

Robot Claw

"My son's developmental therapist recommended this toy, which you use to pick things up, to help improve hand-eye coordination," says Jim, dad to Tyler, 7, who has autism. "It's been fun for Tyler -- he will happily use it in therapy with no whining."

Development: Fine motor skills

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Dress Me Emily (Kidoozie)

Dress Me Emily

"This doll has improved Sarah's ability to manipulate small objects while teaching her life skills," says Ben, dad to a 5-year-old who has challenges with fine motor skills. "She loves it so much that she sleeps with it."

Development: Fine motor skills

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Catch-Me-Kitty (Vtech)


"Our occupational therapist recommended this," says Penni, mom to Garratt, 6, who has Down syndrome and autism. "He has learned to manipulate the buttons on the cat to hear songs and learn about colors and shapes, and to give the cat basic commands such as 'Go.' He treats it like a real cat, petting its head, snuggling, and chasing it all over the house!"

Development: Fine motor skills

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Wooden Ramp Racer (Imaginarium)

Wooden Ramp Racer

"This toy is very engaging and doesn't require batteries -- just fine motor skills," says Faye, mom to 4-year-old Jon Paul, who is blind and has Asperger's syndrome. "It also enhances social skills because he takes turns when playing with others. He really enjoys listening to the cars flip down the ramps. He giggles and claps his hands."

Development: Fine motor skills

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Richard Scarry's Busytown Eye Found It! Game (Wonder Forge)

Richard Scarry's Busytown Eye Found It!

"This is great for fine motor skills," says Emily, mom to Everett, 6, who has epilepsy and right-side hemiplegia. "It's good for visual scanning, focusing, and taking turns."

Development: Fine motor skills

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Screw Block Manipulative (Guidecraft)

Screw Block Manipulative

"Using this toy has helped improve her fine motor skills," says Sue of her daughter Emily, 8, who has Down syndrome. "Emily is engaged by the bright colors. She wants this toy at playtime every day!"

Development: Fine motor skills

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Laugh & Learn Learning Piggy Bank (Fisher-Price)

Laugh & Learn Learning Piggy Bank

"My son is working on grabbing, and using this toy was the first time he was able to reach and accurately grab an object -- he put the coin in the slot and released it," says Rose, mom to James, 22 months, who has cerebral palsy and vision issues. "It helps with his gross motor skills, as he is in supported sitting while playing with it. Plus, he's exposed to colors, numbers, music, and cause and effect. He smiles and laughs and keeps reaching for another coin!"

Development: Fine motor skills

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B. Zany Zoo (B. Toys)

B. Zany Zoo

"She manipulates little beads and pens, shuts the doors, and moves the animals along the track," says Julie, mom to Abby, 2, who has Cerebro-costo-mandibular syndrome. "All three of our therapists -- OT, PT, and speech -- recommended it! When Abby first started to stand with assistance, this was the only toy she would stand at and play with for any length of time. It has enough activities to keep her attention, and it's grown with her as she's developed. Now we put it up on a table so that she has to reach up to play."

Development: Fine motor skills

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Pop-Up Pirate Game (Tomy)

Pop-Up Pirate Game

"This is a quick game. The pirate pops up and it's like a jack-in-the-box. We play it every day! It's a huge hit with all kids," says Elizabeth, mom to Dennis, 10, who has MERLD (mixed expressive/receptive learning disorder) and auditory processing issues.

Development: Fine motor skills

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The Inchworm (Radio Flyer)

The Inchworm

"By the time my daughter was ready for a ride-on toy, which her therapists recommended, she was too tall for many of them," says Sanda, mom to Adeline, 3, who has Down syndrome. "We found the Inchworm and it was perfect! It has helped strengthen her legs and helped her develop balance. The bouncing is a great sensory aspect and it helps work her core strength too. With this toy, my daughter has been able to go out and ride with her brother while he's on his bike. She's so happy to go to the park and ride bikes, just like the other kids."

Development: Gross Motor Skills

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Disney Pixar Cars Hopper Ball (Hedstrom)

Disney Pixar Cars Hopper Ball

"You should see him smile when he's using this!" says Elisha of son Gabriel, 3, who has PDD-NOS. "It's fun for him to hop, jump, and bounce on! It has helped with his balance issues and the stiffness in his arms."

Development: Gross Motor Skills

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Rocking Cater (Wonderworld)

Rocking Cater

"When we say the word caterpillar, his face lights up," says Ali, mom to Caleb, 14 months, who has cerebral palsy. "He laughs when we rock him back and forth, and makes crazy noises. The rocking motion forces him to engage his core muscles, and the antennae allow him to hold on and use his arms to remain upright. The caterpillar's big red nose makes noise, so Caleb likes to reach forward with one hand (isolation!) and ring the little bell in the nose. The seat is nice and plush, and low to the ground. He's recently started to rock back and forth on his own!"

