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6 tips for buying toys for special needs children

If you're shopping for a toy gift for a child with special needs, here's where to start and what you need to know before you buy.

6 tips for buying toys for special needs children

If you’re heading out to a toy store to shop for a gift for a child with special needs, there are some additional considerations to make. So what do you need to know and where do you start? What toys and games are best? What are the best gift choices for kids of all abilities?

To help you choose the perfect new addition to the child’s toy box, we talked to a few parents and experts in order to put together some guidelines, as well as a list of some great online toy stores that sell products for children of various ages with special needs.

1. Know the child’s interests

“Children with special needs are not as different as other children when it comes to buying gifts,” says Carrie Baughcum, a blogger and middle school special education teacher. “They are children. They have preferences and favorites.”

Baughcum says to look to what the child likes when purchasing the gift. “Be thoughtful, like you would when buying for any other child.”

2. Consider cognitive level

Aviva Weiss, owner of Fun and Function, a company that sells special needs children’s toys, therapy tools and classroom aids, recommends considering the child’s cognitive level.

“If the child is working with a therapist, it is always helpful to get their recommendations,” she says. “They are often working on very specific goals for the child and whatever product they recommend might reinforce what they are working on with the child.”

This can impact what toys or games the child is able to use.

Jessica Clark, an Indiana-based speech-language pathologist and mother of three, seconds this by saying not all children will play with a toy in the same way or even for its intended purpose. When picking out a toy or play item, Clark says exploratory play, such as picking up an object to figure out its function, and sensory play, such as utilizing an object to meet sensory needs, should be considered.

3. Ask the parent

If you’re buying a toy for someone else’s child and don’t know what to get, Baughcum says you should ask the parents. “They know their child best. They may have a need for things that you could help to buy as a gift. I can’t imagine any parent wouldn’t be more than happy to answer questions and [be] touched by someone taking the time to ask questions before buying a gift for their child.”

Weiss seconds this approach, as the parents are working side-by-side with therapists and teachers. She recommends asking the parents — or even the child’s caregiver — what the child’s top three needs are.

4. Shop online

It’s often hard to find a store that sells sensory toys geared toward children with special needs, so take your search online.

“I find that local stores tend to jack up the prices,” says Laura Houston, an Indiana mother of a special-needs child. “As a parent of a child with special needs, we already have it tough enough that we should not have to pay an arm and a leg for other items.”

Browse these sites for ideas and discounts:

5. Remember one size does not fit all

“Every child is different,” says Weiss. “Special needs is a very broad category.  A lot of it — like any selection — would depend on the child’s needs.”

Younger children tend to need toys that are sensory in nature. However, some children need playthings that help them develop social or motor skills. Look for toys that are fun, but that highlight the child’s unique strengths and will help develop abilities.

6. Consider homemade

Sensory toys do not always have to be store bought. Get creative by giving a child the ingredients to create a toy or prepare a homemade gift. “An old paper towel roll or empty cardboard box … a kitchen drawer full of cleaned food containers can provide the same, if not more, of a stimulating experience than expensive store bought toys,” Clark says

So enjoy the hunt for the perfect toy and make a child’s day extra special.