How to Choose Toys for Kids with Special Needs

Choosing the right toy for a kid with special needs is not easy as you need to consider the child's abilities and stage of development before making your choice. Here is a guide to help you understand the factors that are important while choosing special needs toys and equipment.
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Choosing toys for kids with special needs
You can find special needs toys on the internet at special online stores such as funandfunction, specialneedstoys, and especialneeds.
Playtime and toys play a vital role in the growth and development of a child. Hence, using toys that will help develop cognitive, motor, and social skills of the child in a fun and engaging way becomes all the more necessary. Today, there are a huge variety of special needs toys available in the market with most online retailers having a special section devoted to such toys. These sections are organized in such a way that caregivers or parents of children with special needs can easily find information about toys that are engaging, therapeutic, and stimulating.

Every child is unique, and it is important to find a toy that would help boost developmental skills in the child, irrespective of his/her abilities. In this Buzzle article, we provide a comprehensive guide on the things you need to keep in mind while buying toys for children with special needs.

Things to Consider

★ Ease of Use
Is the toy easy to use, or does it frustrate the child due to its complexity? Although the toy should be challenging for the child, the challenge should be beneficial rather than frustrating for him/her. Check the complexity levels for activation and use of the toy.

★ Difficulty Level
Does the toy have a difficulty level that can be increased or decreased? Toys that allow you to change the volume, speed, height, and level of difficulty are preferable. Open-ended toys, such as blocks, are excellent as they can be optimized to match a kid's individual style, ability, and pace.

★ Safety and Durability
Is it safe and durable? Choose toys that are safe and durable enough for everyday use. Toddlers throw their toys around quite a bit, so avoid cheap plastic toys that break easily. Look for toys that can be washed and cleaned easily.

★ Interaction with Others
How much interaction does the toy provide? A toy that allows active participation and encourages social engagement with others is preferable as it would allow for family interaction, and enable children to spend more time with siblings and playmates.

★ Individual Ability
Is the toy made for a child's individual ability? Look for special toys which address a kid's special needs and allow the progression of a child's specific developmental goals. It should provide activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages of the child.

★ Multiple Ways to Play
Will it provide a number of ways to play? Toys that provide unique ways to play are interesting for the child, and this keeps him/her engaged for a long time.

★ Motivate and Stimulate
In what ways does the toy stimulate the child's senses? Choose toys that provide auditory, tactile, visual, and kinesthetic stimulation.

Choosing Appropriate Toys and Equipment

Before buying, it is best to assess the child's interests and skill level. Special needs is an umbrella term used to define a huge range of developmental and physical disabilities. The level can vary from one child to another. It also encompasses a broad spectrum of functionality―from mild disability to severe impairment.

Toys with multi-sensory appeal

Toys which have a multi-sensory appeal are extremely popular. Lights, sounds, and movement are used to attract the child's attention. Some toys offer different textures and smell for sensory awareness. The sensory information in the form of auditory, visual, tactile, and movement is not only great fun for the kid, but also allows him/her to understand and cope with stimuli in everyday life as well. It is important to note that while some toys may be appealing to one child, they can be overstimulating for another. Do not overload a child with sensory toys. Instead, provide toys which develop their sensory perception gradually.

Best For: These toys are excellent for children with autism or sensory processing disorder, also called sensory seekers. Also, good for visual- and hearing-impaired children.

Some excellent multi-sensory toys are:

Edushape Sensory Ball Mega Pack
Melissa & Doug Zoo Animals Touch and Feel Puzzle
Melissa & Doug Corduroy Cutie Dog Stuffed Animal
Alex Toys Tots Finger Paints

Toys that improve fine motor skills

A key developmental skill is learning to use the muscles of the hands and fingers to manipulate small objects. These skills help in simple activities like writing, fastening, and zipping. Toys that encourage fine motor skills also help in the development of hand-eye coordination.

Best For: Children with autism spectrum disorders.

Some excellent toys that encourage this key skill are:

HABA Rainbow Whirls Pegging Game
Uncle Goose Classic ABC Blocks
Melissa & Doug Lacing Beads in a Box
Melissa & Doug First Bead Maze

Toys that hone gross motor skills

Toys and activities that help in developing gross motor skills and overall physical development are extremely important. These games and toys build the body's large muscle groups while allowing the child to develop coordination, balance, and strength of the arms and legs.

Best For: Children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and juvenile arthritis.

Some excellent toys that develop gross motor skills are:

Pacific Play Tents Me Too Play Tent
Little Tikes Cozy Truck
American Educational Products Tactile Discs
Melissa & Doug Rattle Rumble Toddler Push Toy

Toys for improving speech and language skills

Pretend play and other make-believe activities foster communication skills and allow children to express themselves clearly. Storytelling toys, such as puppets, allow children to master coherent sentences and inspire inquiry. Even simple toys like a toy phone allow the child to practice language skills. Puzzle, barn sets, play food, dollhouses are some of the best toys for speech and language development.

Best For: Children with speech and language delays, autism, stuttering, and pervasive developmental disorder.

Some excellent toys that develop language skills are:

Melissa & Doug Wooden Vehicles and Traffic Signs
Sesame Street Steps to School Get Ready Elmo
Fisher-Price Little People Disney Princess Songs Palace
Disney Doc McStuffins Doctor Bag Play Set

Toys that improve social and play skills

Children learn social and emotional skills by expressing their feelings and imitating family life. Children should be provided open-ended toys to explore everyday themes in creative ways. Role play and imaginative activities encourage confidence and allow the child to respond socially and emotionally.

Best For: Children with autism spectrum disorders.

Some excellent toys that improve social and play skills are:

Melissa & Doug Town Blocks Wooden Play Set
Fun and Function Social(e)Motion Game
Melissa & Doug Create-a-Person Pad
Lego Ultimate Building Set

Whether you buy the toy online or at your nearest toy store, choose one that encourages creativity and uniqueness while providing activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages of the child.
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Published: January 2, 2014
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