Choosing developmental age-appropriate toys for children with disabilities

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Choosing developmental age-appropriate toys for your child

When choosing age-appropriate developmental toys for your child, it is important to consider developmental age. This is especially important for children with disabilities.

If your child has been diagnosed with a developmental disability or delay, her pediatrician, speech therapist, teacher, and occupational and physical therapists can offer suggestions on the types of developmental toys that will be most beneficial. If your child is visually impaired, here is guidance for choosing developmental toys for babies and children.

In general, look for toys at or slightly above your child's skill level. It is important to have toys that can be successfully play with as well as those that challenge. Toys should be fun and stimulating; not frustrating.

Most toys are rated for specific age ranges. Consider your child's disability and whether it impacts her ability to safely play with a particular toy that may be designed for her age but may be too far ahead of cognitive development.

Choosing developmental age-appropriate toys can be a challenge. Not only are toys a matter of taste, but some are much more likely to enhance children's development and learning.

The best toys are those that actively engage children, physically and mentally. They can also be used in a variety of ways, depending on the child's interests, ability levels and imagination. According to occupational therapists, these are very important elements to look for in toys, regardless of a child's age or developmental stage.

A good rule of thumb when selecting toys for children with disabilities is to choose ones which utilize their abilities. For example, for children who are blind, toys that engage the use of other senses are best, such as sound or smell.

Instead of using age as a guide, consider your child’s interests, capabilities and developmental age. What are their interests? How can we work with that to have the toy promote development, and be fun for the child?

Computers are a big hit with most kids and can be adapted for children with disabilities. Computer games strengthens fine motor skills and improves manual dexterity when using the joystick, mouse and keyboard.

Simple toys are sometimes the best, such as building blocks. Bubbles are wonderful for children with a range of disabilities.

Avoid toys that may “overwhelm” children. That’s when they may just give up on the toys and instead play with boxes, bowls, and other familiar things.

Look at toys from the child’s perspective. If the toy has a mirror, make sure the child can see it from his or her position.

In selecting items for children with disabilities, consider the child’s level of function. When children are playing, parents may have one definition of success, while kids have another. For example, the stacking rings toy, parents may judge a child’s success by stacking the rings in the "correct" order. But, for children, fun and a sense of accomplishment may be derived from just from getting a ring on the stick or picking up a ring successfully.

Cause-and-effect toys are promote a child’s development. For example, the child pushes a button and that causes the toy to make noise, move and light up. Sing and Smile Pals by Vtech is a good example. When the child pushes animal pictures, the dog barks, the cat meows, and the duck quacks. The Sassy Sound Shape Sorter gives musical feedback. For kids who are blind, sound is a great motivator. For kids who are deaf, it may be light or other visual responses. Musical feedback is also particularly good for children with autism.

Vtech toys are usually accessible for youngsters with special needs. Little Smart Phonics A to Z is a toy for youngsters who are blind to begin learning Braille.

For visually disabled children, you could attach rattles to the child's ankles, so they would know they have feet. Sighted babies see they have feet. Blind babies don’t. Rattle socks with animal characters on them are also widely available for babies.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) offers a selection of fun products for youngsters with vision disabilities. These include Braille and tactile Bingo, large print and Braille playing cards, checkers, tic-tac-toe, Braille Monopoly and Scrabble, and a bell ball.

For a child just learning to walk at age three, a walker might not be motivating, but the Little Tikes shopping cart is an exciting push toy for practicing walking.

Toys-R-Us publishes an annual Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. Toys in it are tested for ten developmental areas, such as language, tactile, and gross motor skills.

Older preschoolers may develop an interest in sports. At this point sports don't need to be formal or competitive. Buy an inexpensive soccer ball to kick around the yard or make a bowling set from empty milk cartons or soda bottles and a ball. Throwing a ball against a wall and then catching it improves his hand-eye coordination ,muscle strength and range of motion.

Lamaze toys are developed around the Lamaze Infant Development System which consists of three developmental themes:
Awakening the senses from birth to 24 months
Exploring and experimenting from 6 to 24 months.
Moving and doing from 9 to 24 months.

All Lamaze toys are designed to help baby explore and learn about their world.

Awakening the Senses - Birth to 24 months
Lamaze follows key developmental stages for baby and works within baby's skill set from birth. A newborn baby cannot see very far at all but can hear very well so much of the Lamaze philosophy in the early months is around helping baby develop these senses. The toys are designed around sound and texture. Baby likes to touch and feel different things so they will reach out to investigate their immediate world or shake their hands or feet to hear rattles and tinkles.

Exploring and Experimenting - 6 to 24 months
With Lamaze toys, babies will discover new skills no matter when the toy was originally bought. Lamaze provides babies with toys that will evolve as baby's senses evolve. So a toy bought when baby was very young will still be applicable to baby when they are slightly older.

