Back in 2006, I wrote a blog post titled, "Best Toys and Gifts for Special Needs Children". Since that time, it's been one of my most popular posts. Last year, I updated it and I thought I might reprint it again. I poured over the toy catalogs and websites looking for those toys that I thought were really good. I was amazed to find that there still wasn't a lot to pick from so I decided to do a few things to make it easier. First, I created a link at the top of my blog for "best toys and gifts" and I've added all of the toys I'll talk about today. I have included pictures and links for each toy along with a description of why I like the toy and how I think the child would use the toy or an explanation of how Dear Son used the toy. Disabled children enjoy many of the same toys that normal kids do however when they play with the toy, they play with it whatever way is easiest for them. In Dear Son's case, he had poor trunk control, couldn't sit up, no use of his arms or hands but liked to play with things with his legs, feet and/or mouth. I have also included a link for all of the toys today to the Amazon website. If you can use this link, I'd appreciate it-it doesn't cost you any more for the toy than going to Amazon directly, but Amazon pays a small referral fee and I use this to help with Dear Son.
Some of the best toys can be found in a few places:
1) The 0-24 month aisle typically has the best selection of toys that severely disabled children can actually do. Most of the toys in this aisle require gross hand or foot movements to activate.
My son used a musical mat similar to this when he was a baby and learning to roll over. The physical therapist would lie my son on the mat and then help him roll over. As the child rolls over, the music is their reward thus helping them work on rolling over. This mat allows you to set it up to hear each note or to hear complete songs. When babies can't move at all, you want a maximum reward for a small movement, meaning you want to activate the music with the slightest movement. I don't think they'll use it like the child shows in the photo, meaning placing their hand on it but rather as a tool to help them learn to roll over.
Fisher-Price Precious Planet Kick and Play PianoFrom Fisher-Price $29.99
This toy would be great for a child who had good foot/leg control but limited hand control. It would encourage them to move their feet. Also, if placed in their crib, or even on the floor, it would be easy to activate with the slightest movement.
Vtech Little Smart First Words Plus Toy From vtech
Five stars for this toy! I used this toy when my son was very small and I wasn't sure if he even knew what was going on. I would hit the Mama button and after a while, he was able to find that button and hit it. He was able to learn where the Mama button was and also some of the other buttons. This was great because he couldn't speak. I did work with him on this toy every day so it wasn't like he learned it by himself. When he pushed on the buttons, he did it with his mouth/chin, not his hands (Dear Son didn't have any use of his hands/fingers.)
Here are two examples of these bounce back dolls. The base is filled with sand and the toy is made of vinyl.
This product is great for a child who can't sit up but can use his legs. They can lay on the floor and use their legs to kick the Bozo down and it bounces back up. It's important to remember that special needs kids need ways to release energy just like regular kids do. My Dear Son didn't have use of his hands or arms but his legs and feet worked well. He loved this. The other reason this is good is because as they are kicking and moving their legs, they are strengthening their core which is great for kids with low trunk control or for kids who can't walk. Any time you can help them increase their core muscles, it will help them for walking.
Rocket USA 46 Inch Bam Bam Bop Bag Obama $34.98From Rocket USA
See Bozo review for comments.
This toy is great if your child can't sit up. My son had no trunk control but good use of his legs. He loved to lie down in the ball pit and take his legs and press down on the sides of the tent to try to knock it over. Often times, he'd play and then get tired and liked to fall asleep in there with balls on him of course! This ball pit is similar to the one he had and he was able to lie on his back in there and not choke on anything. I would not recommend lying a child who can't roll over face down in there. I never did! That being said, I believe it to be safe or I wouldn't recommend it. This was one of my son's favorite toys. **You need to order balls to go in here! 200 Plastic Pit Balls for Play Tents: 4 Colors - Red, Yellow, Green, Blue $42.60From eWonderWorld
These are the balls to go in the ball pit.
Alex Ready, Set, Go! Red Trike $49.99 on sale (Regular Price $199.99) From Alex Toys
Love this trike! Oh, how I wish they had something like this when Dear Son was young! I like the fact that it has a tall back, has seatbelts and straps, has a umbrella to protect against the sun and has a handle to push them. I think this would be a five star toy! Great for a child with poor trunk control but legs/feet that move.
Dear Son loved Chuck the Talking Truck, especially when he crashed into the wall or something. It's been upgraded since then and Chuck "comes" when you call him, meaning it's voice activated. Regardless, I think this would encourage vocalizations of some kind with the kids. Even if your child couldn't vocalize, you could call the truck.
Photo of Dear Son listening to, "Twas the Night Before Christmas Story" by Mr. Christmas.
Mr. Christmas Winter Wonderland Village Christmas $55.60
This is the item that I ordered for Dear Son this Christmas. It's a train that goes around the village which is comprised of a church, townhouse and Christmas tree. It plays 15 Christmas carols and 15 year round classics. This also comes with an A/C adapter. This items typically retails for $80 or more however I found the best price at Amazon. The A/C adapter can drive up the price a bit on these products however it's really great. Dear Son listens to these so much that I'd have to replace the batteries constantly so the A/C adapter is appreciated. This item is fairly small, only 10.75 inches wide which will be perfect for his nightstand since he has to lie down a lot since he can't sit very long. Also, he loves trains so this product will be perfect for him. He'll love to watch that train go round and round and the music will be very soothing. One thing I personally like about Mr. Christmas products is that the music is really nice and doesn't get on your nerves after hours of non-stop use. As with all Mr. Christmas products, they come with a volume control.
