Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Low-Tech Solutions for Playtime Fun

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Low-Tech Solutions for Playtime Fun

Article excerpt

Play ... it's what kids do ... and it's as important to growth and development as eating and sleeping. Through play, a child develops basic motor skills, creativity, social skills, communication, self-concept and the foundation for learning. But what exactly is play? Play is difficult to define but easy to recognize. We know play is happening when a child begins interacting with a toy or person; when the child directs what is happening, starting and stopping when he or she wants to; and when a child is having fun!

All children must have opportunities for play-- to interact with and explore their environment. Many times, however, children with disabilities are learning very different lessons. At times, play may be difficult for a child due to limitations presented by his or her disability or clue to the design of a toy. Also, the child's parents may tend to direct play and therapists use toys for specific skill development. The elements that make play fun are often missing.

We find that too often children with disabilities are at risk for "learned helplessness" where they wait for others to initiate interactions. If parents can find successful ways for a child to play, they may witness the awakening of the child's ability to initiate play. Then they can move from directing play to joining in and following what the child does--promoting fun for all!

Many therapists use toys as therapeutic tools. For example, the goal in therapy may be to help the child "develop extension and grasp," so the child must reach several times for a toy that is slightly out of reach. Eventually, her motivation turns to frustration and she quits. Play differs from therapy in that the focus is on fun -- that means making toys easy to access and easy to have a successful experience in using them!

To engage a child in play, toys may be presented in a way that makes them easy to get. Some ideas include: dangling toys from links on an overhead gym so they are closer to the child's hands or feet; or attaching Velcro[R] on the bottom of a toy so it doesn't move and get out of reach.

The creation of successful play environments for young children with disabilities has been investigated by staff here at the Let's Play! Project (DOE/OSERS) since 1995. The project supports families in the use of assistive technology (AT) solutions to empower their children to initiate and playfully interact with toys and people in their environment. These AT supports include:

* toys with design features that make them interesting and easy to use,

* simple adaptations to make the toys more accessible,

* specialized toys (reactive toys, switches, switch toys, interfaces, etc.)

* positioning and mobility supports and

* communication aids

In creating play environments with a family, we consider their child's "sensory preferences" (which senses the child likes to have stimulated), their motor and visual abilities, which activities and/or toys interest the child and provide a successful play opportunity, as well as environmental and cultural factors. We look to combine AT solutions with strategies that result in successful and fun play experiences. These "Creative Play Environments" change as the child's needs and interests change. Components can be combined with other toys or positions.

There is room for both therapy and play in a child's life, but play emphasizes what the child can do, what the child likes. By promoting play we promote self-choice, self-direction, self-esteem and an independent spirit!


Tommy liked toys that were colorful that he could use all by himself. …

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