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Choosing Toys For Kids With Special Needs

A young girl in a red top and jeans balancing on colorful plastic cushioned floor disks.

All kids love new, cool, fun toys—and that includes kids with disabilities

But it’s not always easy to find, let alone choose, the right toys for a child with special needs. How do you know if a toy will match a child’s abilities, let alone enhance his or her skills?

According to government statistics, there are more than six million kids with disabilities in the U.S., which is more than 13 percent of the child population.

For those six million excellent reasons, we’ve partnered with the National Lekotek Center—the leading not-for-profit authority on play for children with disabilities—to offer AblePlayTM rated toys, which are specially geared to kids with special needs.

“These are toys all kids can benefit from and enjoy,” says Jennifer Smith, One Step Ahead Director.

“The difference is, they’ve also been independently rated by play experts in the area of special needs regarding their suitability for kids with disabilities.”

How The AblePlay Rating System Works

AblePlay-rated toys are evaluated in four disability categories:

Able Play


Physical Disabilities

These affect the motor systems. These can include skeletal, muscle and joint abnormalities which in turn limit a child’s ability to move, stand, sit, play, reach, etc. They include:

  • Cerebral Palsy (CP)
  • Muscular Dystrophy (MD)
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Spina Bifida
  • Paraplegia
  • Quadriplegia
  • Developmental Delay

Sensory Disabilities

These affect a child’s ability to gather and understand information from the environment through any of the five senses. These include:

  • Hearing Impairment
  • Visual Impairment
  • Sensory Integration Disorder (SID)

Communicative Disabilities

These affect a child’s ability to communicate verbally due to limited or altered comprehension and use of language. These include:

  • Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)
  • Speech and language delays
  • Stuttering

Cognitive Disabilities

These affect a child’s ability to process information, reason, remember, and express emotions. These include:

  • Down Syndrome (trisomy 21)
  • Mental Retardation
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Learning Disabilities (LD)

The AblePlay rating system is based on a scale of one to five stars. Here’s what the stars mean:

  • * * * * *  This toy is exceptional for children in that disability category
  • * * * *    This toy is very good for children in that disability category
  • * * *     This toy is good for children in that disability category
  • * *       This toy is adequate for children in that disability category
  • *        This toy is not suitable for children in that disability category

According to Raiko Mendoza, Director of Business Development at the National Lekotek Center in Chicago, “The AblePlay ratings provide a snapshot of a toy’s appropriateness relative to specific disabilities.”

These ratings make it easier for parents and family to choose specific toys for a specific child.

All information is taken with permission from Able Play. For more details, please visit the AblePlay website.

Our AblePlay-Rated Toys

Like all of our products, each of our AblePlay-rated toys has its own webpage. On each webpage, you’ll find the toy’s AblePlay rating and description. Once you review it, you’ll be in a better position to decide if a given toy is right for your child.

And even parents of kids who don’t have special needs can use the ratings as a toy selection tool, since different toys develop different areas of child development.

As you may know, we design many of our own exclusive products, including My Daily Planner, Kids Safety Trampoline with Handle & Tuck-Me-In Travel Bed . We submitted some of these for AblePlay testing, and you can see how they rated on their AblePlay webpages.



Top Ten Toy-Selection Tips

According to the National Lekotek Center, here are ten factors to consider when choosing toys for children with disabilities.

  1. Multi-Sensory Appeal – Does the toy respond with lights, sounds, or movement to engage your child? Are there contrasting colors? Is it scented? Does it have texture?
  2. Method of Activation – Does the toy provide a challenge, without frustration? What is the force required to activate it? How many steps does it take and how complex are they?
  3. Places the Toy Will Be Used – Can the toy be used in a variety of positions, such as side-lying or on a wheelchair tray? Is there space in the home for it? Will it be easy to store?
  4. Opportunities for Success – Does the toy allow for open-ended play, with no definite right or wrong way? Can it be adapted to your child’s individual style, ability, and pace?
  5. Current Popularity – Will this toy help a child with disabilities feel more like “any other kid”? Does it tie in with other activities like books and art sets that promote additional forms of play?
  6. Self-expression – Does the toy allow for creativity, uniqueness, and making choices? Will it give your child experience with a variety of media?
  7. Adjustability – Can you adjust the toy’s height, sound volume, speed, or level of difficulty to accommodate your child?
  8. Your Child’s Individual Abilities – Does it offer activities that reflect both your child’s developmental and chronological ages? Does it reflect your child’s interests?
  9. Safety and Durability – Does the toy fit with your child’s size and strength? Are the toy and its parts sized appropriately for your child? Is it washable and moisture resistant?
  10. Potential for Interaction – Will you child be an active participant during play? Does the toy encourage social engagement with others?

The Power of Inclusion

The beauty of AblePlay-rated toys is that they are inclusive. These are the same exact toys kids will find at their friend, cousins, or neighbor’s house. And that’s important, because when it comes to play, children with disabilities want to be included in the same way as everyone else.

Additional Resource(s):
National Lekotek Center

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