Parents of children with cerebral palsy need to be encouraged to play with their children. In fact, children who do not have access to the play experience can be negatively impacted in their development, overall health and both their physical and mental well-being. The same is true for children with spina bifida and muscular dystrophy and those who experience a whole host of muscular and skeletal challenges.
The good news is that there are current toys out there that can fit the bill or that might just need a little modification to make them appropriate. Finding these play products gives parents the ability to delight and inspire a child with cerebral palsy and encourage a connection to play.
So what should parents, family or caregivers look for when they are shopping for the kid in their life with some special needs? Ellen Metrick, Chief Toy Evaluator of AblePlay, a website devoted to connecting children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities to appropriate toys, offers some advice. “There are really two perspectives parents can take when shopping for the child in their life with special needs. First, they can look for toys that are geared to the abilities he or she currently has, or secondly, they can look for toys that will move the child towards the abilities she or he is working towards. Both are valid ways to begin the search for play products.”
What might be some elements within those categories that a parent might also want to look for?
Toys that provide stability for the child. Children with cerebral palsy might have limited mobility and body control and need toys that are solid and stable. Fortunately, there are swings and ride-ons in the marketplace that can provide core support to a child. These products let kids enjoy the incredible freedom of both swinging through the air and riding into the wind (either self-propelled or pushed). Metrick encourages these play products by reminding parents, “Sometimes it is the best therapy to get a kid outside and doing an activity other kids enjoy. Swings and bikes are among my absolute favorites for just that reason. “
Outside play sets are another great option. Parents should make sure they purchase one that is built well and provides stability for the child. If the child is in a wheelchair, make sure the play set openings are wide enough to accommodate a child, has activities that can be reached, and includes any support they may need.
Toys that are stable themselves. Look for toys that can fit securely on a wheelchair top or that have suction cups, rubber or Velcro on them to increase stability. Metrick also advises, “Adding non-skid adhesive strips to the bottom of a toy is a quick, easy way to make it stable and allow a child to easily manipulate it.” Toys that are inflatable and can have some air taken out can increase a child’s ability to grasp it. Drawing materials and crayons now come in ball and triangle shapes that make it easier for a child to use and enjoy. Metrick advises parents to take the time to search a little, since there are lots of great options out there for kids of all abilities.
For ideas on specific toys, and plays products categorized by disabilities go to www.ableplay.org. AblePlay is a website that researches, rates and reviews current toys for children with special needs. AblePlay is part of the nonprofit National Lekotek Center, the leading authority on play for children with disabilities www.lekotek.org.