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The Gift of Fun

Choose a just-right toy for a child with special needs.
 

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Picking out a gift for a child can be as simple as asking what he wants or using your intuition. But when it comes to making a selection for a child with a disability, the selection process can be fraught with anxiety.

 

Like all children, kids with learning or physical challenges want to have fun. The key, then, to choosing the right toy or game begins just as it might if you were buying a gift for any kid — with communication. Ask the child's parents what they think you should buy. You may hear, "Tom really likes trains." Or the parents may be more specific: "Tom's fine-motor skills are still developing. Try to buy a train with easy-to-snap tracks."

 

Sometimes, parents will recommend that you avoid certain kinds of toys that may be too challenging or aren't developmentally appropriate. You may also be asked to "just use your imagination." In either case, you can home in by asking a few questions, such as: "What are her interests?" or "Are there skills you want to encourage?"

 

The next step seems easy: Just head for the toy store. But not so fast! There are more considerations when you're standing in front of the shelves. The National Lekotek Center, is a non-profit dedicated to making play accessible to children with all types of disabilities. They evaluate products made by a variety of toy companies, looking for qualities like adjustability of height, volume, and speed; ease of operation; and safety and durability. Keep those qualities in mind, as well as these:

  • Switches: Is the toy difficult to turn on and off? Will its features frustrate the child?
  • Size: Are the pieces sized right for the child? Can a child in a wheelchair handle it successfully?
  • Adaptability: Can the toy be reconfigured easily for developing ability levels?
  • Age and interest level: Is it something the child is interested in?

Find Lekotek's picks on their Web site, or check out the Toys 'R' Us Toy Guide for Differently Abled Kids, featuring items chosen by Lekotek. With a bit of homework, you can pick a winner of a gift — just remember to keep the fun in mind.

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