Buying toys for most kids is easy and fun. What are they interested in? How old are they? What milestones have they met or are they close to meeting in which a particular toy might engage them further? While all valid questions, most of these don’t matter for Madison. Because she is so globally delayed, and her brain functions far differently, when it comes to buying toys for her, we need to be strategic. Each toy is an opportunity for therapy, a chance to build new neuron connections, and to ultimately help her reach her fullest potential. She doesn’t have particular interests like most kids, but over time we have found toys that seem to keep her engaged and learning!
So what kinds of toys are great for special needs kids? Well the blanket term “special needs” can cover a vast number of disabilities in children, so this post will focus on toys that we found to help Madison and her needs. So moms and dads of kids with CVI, low tone, and brain injury – this post might be for you!
High Contrast Toys
Black and white toys are great for infants, but also great for kids with CVI since they need help focusing on things that are less cluttered visually. Using black and white and adding one bright color that a child responds to, usually red or yellow, to the mix, helps them focus on that item more easily which can improve tracking, as well as, create consistent clear visual pathways to the brain to process. We use the below play mat daily and her tummy time has definitely improved with it!
Light Up Toys
Madison responds greatly to things that light up which is common for kids with CVI. We may try to keep the room dark, and use light up toys or a combination of toys that both light up and make noise for her to focus on. We also use a light box with transparent solid colored shapes to help keep her focus. Using the light box is how we determined that Madision tends to favor the color yellow! You might be able to purchase an actual light box from the Commission for the Blind through your insurance, but we opted for a cheaper version through Amazon so that we could get started on using it more quickly! She also LOVES the Step ‘N Play Piano (which is the first link listed below, for some reason the image won’t show) because not only does it play music and light up, but it also helps build her strength by keeping her in the standing position. I do want to note here that light up toys work great for Madison, and are not a seizure trigger for her, but they might be for others battling epilepsy. If you’re thinking of buying something with flashing lights for a child with epilepsy please check whether or not lights are a trigger for them first!
I’ve gotten a lot of great tips from Madison’s therapists on some basic items that you wouldn’t even consider a toy per se, that are GREAT for sensory stimulation! A lot of these evoke various senses, are easy for kids with a limited range of motion to use, and most are really reasonably priced! The mardi gras beads for example, are cheap and one of Madison’s favorite things to “play” with. They are easy to grab, reflect light, and make noise making them perfect for her! I literally have them all over my house, hanging from toy bars and play mats, on her high chair and walker, anywhere she might be sitting or laying for an extended period of time. She doesn’t grab a lot of toys, but she is all over these beads! I also love the water beads. One bag makes A LOT. These things really grow. I didn’t even use a full bag and have an entire storage container, a container big enough for Madison to sit in, FILLED with them. We keep ours filled in the container so that they’re easily accessible for therapy days, but if you don’t have room to keep them filled you can let them dry out and back to their original tiny size they go! Basic foil pom poms are also something easy you can grab online or at a party store and are great visual and sensory items for kids with special needs. They make noise, reflect light, and have a crinkly texture for them to touch.
Madison also responds to music and touch & feel books too! Music and reading are always a good thing for any child and she’s lucky to have many musical toys, and lots of books for us to read her! I hope that one day Madison’s mind begins to work in a way in which she develops true interests and that we can buy her toys she’ll really love and connect with, but for now we are using this time to keep her developing and learning the best way she can! Are there any toys you’re special needs child really enjoys? Let me know in a comment below!