Ask any parent and they’ll tell you that choosing a toy for their child can be incredibly difficult. And when you have a special needs child, the challenge is even greater. Whether you are planning an activity or buying a toy, it needs to be fun, but it also needs to be safe.
Younger children tend to be less fussy. A toddler will happily spend hours playing with a cardboard box. But parents need to pay attention to the toys they are buying because toys are important tools that stimulate a child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social development.
Here are some guidelines to help you choose toys that will have your little one enjoying themselves while also safely promoting development.
Keep it simple:
Overly complicated toys can be intimidating to kids with special needs. Also, toys that don’t do too much are better at sparking a child’s imagination and encouraging creativity.
Keeping kids as young as 12 months old away from electronics and computers is becoming difficult. But, limiting the amount of time spent on electronic toys is crucial. Video games, for instance, encourage passive learning, reduce attention span, and are associated with language and developmental delay. Avoid giving electronics to children less than 2 years old and limit screen-time for older kids to 1-2 hours per day.
Don’t fall for “educational”:
Not all toys that claim they are “educational” are really going to boost your child’s brain development. A flashy gizmo is less likely to produce a mathematician than a simpler toy that encourages creative thinking.
Less is more:
We all tend to spoil our kids by inundating them with toys, and parents with special needs kids may try to overcompensate. But too many toys can make it hard for the child to focus. Rotating and re-introducing toys can make them feel new. Something as simple as blocks can take a child through many different stages of development.
Here are some age-appropriate toys that can help with muscle tone, movement, and posture in your special girl or boy:
- Soft blocks in bright colors to squeeze and grasp
- Play mats and baby gyms to encourage pulling and kicking to strengthen hand and foot muscles
- Mobiles, rattles, and chimes to discover sound and movement
- Comfortable tummy-time cushioned supports to strengthen neck and back muscles
- Smaller toys to encourage hand-to-hand transfer
- Bigger, more chunky blocks that are easily grasped by children with involuntary, spastic movements
- Tent-and-tunnel combos for kids to escape an overstimulating world
- Pretend-play toys that encourage social development
- Activity cubes that offer support and stimulating surfaces
- Specially-designed toddler high-chairs for special needs kids to promote good posture
3 years and up:
- Inflatable bouncy toys to improve balance and coordination and engage many different muscle groups
- Chunky crayons, Play-Doh, and finger paints to spark imagination
- Large puzzles, blocks, and construction toys to help fine and gross motor skills
- Drums and musical instruments for acoustic stimulation in kids with sensory integration impairments