My family members learned pretty early on that it’s not easy to shop for my son. They tend to consult with me first, or just slip money in an envelope to purchase on their behalf. You may find yourself in the same predicament. What to buy a child who still mouths everything, doesn’t stand yet, and doesn’t have the cognitive skills required to play with certain toys?
If you haven’t figured it out already (and I’m confident that as a parent you have this down pat by now), this post will help you create a list of toys that are not only fun but have therapeutic qualities to them. Next time your family members ask you what they can get your child, just pull out this list.
(Note to my family members: We already own these toys. Ask me.)
You can find toys pinned on Pinterest all the time. But, can your child play with that large stand-up playscape and that construction set with tiny construction pieces?
Why some toys may be a challenge for children with special needs
- For the child with fine motor delays, picking up some toys may be difficult.
- If the child isn’t walking yet, standing at a child-size kitchen or in backyard houses is just not possible.
- For the child who still mouths everything, certain toys are choking hazards.
Toy suggestions for the child with special needs
This post could go on for days because of the selection of toys we find on the market today. While Barbie playsets may not be appropriate for your child, today we are lucky enough to find a plethora of toys that are. Please bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive. Further, I’m not being paid by any of the toys companies. These are toys we own and use and love.
- Don’t pay too much attention to the age suggestions on the box – unless they’re recommended for older kids. If your child plays best with toys at the 18 month level while he’s 7, then so be it.
- Purchase toys that have multiple functions in your homeschool day. Think about therapeutic functions as well.
- Purchase open-ended toys.
- Avoid toys with too many mechanical functions that do the work for your child.
While you want to eventually teach your child not to mouth items, the truth is, this is the manner in which your child learns about his world. The mouth is a highly sensitive part of the body, which is why babies tend to mouth their fists and toys. They first explore with their mouths. This is also true of the child with who has developmental delays. He is still exploring much like a young child. It’s comforting and soothing as well.
While we spend a lot of time taking items away from his mouth, there are times I just let my son enjoy the sensation. And, we may as well allow one or two toys for that purpose that are safe, and also easily washable.
Besides the chewy toys that your therapist may have already recommended to you, here is an additional idea.
This is actually an organic teething doll. It washes beautifully. We’ve had this for about 5 years now. You can see that the hat, the feet and hands make for great chewing parts. Since my son can tolerate fabric toys, I allow him to mouth this, as well as his cotton bibs so that he shakes the need out of his system and doesn’t chew his clothing instead.
My son likes to dangle and flap certain toys. It’s also very soothing to him. And, I let him do this for a short time for self-regulatory purposes.
These are large wooden beads that are attached by a safe and sturdy elastic. It’s great for fidgeting – even for adults.
My son has had a variety of these types of toys over the years. This is his most recent favorite. It tangles and twirls and is great for children in the classroom as well.
This is a great place to start with puzzles. Use large blocks in a very shallow indentation of the shape. We do this hand-over-hand at first. When I say, “You do,” my son aims in the general direction of the space. Big cheers! “Yah!”
These puzzles have more defined shapes, but still require the full-hand to place them in the shallow indentations. I like these wooden puzzles pieces because they can be used as stand-alone toys for other skill practices like stories, songs, animal sounds, etc.
Large-knobbed puzzles are super for grasping skills. I have my little guy pick up two pieces and tap them together like cymbals, and eventually practice placing in the space.
These knobs are slightly smaller than above and require a child to have a finer grasp. The next step would be the pin-sized knobs (not pictured, but we own those too).
I love these natural cedarwood blocks because they’re irregular shapes. They are open-ended and we’ve used them to create bridges in storytelling as well as towers, etc. Wooden toys offer such wonderful sensory experiences.
These are also wooden and irregular, but they are colorful and are sold as individual sets that can be gnome homes or anything else the imagination would like when they’re mixed together.
These are wooden blocks with clear windows and colorful beads on the inside. They are not only wonderful to touch, but also make a light sound when shaken.
Stacking Toys & Sorters
These are wooden stacking toys that can be stacked from above as well as inserted into one another. I like these because they’re cubes.
Stacking cups and sorter. Even if your child can’t do these tasks yet, you can show him hand-over-hand and talk about the shapes, etc.
Everyone needs this collection. Be sure the smallest parts are used under supervision. Lots of talk about body parts and articles of clothing can be done with these.
Potatoheads also have pets.
These are large beading toys that click together and pop apart. Different textures and shapes for plenty of fine motor practice.
Snapping beading toys in bug shapes.
These are so perfect for the child with special needs just getting started with construction toys as they’re magnetic and require very little muscle strength to build.
Puppets and Dolls
A variety of hand puppets and finger puppets and dolls are great for language activities and storytelling. Must-haves.
This short desk has plenty of storage and is great for using while seated on the sofa – or, like I do, at my son’s low adapted chair.
Silk provides a super sensory experience and comes in many colors. Great for movement activities, or as props in storytelling.
What are your child’s favorite toys and why? Share in the comments so that we can keep building this list.