Play & Special Needs

Pardon us while we rebuild this section. The original page was written nearly four years ago and has been long overdue for a major update. In the meantime, we have added a link to one of our favorite sites for information on “plan and disabilities” from SUNY Buffalo. We are open to suggestions. If you know of great information sites, let us know and we will add it to the resource list.

Choosing Toys for Children with Special Needs. 

Buying children’s toys is always fraught with danger. What if they don’t have any interest? What if it causes frustration? The list goes on. Typically, our advice is the same for all children.  Find out what they like and what they are interested in; get a realistic idea of their skills, level of frustration or patience, sense of independence, reaction to noise levels, and attention span;  and find out the level of adult involvement.  Take the time to find out what fascinates the child.

In some ways, toys are a miracle. A great toy can help a child learn a whole new set of skills or advance skills they already have. A great toy is often a toy that encourages some form of growth and increased interaction and involvement.  That said, the greatest toy in the world can also be a source of frustration, especially if it does not allow for progressive use (i.e. the use of the toy changes as either intellectual, creative, or motor-based skill sets improve).

Buy in person. Toy purchases are one of those things that should be done in person.  Pick up the toy and look at it. Think about the different qualities you are looking for (sensory experience, movement, progressive play, promoting interactions or socialization, etc.). There are some great toys out there; there is also a tremendous amount of junk. That said, you may not live in an area with a bricks and mortar store, or you may be purchasing something that is not carried locally (although ask your local retailer–they may be able to order in what you need). If you are making your purchases online, buy from a company with an established reputation for quality.  In either case, come armed with information and ask questions.

Finally, not all children are interested in toys. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box, which may involve purchasing raw materials, shopping at non-traditional places,  shopping for non-traditional products, or inventing your own. For example, children who are interested in nested objects may well be more attracted to a set of nesting bowls or a whole collection of cardboard and chipboard boxes than anything found on the shelves of a toy store. The trick is to fit the gift to the child’s interests and fascinations.

One of the best guides to buying or creating toys for children with special needs is from We keep their site bookmarked on our computer.

Here is a list of some other handy resources:

General Resources:

  • Let’s Play! Projects University at Buffalo (State University of New York) Center for Assistive Technology. The first place to learn about the importance of play and children with disabilities. While this is an archived site, there is a whole lot of stuff here for parents. One suggestion…download what you can since we don’t know how long the site will actually stick around.
  • Creating Play Environments for Children With Disabilities (State University of New York). A professional guide from the Let’s Play! Project.
  • The American Journal of Play, from the Strong Museum (New York), which also houses the Toy Hall of Fame. These folks understand play. There are some excellent resources, although these are academic articles and may take a bit of time to read. Some of their past articles are particularly relevant, including: Michelle Buchanan and Tricia Giovacco Johnson’s article “A Second Look at the Play of Young Children with Disabilities (2009). All of the back issues of the jouranl are available online and are free.
  • Creating a Home Where Your Child Can Thrive with a Disability (a page from HomeCity RealEstate). Note: While this is a commercial site, this particular article offers some excellent tips and suggestions for parents with children with special needs, including modifications for wheelchairs, visual impairments, sensory concerns, and autism, as well as information on adapting a home to medical equipment. 
  • Moving with Special Needs Kids–A Guide for Parents (

Autism (ASD)  and Asperger Syndrome Resources

First, thank you to Linda Johnson of Caring 4 Our Kids for the following suggestions.

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