Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Toys That Are S.A.F.E. (Sturdy, Age Appropriate, Fun and Economical): When Choosing Toys for Children with Special Needs, the Usefulness of a Toy Is More Appropriately Based on the Developmental Age of the Child. Developmental Age Is the Set of Functional Skills or Age-Specific Tasks That Most Children Can Do at a Certain Age Range

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Toys That Are S.A.F.E. (Sturdy, Age Appropriate, Fun and Economical): When Choosing Toys for Children with Special Needs, the Usefulness of a Toy Is More Appropriately Based on the Developmental Age of the Child. Developmental Age Is the Set of Functional Skills or Age-Specific Tasks That Most Children Can Do at a Certain Age Range

Article excerpt

With the upcoming holiday season there is going to be a mad dash to our nation's retailers to find that perfect toy as a gift. All kids enjoy new toys to play with including those with special needs. Nothing lights up the face of a child than when they receive a new toy to play with. But, the holiday season and even birthdays can be a gift-giving challenge when a child's interests and desires fall outside the typical trip down the toy aisle at the neighborhood department store to easily grab that "must-have" toy. While hefty expenditures in toys are not required for our special kids to thrive, there are a few things to keep in mind when buying gifts for children with special needs. Regardless of the child's exceptionality, the toys chosen for them need to be S.A.F.E. The acronym S.A.F.E will remind all of us that toys designed specifically for children with special needs must be Sturdy, Age appropriate, Fun and Economical. Keeping this in mind will provide for that successful, comforting feeling that it is, "better to give than to receive" while at the same time reminding us that there is more to consider when buying new toys.

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Play is the way children learn, and it is fun and engaging. Play helps little ones develop fine and gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, communication skills, social skills, as well as problem solving and memory enhancement. Yet, for most special needs children, the act of playing doesn't occur naturally in the course of cognitive development. Some have to be taught "how" to play, while others find play so seemingly difficult due to a physical, sensory, communication or cognitive challenge that they choose not to play at all. Understanding a child's particular capabilities will help guide toy selection just as much as knowing whether to choose a toy for its educational value or fun factor.

Understanding that not all children enjoy the same play interests and abilities is the first step to choosing the best toy for a child. There are a few websites that have great suggestions for choosing toys for special needs children. The first company website is AblePlay, (http://www.ableplay.org/). AblePlayTM is a toy rating system that provides information on toys for children with special needs. It rates toys based on appropriateness on a scale of one to five in areas of physical, cognitive, sensory and communication ability. Reviews of toys by professionals also list what developmental skills the toy fosters. You can search for toys by specific disability category, ability, age range or manufacturer.

Another company that is just as helpful is Fat Brain Toys, (http://www.fatbraintoys.com/index.cfm). Fat Brain Toys stocks almost 7,000 toys categorized by interests, age, gender, price and country of origin (if you have concerns about different safety standards like the possibility of using lead paint). You can also search by 31 different toy categories and by a specific special need. One of the benefits to using these websites is that the ratings are for toys that typical developing kids normally use. This is beneficial when parents are worried about helping their child fit in with other children their age.

You should still apply the S.A.F.E. principles when choosing toys from these sites. Foremost, toys for children with special needs need to be sturdy. This is a priority because children may play with the toy in a way that is much different than for which it was designed. Many parents of special needs children have seen toy trucks turned upside down and wheels spun for hours, instead of the truck being driven over other smaller cars in imaginary play of a monster truck rally!

The toy should also fit your child's size and strength. This is particularly true when taking into account gross motor equipment such as ride-on toys. It may also be worthwhile to determine if the toy is washable or moisture resistant for those who have children who frequently find more joy in putting the toy in their mouths than in playing with them. …

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