Moving and Doing - 9 to 24 months
Babies will learn to play with Lamaze toys in a very different way now that they are mobile. Their motor skills will be developing at a great rate so babies should now be able to start playing the musical notes available in some of the Lamaze toys and will be able to better play with the stacking rings and shape sorters. So toys that you bought when baby was much younger because of their textures and contrasting patterns and colours will become more practical now.

When possible, choose toys that enhance the gross motor skill development of young children, not computer/video games that are passive. Gross motor skills are those that come from the physical activities, such as running, jumping, crawling, climbing. The stretching and strengthening of muscles in early childhood lead to other refined motor skills, such as grasping and pinching-skills needed to hold a crayon or pencil or cut with scissors. They also allow children to hold themselves upright, make eye contact and sit for lengths of time when learning such skills as reading and writing once they reach school age.

Developmental age 1

You are your child's first, and most fascinating, plaything. Every time you coo, tickle or snuggle your children you are teaching them about a range of human emotions and interactions in ways that no toy could ever do. Between three and six months, the favored toys may include rattles, a host of teething toys or brightly colored stuffed animal friends. But babies spend most of their first year learning about the world through their association with their parents, with siblings and with themselves.

Around the first birthday, children are mastering the use of their hands to grasp and release objects, such as picking up and dropping Cheerios from the tray of the highchair. They are also beginning to understand the people and objects in their world by grabbing, pounding, mouthing, tearing, etc. Many may be pulling themselves up to stand with support from mom, dad or furniture.

Some "toys" that are favored by children at this age include boxes with lids and chunky objects to put in and take out of the boxes, toys that include pegs to be hammered through a hole or balls that roll down a chute.

Recycle unbreakable wide-mouth containers and toss in a few blocks or balls that fit easily inside. Toys that can be taken apart, such as stacking toys and wooden or plastic puzzles with oversized pieces, are also appropriate although children won't be able to put them back together yet. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, safe toys for babies are those 1.68 inches in diameter or larger.

Developmental ages 1-3

At around 12 to 15 months, children's ability to grasp objects and manipulate them becomes more advanced. They are making the connection between cause and effect. They begin a fascination with making noise by banging on pots and pans and repeatedly opening and closing cabinets and drawers both to see what's inside and to hear the noise they make. Create a drum set from an empty oatmeal canister and a wooden spoon. A sturdy set of chunky wooden blocks that come in various shapes and sizes and toys, such as stacking rings, where one object fits in sequence after another, are also good additions to the toddler toy chest.

As they near their second birthday, many toddlers enjoy kid-sized versions of the tools that mom and dad use everyday. Toy brooms, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and gardening tools are wonderful props for playing at being grown-up and can give children's muscles a workout too.

Once toddlers hit age two, they can distinguish simple forms and shapes. Now is a perfect time for shape sorters and wooden puzzles (the type in which a shape is fitted into one of a few spaces in a frame).

At this point most children have developed strength and control over their bodies and no longer need to use their arms for support. This frees them to explore with their hands and arms like never before. Balls become favorite playthings for many children. Try large beach-type balls for rolling and catching. Large wooden or colorful plastic stringing beads are great for enhancing hand/eye coordination.

Developmental ages 3-5

By developmental age three, most children are good at running, climbing and jumping and are beginning to show interest in other, more structured types of play. Children at this age will begin scribbling and cutting. Some non-destructive ways for children to practice their cutting skills include snipping along the edge of a piece of paper to make a grassy border for a collage or cutting Playdoh or cooked pasta tubes into pieces. Paper, finger paint, chunky crayons and blunt tipped scissors are good choices for craft supplies.

Many preschoolers love to don a cape or crown and pretend to be a favored superhero or a member of royalty. Salvage items from your family's closets and jewelry that are not longer worn. Oversized scarves can become turbans, skirts and belts; old sunglasses and hats. Never give children items such as ties and thin scarves that can be wrapped tightly around their necks and cause strangulation or that include beads or other pieces that can be removed and swallowed.

A set of building blocks is still a wonderful toy that can be played with in many different and imaginative ways. Dolls are also great basic toys that can be used for role playing, making up stories and other verbal exchanges and practicing emotions.

Other toys that teach valuable school readiness skills include:

See ‘n Say

Water play

Lacing cards for hand/eye coordination

Dot-to-dot games or books that provide practice with numbers and teach sequencing

Riding toys

Legos and Duplos to add an imaginative element to block play

Simple board games and card games that require children to take turns help develop their social skills

While considering toys, one final website to check out is Exceptional Parent. It has an excellent section on toys for kids with disabilities that includes reviews of many toys by parents and professionals.

Whatever choice of toys parents make, play is the most important thing you can do with your child. It’s really how kids learn about their world and how to interact with other people.

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