How to Select a Toy for a Special Needs Child
Regardless of the unique challenges your child faces, the right toy can help them develop and hone essential skills. Fine and gross motor skills, sensory processing skills, language development, spatial awareness, and a host of other skills can be encouraged with the right toys.
Playing is the work of childhood, but it shouldn’t ever feel like grueling work. The most successful toys are ones that capture the interest of your child. A child will return to interesting toys again and again until they have mastered the skill in question. If you are having trouble selecting a skill building toy for your special needs child, let the following criteria guide you.
Matching Developmental Age
When shopping for any child and especially a special needs child, it is more important to match the toy to their developmental age than to their actual age. If a seven year old is working on their fine motor skills, they don’t necessarily need a toy that has been designed for a seven year old. Instead, they need one that has been designed for a preschool age child who is also working on fine motor skills.
Finding Sensory Appeal
Toys that are tactile or visual can help a child improve how they process and interpret sensory information. Flashing lights, music, and textures can all play a role in the sensory appeal of a toy, but keep in mind that what is appealing for one child may be over-stimulating for another child. Encourage your child to slowly develop sensory relationships with the world around them using toys that develop their sensory perception rather than toys that overload it.
While a toy that is too difficult may discourage or frustrate a child, a toy that is just challenging enough will motivate and inspire them. Look for toys that provide several layers of challenges or toys that can be adapted for varying skill levels. A set of blocks can initially be stacked in short towers of two or three blocks, but as the child gets ready for something more challenging, those same blocks can be transformed into an elaborate castle. Simplicity and versatility are key if you want to find something that will challenge your child through several developmental stages.
Inclusive toys promote group interaction and social skills. If you want to foster cooperation, look at games or activities that are designed for groups of children. If you are trying to promote social skills and self esteem, look for toys like scooters or bikes that make it fun for special needs kids to join other kids.
Versatility and Adaptability
Toys that are versatile and adaptable foster creativity and self-expression. By using a single toy in multiple ways, your child will hone their problem solving skills and advance their language skills.
Children will constantly use and repeatedly return to toys and games that are interesting and engaging to them, but they may shy away from or even refuse to play with toys that have been forced upon them. If your child isn’t interested in the toy you have selected, leave if for a few days and introduce it at another time. By letting your child actively seek out the toys that interest them, you encourage them to work on the skills they are most ready to develop.
By keeping toys fun, you will make learning fun, and remember to celebrate every skill development no matter how large or small!
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