remember it very distinctly. I was standing in the Toys R Us store trying to find “one” toy that I could buy Dear Son for Christmas. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford more than one toy, it was rather that with his disabilities, there weren’t any toys that he could do himself, that we didn’t already have. I walked around for quite some time, when I got stuck in one of the aisles behind two young boys fighting over all their toys. They had an entire cart full of toys and were begging for more. Somehow, at that moment, life didn’t seem too fair. I just needed one toy, that didn’t require the use of your hands, your fingers, that didn’t require you to be able to sit, to be able to roll over or to use your voice. I needed something that didn’t flash or vibrate (since he had seizures and these could bring them on). I wanted to surprise him, to make him smile. I was, after all, Santa.
Many of the toys I saw, didn’t work for one reason or another, or I had already purchased them. Most of my family, preferred to give me money, so I could select the toys. Typically, this would mean a two hour shopping trip, only to come home with a few five dollar toys, but nothing exciting or of any consequence. I should also explain that some of the challenges parents of special needs children face, is finding toys that match their “developmental” age especially when their “chronological” age is much larger.
I decided to put together a list of Dear Son’s favorite toys over the years, in hopes that I might be able to assist other parents of children with severe disabilities, in finding toys for Christmas. I will also show you a picture when I can and tell you what types of things you should look for or what made this particular toy a favorite.
To give you a little history, Dear Son is severely developmentally delayed (retarded), has no use of his hands or arms, is non-verbal, can not walk, can not talk, can not feed himself and is totally dependent on someone. For many years, Dear Son could not roll over. As time passed, he was able to walk on his knees and roll over. Today, he can do neither.
Wooden Rocking Chair- We purchased a wood rocker at a furniture store many years ago. We happened to find this rocker while we were looking to purchase some dining room chairs. Dear Son was getting fussy in his wheelchair so I put him in this child's maple rocker while we purchased our chairs. The rocking chair worked so well, we purchased it for Dear Son. What was great about this rocker was that it had a tall back, which supported his trunk and the back of his head. This rocker was made of maple, but was still light enough for him to scoot around the house on the carpet with it. He took his feet and scooted side to side to move it and then loved to lean forward and look out the window. I liked it because he could get around the house easily and independently. It was much better than sitting in a wheelchair all day or lying on the floor. We’d take this rocker to family outings or simply when we went somewhere, like to see fireworks on the fourth of July. It’s the only seat he was able to stay in. A regular chair didn’t work because he would fall off the chair and because he couldn’t move the chair around the room. Many physical therapists have never heard of a child using a rocker to get around in like this, but once they saw him, they agreed it worked. From a therapeutic standpoint, the rocker also helped his balance. He still uses a rocker today, only he can’t get around in it like he once did and it’s now much larger. I found some child rockers at this website. I like the one pictured Dear Son was that he could use his mouth and bite on Barney’s hands to get them to work. If Dear Son was sitting, he would take his left foot and step on Barney’s feet and he would talk. This toy was worth every penny. We have had about six of these in his life. There are so many severely disabled children who love this particular Barney, that it’s truly amazing. None of the newer type Barney’s work as well as this one. Here is an newer ones are plastic but should work just as well.
Train-The best train we ever got was one from Walgreen’s. It was a battery operated small train that had a 36 inch round track that fit on the coffee table in the family room. Dear Son loved to sit on the floor and lean against the coffee table to watch and listen to the train. He loved it even more when he could take his arm and de-rail the train. This might take twenty tries and an awfully long time but he could do it. And when he did, he would laugh some big belly laughs. This toy was great from a therapeutic standpoint to encourage use of his arms. I purchased more expensive trains from Lionel but they didn’t work as well since the track was too sensitive. A tunnel is a great idea too if you can find one for the train. What to look for: Look for a train with a small track, unless you have a lot of room. I like the battery operated ones best. Make sure you can access the batteries easily. Most of these cheaper trains work best however access to the batteries are difficult due to the small screws used.
