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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Toy Guide 2005

Let's Play

A Guide to Toys for Children with Special Needs

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What do food, water, clothing and play all have in common? They are all part of a child's basic necessities to thrive in life! While the products featured throughout this Guide may be unique, the need for play in a child's life is not! All children need play in their lives. And, despite a child's interest, gender and abilities there is a toy out there that will encourage his or her love of play.

Often shoppers are wary of buying toys for children who have special needs. However, selecting a toy for any child begins with two simple steps: discovering what sparks their interest and what their skill level may be. After that is decided, there are literally thousands of toys on store shelves that will be a great fit for your child.

When selecting a toy for a child with special needs there are also a few characteristics to look for that may make one toy more appropriate than another. This is where this Guide comes in: it has been created to help you— a parent, friend, relative or caregiver—to recognize these characteristics and identify appropriate toys for children with special needs.

Toys in this Guide were tested by more than 100 children with a variety of special needs at 10 centers across the country, in conjunction with the Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). Children of many abilities played with these toys including those with Down Syndrome, visual and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy. The toys featured in this Guide were selected by individuals from these two organizations based on the toy's play value for children with special needs.

As you review the Guide you will find a description of the toy, along with an explanation of skills the toy will encourage during playtime. We are particularly proud that in addition to the descriptions of the toys, in some instances we offer a quote from a parent, caregiver or teacher involved in the toy test to give you more insight about the toy and why children may have enjoyed it. Each toy will also contain one or more of the following labels that indicate who may find the toy most enjoyable: PI, A, HI, B, LV, and DD.

These are defined as:

PI = Physical Impairment
Children with physical impairments (children with less than optimal use of their hands or children with some motor control challenges) ....were able to play with this toy. Physical impairments include cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. Features to look for when selecting toys for children with a physical impairment include large parts that make a toy easy to grasp, and a sturdy base to secure a toy in its place.

A = Adaptable for Physical Impairment
This toy can be adapted for children with physical impairments. For more in-depth information on adaptation instructions, please visit the Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) web site at

HI = Hearing Impairment
While many toys are appropriate for children with hearing impairments, these toys included one or more of the following: lights or visual feedback, volume control, interesting texture or surface or some other unique feature that made it appropriate for a child with a hearing impairment.

B/LV = Blind or Low Vision
Although children with visual impairments may enjoy many toys in this Guide, these toys rated particularly high because of their sounds and interesting textures and surfaces that provided sensory stimulation. Also, children with moderate visual impairments can enjoy toys that include bright lights.

DD = Developmental Disabilities
Children with developmental disabilities including Down syndrome, autism and mental retardation enjoyed playing with this toy. When selecting toys for children with these disabilities, look for products that encourage them to act out real life situations such as playing school, or interacting with action figures and dolls. Other toys to look for are games with a short duration to help children feel success through completing a task. Toys that have a repetitive nature are also advantageous as children learn through repetition.

When using this Guide remember that these are our suggestions and reflect the experience we had with children in our toy tests. Also keep in mind that the age ranges posted for each toy are assigned by the manufacturer based on a child with no special needs. Selecting toys with your child's interest and skill level in mind is the most effective way to find the perfect toy. We encourage you to be imaginative when selecting toys for the child in your life—and watch your child experience the joy and happiness of play.

Please keep in mind that the toys in this Guide are just a small sampling of the thousands of wonderful products that are available to your child. There are many toys on store shelves that will excite your children, encourage their growth and enable them to have wonderful playtime experiences. So after reviewing this Guide and doing your homework, it's time for the fun part...visit the stores (brick-and-mortar or virtual) to discover new play opportunities for the children in your life!

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