Shopping for sensory smart toys and equipment for a child with sensory processing issues? Here are some ideas I included in the December 2010 edition of the Sensory Smart News.
Sensory Smart Tip: Choose Toys That Are Fun
and Support Development
The number of toys and products marketed to parents and therapists who work with children who have sensory processing disorder and/or autism has exploded since the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child first was published in 2005. In the book, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, and Nancy Peske recommend 50 favorite toys for kids (included below) and it continues to be an excellent guide for finding toys children both enjoy and use to address sensory issues and developmental skills. If you’re looking for or purchasing gifts for a child with sensory issues these days, here’s some key advice:
You don’t have to spend a lot of money. In fact, some of the best toys and products you can purchase are small and inexpensive. Every small child should have a Play-Doh Fun Factory, for example, which sells for under $10. Bubbles with bubble wands, modeling clay or Silly Putty, Wikki Sticks (wax-covered yarn for crafts), puzzles, handheld games such as Simon, and classic games such as Candyland or Kerplunk are excellent inexpensive toys that promote everything from tactile exploration to fine motor and visual memory skills.
Buy the classics, and consider classic original versions. There’s a reason certain toys are perennial sellers: Their play value can’t be beat. You may find some of these toys in excellent condition on sites such as eBay and Craig’s List, or even at second-hand stores. Interestingly enough, sometimes the older versions are actually better for our kids because they tend to be sturdier and come without all the annoying chips for sounds and lights that are so distracting. Don’t underestimate how much kids will love Legos and Duplos building blocks, wagons, hand puppets, and so on. Thomas the Tank Engine toys are great for helping children move from cause-and-effect, parallel (independent) play to imaginative, cooperative play.
Buy toys that get kids moving. Ask your child’s sensory smart occupational therapist and/or physical therapist what type of movement toys she feels would be appropriate for your child, and ask her if she can work with him on using toys that involve coordination and gross motor skills. You may need to start slowly, such as with a three-wheeled scooter instead of a two-wheeled one, or a very small bike with training wheels rather than a bike that the bike store salesperson says is the correct size for your child (and be sure your child uses a properly fitted helmet). A Sit-n-Spin can be a good choice for learning motor planning skills while getting vestibular input, but a Dizzy Disc for preschoolers or a Dizzy Disc Jr. for older kids an provide that input to a child with poorer motor planning skills. Sleds and mini trampolines (which are safer than full-sized ones) are great options too.
Have a ball. Balls can be incredibly helpful for developing a multitude of skills and now many modified balls are available, including ones that are easier to catch or throw or which provide sensory input via a textured surface (Gertie balls, koosh balls) or sounds created by movement (such as the Wiggly Giggly ball). Exercise balls are great for kids to sit on for input and for rolling over them to provide deep pressure: Your OT can show you many ways to use them. Why not keep balls in the yard, in your car, and even your purse so that they’re available for your child to get movement or sensory input at any time?
Be cautious about “active” video games. Although some of the newer games, particularly Xbox360 with Kinect which requires that the child use her body as the controller, encourage movement, don’t assume that your child will use them to get the aerobic exercise he needs. Wii Fit offers options that provide very little if any aerobic activity (although the quieter games on Wii Fit can be excellent for balance training which many of our kids need help with). I also has game options that will actually help you child work up a sweat, but observe your child to be sure she’s actually using videogames in a very active way. Then too, if your child has her heart set on Super Smash Brothers or another inactive video game, have her jump on a mini-trampoline while playing to give her exercise as well as build her hand-eye coordination.
Choose developmentally appropriate toys. One of the challenges of having a child with sensory issues is accepting that our kids may be far behind their peers in being able to play appropriately with particular toys. Offer your child choices that are in the “just right” challenge zone, which build their skills without being overwhelmingly difficult for them to use. If you’re giving a toy as a gift, think about choosing something that he will actually enjoy. Go ahead and buy the therapy toys he will resist at first, but if you feel he might get immediately frustrated by them, think about having your OT introduce them as part of therapy.
Buy books. If your child resists reading, try picture books and visual dictionaries, optical challenge books such as Where’s Waldo?, nonfiction coffee table books on trains, dinosaurs, and the like, pop-up books, scratch-and-sniff books, and so on. If you’re thinking about buying an eReader, note that some children with visual processing issues or vision issues find them much easier to read from than ordinary books due to the adjustable type size, low contrast, and auditory option (available on many books). You can even “gift” an electronic book to a child’s Kindle now and many are very low priced (although selection can be limited). Also consider audio books and mp3 downloads.
While you’re shopping, please consider buying some toys for Toys for Tots or other charities, and for your child’s school OT or PT (they may have a wish list or you could give them a gift card for a therapy catalogue or store such as The Learning Center).
Finally, remember that what kids want even more than toys is our attention. Playing a simple board game with your child or teaching her how to catch a ball may create one of her fondest childhood memories.
Be sure to check out Lindsey and Nancy’s Fifty Favorite Toysl ist in Raising a Sensory Smart Child. Also,you can shop for toys and equipment by developmental skill or sensory channel at:http://sensorysmartparent.com/toysequipment.html
NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG: Get new and up-to-date information and support for parents of children and teens with sensory processing disorder at www.SensorySmartParent.com and sign up for the newsletter and blog.