Mr. Christmas Musical Carousels-Mr. Christmas makes a great line of musical carousels. What is great about Mr. Christmas items is that they have a lot of songs, both Christmas and non-Christmas on the carousels and they have a volume control. The volume control is a big deal since many of the cheaper carousels you buy don’t have a volume control and they volume is too loud. Also, the quality of the music is great on them. When you listen to a cheaper carousel, the music quality is scratchy. Dear Son loved to listen and watch the carousel. He especially loved one with horses. I have tried other musical toys/carousels but the Mr. Christmas ones are the absolute best. Do not bother with any other brand. This year, I purchased the Mr. Christmas Symphony Surprise-Santa's Workshop. Four windows open in the house to reveal musical animated Gingerbread musicians. It plays fifty songs in four part harmony, 25 Christmas and 25 non-Christmas favorites and includes a real clock. The web site will give available stores however I was able to find this one at our local Meijer store even though the web site only gave the Grand Rapids Michigan Meijer store as one of the available locations.
Swing-An outdoor swing is essential for them. What you want is a swing with a tall back to support them. You can find them for several hundred dollars in a therapy catalog however I suspect you can now find them in a toy store or on-line much cheaper. Every child loves the tall back, not just children with disabilities. You can often see examples of this type of swing in many parks across the country. They are most often in red, have a high back and nearly every child and adult will use them, disabled or not.
Television near their bed.-One of the most surprising things that Dear Son loved was a television he had in one of the rehabilitation hospitals he frequented. This particular hospital had a small t.v. right next to his bed. He loved it. A television across the room was of less interest to him. The small size is important too-I am guessing this one was around a 13 inch screen which is just about right.
Videos- His absolute favorite movie was, “A Very Goofy Christmas”. He would laugh big belly laughs over this one movie.
Silly Six Pins-This is a bowling game where the bowling pins talk. We never used the bowling ball but instead set up the pins on our kitchen table on a placemat. I would pull Dear Son up to the table in his wheelchair, with only his lap strap fastened, and he would lean forward and use his head to knock the pins down. The bowling pins would talk to him to help encourage this action. This activity helped strengthen his trunk control and he loved it. As a reminder, the age of destruction preceeds the age of construction so developmentally, things that crash will always be a better choice than things for them to build.
IPOD-My son loves to listen to music so any of the IPODs would be an excellent choice. You do have to be careful that you watch the volume control since they can’t turn the volume up or down themselves.
Musical Mat- This is a musical mat that is about two feet wide and two feet tall that lies on the floor. When you press on the mat, it plays music. This is a great toy for an infant or toddler who is having difficulty in learning to roll over. You can practice helping them roll over and when they roll, they will be rewarded with music. Dear Son enjoyed this toy.
Musical toothbrush-Disney and several other manufacturers make a musical toothbrush that is great. I never used them for brushing teeth though. I used it to occupy Dear Son when he was getting a lab test or a shot. The song usually lasts three to five minutes or so, just long enough to keep his attention on the music and by the time the song is done, they have completed the shot without any crying. For Dear Son, he loved music and attended to things he heard vs. things he saw. The small size of the toothbrush made it great for taking along, as opposed to the size of a regular musical toy. These can also be used for tooth brushing however I tended to prefer the Oral B types for that.
Stocking Stuffers- Some great stocking stuffers include:
-Slinky-because it doesn’t take much hand control to get it to roll over.
-Bath paints-you can squirt it on the child and write his name or “I love you” on his chest when you give them a bath. The color makes it fun.
-Other fun gifts ideas include movie gift cards, museum gift cards or in our state, we have a wonderful Arboretum with some fantastic trails. A membership card is a great gift.
-Babysitting coupons so the parents can go out to dinner is always appreciated. So often with Special Needs children, none of the family wants to babysit since they are afraid or it’s too much work. While that may be true, there is often a time when the child is sleeping, that the parents can go out for a quick dinner.
And the best gift of all-a note from Santa! When my son didn’t hit any milestones his first year, I was devasted. I had nothing to write in his baby book. I decided to write him a letter from Santa every year and include in it, the two or three things that he did accomplish. Santa would tell Dear Son how proud he was that he was able to work so hard and accomplish these things. The letter would be written on construction paper, in crayon and end the same way, “All my love, Santa”. I would roll up the letter and put it in his stocking. He loved to sit on my lap while I would read the letter.
These are my absolute best toy/gift ideas for Special Needs Children.
12/20/10-Recently, I compiled a list of toys/gifts for special needs children. Click here to see them. I will also tell you why I think a particular toy is good for these kids as well as tell you how the child will play with it and/or what to look for in a particular toy. I have included links to Amazon so you can order it and have it delivered to save you time from having to go out. I will be adding additional items throughout the year, that I think would work for these kids. Please be sure to save this link for all future gifts (both birthday, Christmas and otherwise).
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