Adaptive Toy Solutions
As a parent of a special needs child, you encounter challenges at every turn. Depending on your child’s abilities, simple tasks can become frustrating experiences for your little ones. Even choosing a simple toy for your child can be overwhelming as each child can respond differently to different stimuli, even if they have the same diagnosis. It can become an individualized process to find the right toys that will entertain your child as well as help him learn and reinforce his therapy.
One family has taken this fact to heart and created their own company, LDK Adaptive Toys, LLC, that provides toys for their child as well as other children that require the same support. Their son was born with a rare seizure disorder and is globally developmentally delayed. While searching for toys that he could operate, they became frustrated at the high prices that were being charged for adapted toys for children with special needs. So, they took matters into their own hands and started adapting toys themselves and offering them at a more reasonable price point.
Adaptive Technology Solutions
LDK Adaptive Toys purchases gently used toys from consignment shops. After the toys are cleaned and sanitized, the toys are adapted to work with special needs switches. The original switches no longer work and the toy will only work with the special needs switch.
Special need switches allow a child with a physical disability the power to play and learn independently. When they have the use of a switch, a child with a physical disability can be included in playtime fun with other children. The switch adapted toys enable children to learn sensory awareness, cause and effect, and social skills by playing and interacting with other children and their environment.
When shopping for a child with disabilities, it is important to focus on their interests instead of what they aren’t able to do. Every child has some interest that makes their face light up and gets them excited. Whether it is music, sports, or spaceships, there will always be a toy that they will be excited to get.
It is also important to focus on the individual child’s abilities. If you are the child’s parent, you are already aware of what makes your child excited, but relatives can often feel lost when choosing a toy for a child with a disability. Too often, relatives only see what the child struggles with instead of what their achievements are. Parents know that every day can be another step towards achieving the next milestone. So, if a child likes music, it can be helpful to find a toy that will encourage the child to play a musical instrument, which can improve their small motor skills. If you find a toy that encourages them to dance, you are inspiring them to improve their gross motor skills.
Skill levels are also important to consider when choosing a toy. When you think about what skill level they are at, it is ok to try and push them a little. Toys are a great way to motivate a child to push beyond their current limitations. When a child loses themselves in play, they are entering the world where anything is possible, and they allow their everyday barriers to disappear. They become superheroes, astronauts, and rock stars. If you find a toy that helps push an area where your child is currently struggling, your child may amaze you and himself with what he can accomplish.
Types of Toys for Children with Disabilities
Kids that have a hard with fine motor skills, such as children with Down syndrome, need large pieces to work with. A good example of this type of toy is large puzzle pieces with large knobs on them that the child can grasp giving them the ability to put the puzzle piece in the right place. Another good activity is a toy that can be custom fitted to the individual child’s needs and their developmental stage such as a piggy bank with larger coin pieces. This helps them improve their fine motor skills with pieces that are large enough for them to grasp and place into the opening of the bank. Toys with larger parts are also better for children with cerebral palsy who often have involuntary, spastic movements such as Duplo blocks.
Cause and effect toys that require pushing a button to get a response are good for children with autism, especially toys that promote interaction by eliciting a verbal response. Electronic toy laptops will help them learn letters, number, and words with engaging games and fun songs.
Pop-up tunnels and tents are great for those children that suffer from sensory integration impairment. This can affect children one of two ways. They either feel like escaping, or they seek out more interactions. For those that want to escape, pop-up tunnels and tents are a great way for them to escape the overstimulation and find a quiet place to relax.
For any condition that affects the motor system like muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, it is important to look for toys that will work with limited movement. Toys that work to increase a child’s upper body dexterity and concentration are ideal.
Sometimes children have a hard time focusing on directions. For children with ADHD, open-ended crafts can be beneficial. If your child likes arts and crafts, something like Paint a Rock Pet where he can have plenty of creative control and there is no wrong or right way to paint it is best. For a child with autism, anything that spins is perfect as they tend to like repetition. Gear sets are an excellent choice, especially if the set has a motor and lights.
Here are a few additional things to look for when you are toy shopping:
- Adjustability – Can the volume be adjusted? How about the speed and level of difficulty?
- Child's Individual Abilities – Does the toy match the development age of your child? Would your child’s interest and age match the level of ability needed for the toy?
- Safety – Does it have appropriately sized parts? Is it moisture resistant and can it be washed or cleaned? Does it fit your child’s size and strength?
- Interaction – Does it encourage your child to be an active participant? Does it encourage social interactions with others?
- Multi-Sensory – Are there sounds, lights, and moving parts that will engage your child? How about textures, scents, and colors?
- Activation – Will it be frustrating for your child to turn on and operate? Is a lot of force needed to activate the toy? Are there a number of steps or complex step to activate it?
- How It Will Be Used – Will the toy used in different positions, specifically on its side on a wheelchair tray?
- Learning Success – Does it allow for open play, or is there only a right or wrong way to play with it? Can it be adapted to a child’s ability and pace?
- Popularity - Is it a toy that reflects the current trends, so that your child feels like ''any other kid''?
Remember, it is worth the extra effort to look for special features on toys that make it more appropriate and adaptable for children with special needs. So, don’t feel overwhelmed at the toy store, dive in and find something that will stimulate and excite your child. The look of delight on your little one’s face will be well worth it.