Spina Bifida is a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord and its protective covering. This typically develops in the first trimester. In the most severe form, babies can have weakness or paralysis of the lower extremities. The condition affects 1,500 to 2,000 infants born each year in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. Children with Spina Bifida don't necessarily need special adaptive toys, experts say. Instead, parents should look for mainstream toys that target the specific skills their child needs to work on, says Julie Gaby, occupational therapist at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. For example, coloring or painting on an easel and building towers with Legos and Connect Four all strengthen hands and arms, Gaby says: "They're lifting their arms against gravity during play, which makes them stronger while they're also having fun."
For fine motor practice, look for games that involve tweezers, tongs, or kid-friendly chopsticks (which are connected). Play-Doh and Mr. Potato Head also help hone fine motor abilities. For general motor skills, Gaby recommends push or pull toys, balls, and bolsters toddlers can throw, climb, or roll over. "You don't have to spend a lot of money to get the right type of toys," Gaby adds. "Sometimes it's the toys that have been around the longest that are the best developmentally."
In general, multisensory toys with lights and music are great, experts say. Gaby also recommends cause-and-effect toys, stringing beads, and puzzles. For more ideas, Gaby suggests lakeshorelearning.com, discoverytoys.net, beyondplay.com, and pfot.com.
For kids learning to be independent in self-care, try a dressing board, with buttons, zippers, and ties on it. It's important to encourage this, so kids can practice the skills they need to one day get dressed on their own, Gaby says.
Kids with Spina Bifida may be more prone to latex allergies and sensitivities, so avoid toys that contain latex. Most toys' packaging will indicate if they're latex-free. If not, check on the manufacturer's Web site.
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