Development: Gross Motor Skills

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Cozy Coupe (Little Tykes)

Cozy Coupe

"This made her use her feet to direct where she wanted to go, and it helped strengthen her legs," says Kerri, mom to Boo, 3, who has global developmental delays. "She loved that she could go backward and forward, and she would laugh and giggle."

Development: Gross Motor Skills

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Lil' Zoomers Shake & Crawl Racer (Fisher-Price)

Lil' Zoomers Shake & Crawl Racer

"This encouraged my son to creep towards it," says Jodie, mom to Ian, 2, who has agenesis of the corpus callosum. "He loves the bright color of the car, the movement, and the music that plays as it rolls. He crawls toward it with a big smile on his face. It also encourages kids to learn cause and effect, because it will not stop rolling until the child either shakes the rattle or rolls the ball on the top of the car."

Development: Gross Motor Skills

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Little People Wheelies Stand 'n Play Rampway (Fisher-Price)

Little People Wheelies Stand 'n Play Rampway

"He's constantly bending down to pick up cards to race down the ramp, which has helped strengthen his hips," says Juli, mom to Ethan, 3, who has a genetic syndrome that's caused gross developmental delay. "Placing and releasing cars helps with hand-eye coordination, and watching cars go down the ramp is good for visual coordination."

Development: Gross Motor Skills

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Magic Mic (Toysmith)

Magic Mic

"He actually has a desire to make utterances and sing songs -- it's a great motivational toy," says Melissa, whose 5-year-old, Quentin, has autism. "Our speech therapist recommended it because anything to get him talking is helpful. We also use it to take turns in singing songs. I was shocked that it actually works to amplify the voice."

Development: Speech and Communication

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Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway (Learning Curve)

Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway

"After watching the Thomas shows, he modeled language, pretend play, and appropriate social play between the trains," says Jessica, whose son Graham, 3, has Asperger's syndrome. "I quickly realized how useful they were once he had a vocabulary to work with. The trains greet each other, they have conversations, they have emotions -- it's his most engaging play. He always wants to take one everywhere!"

Development: Speech and Communication

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Go Away Monster! Game (Gamewright)

Go Away Monster! Game

"My daughter's speech is difficult to understand at times. This game, where you match pieces to a board, has helped her use her bilabial sounds (consonants articulated with your lips, like m and p)," says Sarah, mom to Zoe, 4, who has muscular dystrophy. "Our speech therapist suggested it, and Zoe always wants to play with it."

Development: Speech and Communication

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City Train Set (Imaginarium)

City Train Set

"This has developed speech, as we count pieces and talk about the train going up, over, and down the bridge," says Lisa, mom to Liam, 3, who has partial 18p duplication and global developmental delay. "It's also helped with fine motor skills and cognitive development because of the assembly, although I have to be nearby, since he struggles with this."

Development: Speech and Communication

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Let's Get Moving! Activity Mats (Lakeshore Learning)

Let's Get Moving! Activity Mats

"Reid, who's 6 and has apraxia and ADD, loves anything movement-based, so this gives him tons of different ways to move his body, have fun, and learn," says mom Ilyssa. "It gives us an active way to take turns counting -- we add rolling dice to see how many times it keeps moving, and we work on speech by counting out loud and saying, 'My turn, your turn.' There are also a lot of cards, so playing the whole game also works on attention."

Development: Cognition and Learning

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B. Whacky Ball (B. Toys)

B. Whacky Ball

"Putting balls at the top, using a hammer to pound them, and getting them to roll down has helped with cause and effect, learning multistep processes, and fine motor skills," says Beth, whose son, Sonshine, 2, has Jacobsen syndrome and global developmental delay. "This is a more challenging toy for him, but he loves it. He smiles every time he watches the balls roll to the bottom, and then he asks us to help him start over."

Development: Cognition and Learning

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Pathwords Jr. Puzzle (Thinkfun)

Pathwords Jr. Puzzle

"My son has ADHD, and he can read, but he really dislikes it," says Jenn, mom to Logan, 8. "This puzzle makes it fun by capitalizing on spotting skills, like finding hidden pictures, and using that to motivate him to find words and understand their meaning. He's really proud of himself for discovering a new talent, and the puzzle has helped to make reading a more desired activity at home. One day, he finished almost 20 of the 48 puzzles, not even getting up for food, just for the bathroom and water. He was super-focused!"

