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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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Vol. 10, No. 3 Summer/Fall 2002

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Toys for Children with Disabilities

Marilyn Hammond, Utah Assistive Technology Program

Play is vital for all children's growth and development. Children discover the world around them through seeing, touching, tasting, hearing and exploring toys and other objects. Children master language and learn how to communicate with other people through play. Physical play activities help children grow stronger and develop better coordination. Children play with and control toys and discover how one action effects another. Feeling more self-confident is a natural result.

Think about children's preferences when choosing the most suitable toys. Traits of toys that can enhance learning and enjoyment include:

As you consider which toy to buy, decide whether any changes are needed. Generally speaking, the more independently the child can play with the toy, with or without making any changes, the better. Some play ideas for children with specific disabilities follow.

Visual Disabilities

Children with visual impairments enjoy toys that make sounds, vibrate, have texture or scent, or are marked tactually (through touch). Toys may be marked tactually with glue, plastic paste, tape, Velcro dots or Braille. Other options for children with partial vision are toys that emit light; or toys constructed with shiny, bright, contrasting, or colorful surfaces. Provide children with toys made from a variety of materials with different textures such as stuffed animals, wooden blocks, and plastic cars to encourage exploration.

Hearing Loss

For children with hearing loss, toys that have lights, print out messages, or are action packed make good choices. One example for young children is an activity center full of color and motion such as a bright plate that turns on a light when touched, a bead chain curtain, an unbreakable mirror, a push button that controls a small fan, and a big push button that animates an stuffed animal. Examples of action toys for older children include remote control cars and trucks. Toys with intricate parts and designs are better choices for older children. Toys that foster thinking such as puzzles and shape sorters should also be considered.

Language Disabilities

Children with language impairments often find toys and games that require talking difficult to enjoy. Dramatic play, such as playing "dress-up," can offer children a relaxed way of increasing their language and cognitive skills. A toy cooking center where children can pretend to cook may also promote speech. Another example is a remote control or switch-activated jet with sound. These toys may encourage children to freely vocalize or talk.

Motor Disabilities

Children with motor impairments often have trouble moving their hands, arms, or legs. Toys can be kept within reach by placing them on a tray, cookiesheet or box lid. Another method is to make a border around toys with pillows. Non-skid materials such as Dycem, Scoot Guard, light-weight carpet padding, or rubber pads can be attached to the bottom of the toy or placed underneath the toy. Toys can also be stabilized by adding suction cups, magnets, or velcro strips. Handles can be added or enlarged with foam curlers, rubber, or plastic coating. Light weight toys that do not require much strength may be easier for children to handle.

For children who cannot control arm movements, use unbreakable toys or attach toys to a secure, flat surface with clamps or other means. If the surface slopes, the toy may move too far away. Position the toy about 12 to 18 inches away to keep it within easy reach. Hanging or suspending toys is another option. A scooter board may supply the mobility needed to play with toys and explore the environment.

Cognitive Disabilities

Children with mental impairments often enjoy toys that require only a few steps to work. Toys that may not need to be adapted include magnetized blocks, large crayons, knobbed puzzles with a small number of pieces, and toys that respond to touch or sound. Children can often play with games if the rules are simplified. Paper game pieces can be laminated. It is usually a good idea to select games that children already understand and objects they are familiar with such as cars, kitchen sets, and baby dolls. Children generally like toys that move and make sounds by activating a switch. Switches that require only one movement to turn on are easier to use than those that require repeated motions.

Multiple Disabilities and Switches

For children with more than one impairment or for children who are unable to move, adapted or specialized toys may be the best choice. A variety of mail order catalogs sell toys for children with disabilities (see the list at the end). Toys may also be custom designed or adapted by professionals such as engineers, teachers, and therapists. These toys often use a battery or are plugged into a socket. The toy is usually operated by a remote switch instead of the switch on the toy. The remote switch turns the toy or game on and off, just like using a light switch. A battery-operated toy needs an adaptation to the on-off switch so that a remote switch can be used. This adaptation can be permanent or temporary. Both can be made inexpensively at home. Books and booklets with directions for making temporary and permanent toy adaptations are listed at the end. These toys are generally more expensive. Also, adapted toys tend to break more easily, so look closely at the warranty.

Finding the best switch for a child to use requires a good evaluation. The evaluation focuses on movements the child can make without assistance. The type of switch selected depends on the child's strength and voluntary movements. A switch may also be chosen to promote desired movement. A switch can be positioned almost anywhere. Care must be taken so that abnormal movements are not increased by using a switch. Don't forget to consider the child's desires when choosing a switch or toy.

Switches come in many shapes and sizes with varying sensitivity and durability. These switches can be activated by a variety of movements including blowing into a straw-like device; tilting the head; or by movements of the chin, foot, hand, or finger. Switches can also operate things like mixers, toasters and other daily living items, resulting in more independence.

Playing with switch-activated and other adapted toys can provide the feeling of I did it! for children with disabilities. This feeling of success is often quite difficult for children with disabilities to achieve. Recognizing and rewarding children's efforts and successes on a frequent basis also helps foster positive feelings. With a little effort and planning, play can become a happy and rewarding experience.

Resource Web Sites

Reprinted with permission from UATPower of Independence (Spring 2000), the newsletter of the Utah Assistive Technology Program.

Promising Product - Reading Helper

Anecdotal reports suggest that some students with learning disabilities are able to visually focus on words printed on colored paper or viewed through a colored lens or overlay. The Reading Helper is a low-cost product to add a color highlight to printed documents. It is a 7-inch-long, 1.25-inch-wide reading guide with a plastic color filter down the center. When placed on top of the line to be read, the transparent, colored plastic highlights the line and helps the reader focus on the words to be read. Reading Helpers with yellow, green, blue, red, and pink filters are available. They are sold for $1 - $2 each.

Reading Helper, Inc.
Fax: 954-344-2133

Onion Mountain Technology, Inc.
Phone: 860-693-2683; Fax: 860-693-9433

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