Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Creative Play.Begins with Fun Objects, Your Imagination, and Simple-to-Use Technology

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Creative Play.Begins with Fun Objects, Your Imagination, and Simple-to-Use Technology

Article excerpt

Simple technology systems for battery-powered and electrical toys and games enable children with disabilities to actively participate in independent and shared leisure activities. Children feel empowered and have the best chance of learning if they are actively involved, even in small ways.

Simple-to-use assistive technology

Simple-to-use assistive technology allows children with physical, sensory, perceptual, or cognitive disabilities to access electronically- and battery-powered toys, games, appliances, computers, and communication systems. Simple-to-use "tech" includes specially designed switches, control units, battery device adapters, and mounting systems. It does not have to be expensive or new, and in fact, many commercial toys as well as those toys and appliances you already own can easily be used with little or no adaptation. Here are some ideas to make play interesting and accessible.

Choosing toys

There are over 155,000 types of toys on the market. How do parents decide which are appropriate for their children with disabilities? Is it necessary to purchase "special" toys? Should toy selection be based on a child's mental or chronological age?

[] Carefully consider the child's interests and responses to various types of auditory, visual, tactile, and sensory stimulation. For example, if a child seems to focus more on objects with bright colors and movement, a battery-powered "bump-and-go' police car with flashing lights and siren may be an appropriate selection. A "bump-and-go" toy is one which moves until it hits an obstacle.

[] When choosing toys and play materials ask yourself: will the child be playing alone or with others? If activities will be shared, will the child be playing with same-age peers, family, or friends of various ages? Select toys and games that are appropriate for and enjoyed by other children of the same chronological age. Age-appropriate toys are more likely to promote opportunities for integrated play among children with disabilities and their siblings and friends.

[] Toys should be durable and able to withstand fairly rigorous handling. Although most toys are not designed to be indestructible, quality varies among toys in a similar category. Durability will be more important for children who are likely to drop or throw materials.

The battery system

Many battery-powered toys can be quickly adapted for external switch control using a battery-device adapter. The battery- device adapter is a small piece of double- sided copper connected to a jack by a thin wire. The copper piece is placed between the battery and the contact in the battery compartment to interrupt the flow of current to the toy. A switch connected to the other end of the battery-device adapter allows the child to control the on/off operation of the toy. More control options can be added with a Switch/Latch/ & Timer (SLAT). In addition to a switch, this combination device also allows the toy to stay on until a preset time runs out and latch control enables the child to turn the toy on and off by hitting the latch.

Electronic toys and activities

Make-believe play is a fun way to get involved with other children, and learn simple life skills like sharing and cooperation. Many battery-powered toys adapted for external switch control can be used by children with disabilities who want to participate in make-believe play with their friends. Start by thinking about or observing the types of play scenarios that children make up. Then, provide related toys that are switch-controlled and can be incorporated into the pretend play experience. For example, children who love to play house may select from a wide variety of battery-powered kitchen appliances and include their friends with disabilities in their play. "Let's have a tea party!" can involve baking cookies and making "tea" in a blender.

Children and young adults love to help in the kitchen, build things, and run action toys like train sets. …

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