My son loved this item. Mr. Christmas makes high quality musical items that my son would watch for hours. What's great about Mr. Christmas musical items, versus other musical products, is that they have a volume control and the sound quality of the music is good. Cheaper musical items have poor sound quality or the volume control is really loud and scares the kids or is annoying. Mr. Christmas items have been a favorite of my son's for years. While this one is currently unavailable on Amazon, I have purchased Mr. Christmas musical toys at Target, American Sales or home improvement stores. Each year, Mr. Christmas develops new musical items. You can check the Mr. Christmas website and then locate a retailer from there. If I recall, that’s how I located the Mr. Christmas Symphony Surprise; we got it at Menards for $79.99.
Child's Rocking Chair - Espresso Brown Finish $55.99From Table & Chairs
Child's 2-Slat Rocking Chair – Red $47.78 From Kid Kraft
Angel Line Country Adult Rocker $137.49From Angel Line
My son had poor trunk control and no use of his arms and hands, was wheelchair bound but had good use of his legs and feet. He loved using a rocking chair. The rocking chair gave him the freedom to move around the room and offered support. He would sit in the chair and scoot the chair by moving his feet. The rocking chair helped him practice his balance by constantly working his torso. What is important is that you need the back of the chair to be tall enough to support their back and their head. The top of the child's head should be even with the top piece on the back of the chair since they need head support. You can not leave a child unattended in this chair nor use it near stairs obviously. My son loved to sit in it and scoot over to the window, lean his head on the window and look out. There are many wooden rocking chairs to pick from on Amazon so be sure to check them out and get the right height.
My son had poor trunk control and was wheelchair bound. He loved the red flyer wagon and this one is great because it has a taller back which would provide support for kids with poor trunk control. It also comes with a seatbelt. I walked my son every night in his wagon and he enjoyed it more than walks in his wheelchair. You want to make sure that their head is supported by the backrest. I've read some comments on turning and I don't know about that. When my son was small we had the Red Flyer with the wooden sides. I would think you should be o.k. I would recommend the umbrella for days when you want to take a special needs child outside. Often times, they can't wear sunglasses or they fall off so an umbrella would make it easier on them especially if they can't move their head to keep their eyes out of the sun.
Radio Flyer Umbrella Accessory $17.82 From Radio Flyer
I like this book for several reasons. First, Dear Son loved it when I read books that had some sound for the different animals or characters. From a developmental standpoint, I liked it because he soon learned to "anticipate" when the sound was coming in the story, especially for sounds he liked. That helped me understand what information he was processing in his head. This book goes a step beyond that and not only gives the sound of a horse galloping but shows the horse galloping on the LCD screen. Often times it's helpful for children with disabilities to learn new information when they get information from different senses; in this case, they can "hear" the horse and "see" the horse. I'd recommend this book or other books that are "press and play" so to speak, even if they don't have the LCD screen.
This toy is similar to a toy my son loved. By pressing the hands or feet of the toy, different instruments are activated. My son had no use of his hands but I imagine he would press on the toy with his feet or bite on it with his mouth. You would soon learn which sounds are pleasing or interesting to your child. Also, the music calms them. My son had a similar toy that he used at bedtime and he pressed it often as a way to soothe himself to sleep or when he had seizures.
When choosing a cat, I referred to the book ASPCA-The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help me find a cat that met our needs. I looked for a cat that was: 1) good with kids 2) lap cat 3) liked to play.
To this day, Dear Son loves our cat. The cat meows when he wants Dear Son to pet him. I lift the cat up to Dear Son’s bed and then take Dear Son’s hand to pet the cat. The cat kisses (sniffs) Dear Son. The cat also loves to sit on the armrest of Dear Son’s wheelchair before and after school. The cat also loves Dear Son’s art projects from school. He likes art projects with pipe cleaners (now called “fuzzy sticks”, lol). Dear Son gets a kick out of the cat playing with his projects.
by Poof Slinky
Plastic Slinky (Colors May Vary) $6.82
Dear Son's occupational therapist recommended a slinky and he loved it. What's great about a slinky for disabled kids is that it doesn't require much movement from the child to get the slinky moving. If a child has difficulty moving or controlling their arm, this is perfect for them.
Veggie Tales Silly Songs Brush-a-long Musical Toothbrush $3.99 From Veggie Tales
This musical toothbrush runs for 2 minutes-the recommended brushing time. What is great about these toothbrushes is that the handle is wider which would make it easier for a child with special needs who has poor hand control to grip. While you may still need to add padding to make it easier, it's a great start. I used these for lab blood draws to, to distract my son while the tech was drawing blood. I liked musical toothbrushes versus other toys because they were slim and easily portable versus larger toys that were musical.
Spider Man Musical Toothbrush $6.95
Great for a stocking stuffer. Music plays for two minutes. Comes in red or blue. Not only is 2 minutes the recommended amount of time to brush your teeth but I took a musical toothbrush along to a blood draw. I held the toothbrush in front of my child and pushed the button; he was distracted by the music and the lab tech was able to draw his blood without any crying!
Sesame Street Finger Paint Bubble Bath $6.95From Sesame Street
Nice stocking stuffer. This is something to make bathtime fun. The way I would use it for my disabled son was to use the paints to write "I Love You" or something on him at bathtime. It's hard when your child can't play with something but you still can do things to make bathtime fun for them.
Hohner Kids Single 5" High Cage Bell, Assorted Colors $4.80From Hohner Kids
Nice stocking stuffer. This price is for one bell. Dear Son liked this type of bell-he would pick it up between his toes and shake it.
Note: Dear Son is nineteen years old and suffers from seizures, dystonia and is severely delayed as a result of a random mutation of the ARX gene. He also has a progressive neurological disease.