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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Guide to Toys 2006

Let's Play

A Guide to Toys for Children with Special Needs

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Over 6.2 million children live with disabilities, accounting for 13.2 percent of the child population. Millions of parents, grandparents and other family members struggle to find the best play and educational products for children with special needs.

Every day, parents ask professionals for advice on buying play products for their children. Often shoppers are wary of buying toys for children with special needs. However, selecting a toy for any child begins with two steps: first, learning what the child is interested in, and second, assessing his or her skill level. After that is decided, there are literally thousands of toys out there that will be a great fit for your child. Now the toughest part lies ahead — choosing from all the terrific products!

Toy Industry Foundation (TIF™), in partnership with Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) and American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), has researched and tested hundreds of toys, and the end result — a comprehensive guide of the best toys for children with all types of special needs, of all ages, with different interests kept in mind. Toys in the guide were tested by over 100 "toy experts," children with a variety of special needs at a number of testing centers all over the country. 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.

Whether shopping for a three-year-old visually impaired child or a ten-year-old with developmental disabilities, Let's Play is an excellent resource for finding the perfect toy, sure to put a smile on your child's face.

Abbreviations Used in the Guide to Toys

As you review the Guide, you will find a description of the toy, along with an explanation of skills the toy will encourage and build during playtime. From time to time, you may see a quote included in a toy description that comes directly from a parent, caregiver or teacher who was involved in the testing, to give you a more "hands-on" feel about the toy and the enjoyment it provided to the child. Each toy will also contain one of the following labels that indicates who may find the toy most enjoyable. PI, 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.

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 are rated particularly high because of their sounds and interesting textures or surfaces that provide 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.

When using this Guide remember that these are our suggestions and reflect the results that we had with children in our testing. Many toys can be adapted for even more children to use, especially those with special needs. For great ideas and specific instructions on how to adapt toys, visit the "Family Place in CyberSpace" section at the Alliance for Technology Access website:

Also keep in mind that age ranges posted for each toy are assigned by the manufacturer based on a child with no special needs. The most effective way to find the perfect toy is to base your decision upon your child's interest and skill level. We encourage you to be creative and imaginative when selecting toys for the child in your life — and watch them experience the joy and happiness of play!

Remember that these toys are only a sampling of the great products available for your child. There are many toys currently on store shelves that will excite, engage and enthrall your child. So, after reviewing this guide and doing your homework we encourage you to hit the shelves (either online or at your local store) and have fun! Play isn't just important for kids!

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