Development: Cognition and Learning

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TAG Reading System (LeapFrog)

TAG Reading System

"This has encouraged my daughter to read words out loud, copying ones she hears," says Kris, mom to Flannery, 3, who has severe language delay. "It encourages her to read with games. She comes running to tell us what she did!"

Development: Cognition and Learning

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Learn Through Music TouchPad (Fisher-Price)

Learn Through Music TouchPad

"He's nonverbal but loves music, so I know he's learning while listening," says Joann, mom to Nicholas, 10, who has tubular sclerosis and delays. "The music is great and covers learning basics. He jumps up and down and laughs."

Development: Cognition and Learning

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A to Z Magnatab (Kid O)

A to Z Magnatab

"This has been a great toy for my son," says Brooke, mom to a kindergartner, "and I've heard from other parents that they loved this for their autistic or sensory-challenged kiddos too."

Development: Cognition and Learning

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InnoTab Interactive Learning Tablet (Vtech)

InnoTab Interactive Learning Tablet

"This has helped him with learning his alphabet and numbers, and with verbalizing," says mom Christine about her son, Orisme, 5, who has autism and is nonverbal. "He can sit and play with it for a long time without making his noncontextual verbalizations."

Development: Cognition and Learning

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Paper Jamz Pro Guitar Series (Wowwee)

Paper Jamz Pro Guitar Series

"During playdates, these are great! My son asks friends to play with him using this toy, and he has to show the other child how it works," says Irene, mom to John, 9, who has autism. "He also needs constant auditory input, so this is one way to get input in a functional way. Since he is echolalic, he learns phrases from the songs as part of his speech therapy. We actually have every Paper Jam Guitar ever made!"

Development: Social Skills

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Don't Break The Ice Game (Hasbro)

Don't Break The Ice Game

"This game has helped with turn-taking and waiting," says Lisa, whose son Norrin, 6, has autism. "He gets so excited when it's his turn, and he watches when it's mine. We talk and he makes eye contact, not something that happens often. It's good for concentration too; he needs to focus on trying to 'break the ice' instead of randomly smashing pieces. He doesn't care if he wins or loses -- he's just having fun!"

Development: Social Skills

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LEGO Ultimate Building Set (LEGO)

LEGO Ultimate Building Set

"My son enjoys building with his dad, so during free time at school, he tends to go toward the Legos and build socially," says Mary, mom to Logan, 5, who has ASD. "It really helps him with teamwork."

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The Social (e)Motion Game (Fun and Function)

The Social (e)Motion Game

"This game encourages my daughter to use her current social skills while developing new ones," says Hannah, mom to Kendell, 10, who has autism. "The colorful pieces and family photos engage her. She will pick the game off the shelf and say, 'I want to play' -- a big step for her."

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Jumpstart Trampoline (Diggin Active)

Jumpstart Trampoline

"Willie, who's 4 and has autism, is able to use his energy in a safe and effective way on this," says his mom, Sherri. "It's in our family room, and he uses it multiple times throughout the day. He has learned to not be afraid when his feet are not on the ground! It has also helped with his balance and coordination."

Development: Sensory Issues

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Ezyroller Junior Ultimate Riding Machine (EzyRoller)

Ezyroller Junior Ultimate Riding Machine

"This is a great item for a sensory seeker! Our occupational therapist thought this would be a good way for my son to 'get what he needs' in a different way than riding a bike or scooter, and it can be used inside," says Ilyssa, mom to Reid, 6, who has apraxia and PDD. "Driving it around our house -- way better on hardwood than carpet -- has given Reid just enough of a break to come back and finish his homework, etc. It's the first thing he goes to every morning and when he comes home from school." Says Clara, mom to Garrett, 7, who has autism and mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome: "My son has enjoyed this for years now. He gets all sort of great sensory input. Once our PT saw it, she started recommending it! She says it's helped strengthen his legs and core and helped with balance and motor planning."

Development: Sensory Issues

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Trampoline Bouncer With Easy Hold Handle Bar (Bazoongi)

Trampoline Bouncer With Easy Hold Handle Bar

"My daughter's school occupational therapist suggested gymnastics for movement needs and spatial awareness. Since they use trampolines, I decided to invest in a mini one for our home," says Jennifer, mom to Emma, 8, who has Asperger's syndrome. "My daughter's ability to have this movement greatly reduces her anxiety and stemming behaviors. She gets on her trampoline many times throughout the day without my having to send her to it -- she doesn't even realize it's therapy. She's usually singing or laughing while she's on it!"

Development: Sensory Issues

Copyright &copy 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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