Thursday, July 14, 2016

Therapy Tip: Choosing Toys for Your Child with Special Needs

Welcome to Therapy Thursday! This is the day that I share a tip based upon my experience as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and a mother a of a child with special needs.

Today's tip is:

Choosing Toys for your Child with Special Needs

There are no shortages of toys available for any child. But, what about the child with special needs? Do they need special (and more expensive) toys?

Toys come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. Some are noisy while others are quiet. Some are larger than the child themselves. Some are colorful and others are plain.

Toys are available in many different stores and websites. But which ones are really good for building language and vocabulary?

Having been a speech-language pathologist in the birth to three program for 10 years now, I have seen many different toys. Parents of children I work with often want to know which toys are best because they want to help their child's language development. Because children learn through play early on, having the "right" toy can be helpful.

Here are three guidelines to think about when selecting toys for your child with language or developmental delays.

1. You probably do not need to look at speciality stores to find a toy.
You can find exceptional toys to target a variety of language tasks anywhere. The majority of books and toys that I purchase for my therapy activities are from Dollar stores, Wal-Mart, and Target. I do purchase some through speciality websites, however this is not the norm. Toys for me are an investment as a therapist. For families, toys are usually a short term necessity. For this reason, I like to find toys that fit language goals in the least expensive manner and recommend that parents do the same.

2. Consider the child's developmental age instead of their chronological age.
I love how most toys have a suggested age on the box. This helps guide parents (and grandparents) into developmentally appropriate activites and toys. When a toddler is receiving speech-language therapy, their developmental age may not be the same as their chronological age. This means they may be functioning at an 18 month level when they are 24 months old. The functioning level is the age to look at when buying toys. Choosing toys based on this should lead to the child being less frustrated  with a toy that may be too difficult for them.

3. Boring, basic toys are best!
Plain toys with little bells and whistles may sometimes be overlooked in stores. Instead, we are often drawn to the toys that have electronic components with flashing lights, noisemakers, or both. These busy toys do serve a purpose. But for the young child with delays, I avoid them. Too often a child with little language will tend to passively listen to these noisy toys or get too involved jn activating the electronic component. Basic toys are best for encouraging the child to interact with another person  to socialize and learn language. Some of my favorite toddler toys that I feel are good, basic toys are: potato head, nesting cups, balls, play food sets, blocks, wind up toys, shape sorters, bubbles, and Little People sets. In general, I love products made by Melissa and Doug because they are durable and generally allow for creative play.

If you have a toddler with language delays or a development delay, do not overthink it when it comes to buying toys. You are the child's best teacher -not the toy- so remember that!

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