Every parent is always on the lookout for new, fun, educational, developmental and inexpensive toys for their child. A parent with a special needs child can find toy shopping to be more of a frustration and challenge. Adapted toys are one of the many sub-categories of Assistive Technology (AT) which refers to devices, tools and adaptations made to objects to help your child (or any individual) do something they may not have otherwise been able to do. AT can come in many shapes, sizes and packages. It can be purchased off the shelf, customized, can be high tech or low tech, or developed to fit a specific need. AT can help your child to move independently and explore the world around her. With the assistance of AT, your child can attend birthday parties, participate in family routines and activities, play and explore books and toys to help advance learning! In this article, we will explore options you can use to adapt toys you probably already have, easily and inexpensively, to help your child with a variety of play.
A couple of tools of the trade are hot glue guns (keep out of reach of children) and battery interrupters. If you are not familiar with those items yet, just wait, you will be and you will find them to be a very valuable tool in your box. Below are some simple adaptations made to classic toys and activities to help make it easier and less frustrating for you and your child to play and learn!
• Action figure adaptations– You will need the figure(s), poker chips and hot glue. Glue the figure’s feet onto the poker chip and viola! You now have a stable mini-figure for play!
• Games– Use puff paint or glue to outline the sections on a board game. Add velcro to each section and attach to game pieces for added stability and ease of placement. For card games, consider using a hairbrush to slide cards into for stable holding or cut a “shelf” out of a piece of inexpensive foam!
• Art– Crayon/pencil holders can be made out of many different things depending on your child’s grip. A foam ball (similar to a stress ball) can be used as a grip for a crayon when a small incision is made and the crayon securely inserted. A pill bottle with an “x” cut at the bottom can also be used to securely insert a crayon for easier grasp. For painting, consider sponge painting (an insert can even be added to help with grip if needed), or add paint into an empty roll-on deodorant container to roll-on the paint!
• Small motorized cars/toys– Purchasing a battery interrupter (at Radio Shack, Amazon.com and other stores with prices ranging from $11-$150) and adding it to almost any battery operated device can allow your child to operate many of the toys he/she wants and sees other kids playing with, all by themselves!
• Reading– This is such an important activity that any adaptation you find that works…do it. You may find that a giant chip clip or giant paper clips (such as the kind used on clipboards) secured to each page may make turning each page easier. Separated contact lens cases attached to the pages work well also. Generous amounts of hot glue dots or felt pads (like the ones used on the bottom of chairs) are helpful to help fluff and separate pages for easier turning.
• Puzzles– Starting off with a puzzle with less complexity may offer a less frustrating option for your child. Use a permanent black marker to outline the placement of each puzzle piece on the board. You can also color each section on the board with a different color and then color the back of the matching puzzle piece with the same color for matching fun!
• Magnetic grips– If your child is able to grasp a magnetic wand you can purchase one or make one out of a tube or pvc pipe based on your child’s grip. Add magnetic tape to the wand and to the toys for easier maneuvering. Your child can use the wand to attach and manipulate the toy as well as pick it up to move to another location!
• Pull toys– The tiny, thin string attached to pull toys can be frustrating for a child with low grip. Attach a large wooden bead, cut dowel rod or shower ring to the end of the string for easier grasp.
• Ride on/push toys– Add a phone book, canned food or water bottles to the toy so it doesn’t tip over while in use. Secure non-slip cabinet or rug liners to the seats of toys so the child doesn’t slip off.
• Bubble fun– Purchase a small bubble machine from any local retailer (Target, Wal-Mart…). They are very inexpensive (around $10) and can provide hours of fun. Using a battery interrupter, attach it to the bubble machine so the child can operate the bubbles using the large button switch and watch it go! You can add in a game by trying to pop all of the bubbles yourself “in a hurry” while allowing your child to be in control!
Locate resources in your area and talk with other parents to see what adaptations they have made to help their child learn and play. There is a known adapted toy lending library located in Huntsville at United Cerebral Palsy of Huntsville. Soon there will be one in Montgomery at Easter Seals Central Alabama! A wonderful online resource, used for this article, is the Tots-n-Tech website (tnt.asu.edu). Play with your child and think creatively so they can, too!
Varina Mead, a mother of two, Prattville native and current Director of Marketing for Easter Seals Central Alabama, has enjoyed working in the family service field for over 15 years. Raised by a single mother with Cerebral Palsy, Varina learned from an early age that she wanted to work in disability advocacy and education. Easter Seals Central Alabama is a collection of programs designed to assist children and adults with disabilities, find greater independence, enhanced quality of life, and be seen for their abilities.