Top 10 Tips for Buying Toys for Kids with Special Needs (and toy recommendations)

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Toys R Us publishes a wonderful toy guide, Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, that helps parents pick out gifts for kids with special needs. Their goal is to help people find the right gift based on a child’s ability and identify toys that will stimulate them and promote development. The guide lists the toys with a symbol next to them that identifies the skill-building categories. These categories are: auditory, creativity, fine motor, gross motor, language, self-esteem, social skills, tactile, thinking, and visual. These toys have at least two or more symbols that help people identify toys that will build or reinforce a particular skill. There is also a helpful toy finder index that is divided into the above skill-building categories, with a list of all the toys that are recommended for that skill. This is their 20th year providing this toy guide.

This resource guide was put together to help people determine toys based on a child’s individual needs and these toy recommendations were selected by the National Lekotek Center. The National Lekotek Center is a not-for-profit organization that offers many services to kids with special needs using toys and play to learn, develop and interact with others. As part of their services they offer AblePlay Product Evaluation and Rating System to evaluate toys and provide product information about the products ability to help kids with special needs. They research toys with the goal of making play accessible for children of any ability. They identify toys that assist in development in kids that have physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities.


toys r us toy guid for differently abled logo

Lekotek partnered with Toys R Us to make this guide and prepared their

Top Ten Tips for Buying Toys


picture of orbeez luxury spa1.Multi-Sensory Appeal– Does the toy respond with lights, sounds or movement to engage the child? Are there contrasting colors? Does it have a scent? Is there texture? An example of a toy that meets these criteria would be the Orbeez Luxury Spa. This is pedicure spa that has warm and vibrating Orbeez balls with LED lights to massage a child’s feet. This toy will stimulate kids with the lights and the texture of the massage balls.


2.Method of Activation- Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration? What is the picture of hot dots gameforce required to activate? What are the number and complexity of steps required to activate? An example of a toy that meets these criteria would be Hot Dots Jr. This toy has lesson cards that have early learning skills such as colors, patterns, numbers and more. It is a self-checking electronic quiz that has a hot dots power pen. A child touches the pen to the dot to answer and it responds instantly with four positive rewards sound and will give a “boing” for an incorrect answer. This toy helps kids get ready for school.


picture of design and drill activity3.Places the Toy Will Be Used- Will the toy be easy to store? Is there space in the home? Can the toy be used in a variety of positions such as side-lying or on a wheelchair tray? An example of a toy that meets these criteria is the Design and Drill Activity Center, which allows kids to create their own designs on activity cards using power drill and screwdrivers. This toy encourages hand-eye coordination and pattern recognition.


4.Opportunities for Success– Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way? Is picture of imaginarium tubit adaptable to the child’s individual style, ability and pace? An example of a toy that meets these criteria is the Imaginarium Connect and Create Tub. This tub has 70 colorful building pieces with rotating parts that kids can stack and link to create things. This toy is great for creative play.



picture of kurio 75.Current Popularity –Is it a toy that will help the child with special needs feel like “any other kid”? Does it tie in with other activities, like books and art sets that promote other forms of play? An example of a toy that meets these criteria is the Kurio 7s Android Family Tablet. This wi-fi enabled tablet has an HD video player, music player, e-book reader, camera and more. It has over 60 education games and apps preloaded and parental controls. This toy is great for kids who want to have a tablet but need more parental control.


6.Self-Expression-Does the toy allow for creativity, uniqueness and making choices? Will it Melissa-&-Doug-Musical-Instrument--pTRU1-14976449dtgive the child experience with a variety of media? An example of a toy that meets these criteria is the Melissa & Doug Musical Instrument Set. This set includes a tambourine, cymbals, maracas, kazoo, tone block and stick and a triangle. This toy is great for letting kids express their individuality through music.



picture of fisher price basketball goal7.Adjustability– Does the toy have adjustable height, sound volume, speed and level of difficulty? An example of a toy that meets these criteria is the Fisher-Price Grow 2 Pro Junior Basketball Set. This basketball goal grows with your child. It has a large basket, which makes it easy for them to score a goal and then you can eventually adjust the height and rim to be smaller to provide additional challenges as they grow.


8.Child’s Individual Abilities– Does the toy provide activities that reflect both developmental picture of leap frog kindergarden kitand chronological ages? Does it reflect the child’s interests? An example of a toy that meets these criteria is the Leap Frog Kindergarten Learning Kit, which provides essential activities to prepare a child for kindergarten such as beginning math and reading skills. The creative activities reinforce early education objectives and offers a fun learning experience.


picture oball9.Safety and Durability– Does the toy fit with the child’s size and strength? Does it have moisture resistance? Is the toy and it’s parts sized appropriately? Can it be washed and cleaned? An example of a toy that meets these criteria is the Oball. The Oball is a 4 inch bendable ball. This ball has a smooth design with large finger holes that make it safe and easy to catch.


10.Potential for Interaction– Will the child be an active participant during use? Will the toy picture of headbanz act up gameencourage social engagement with others? An example of a toy that meets these criteria is the Hedbanz Act Up! Game. This is a game where players wear a headband and place cards with words on it. The other player then acts out the clue to get you to guess your card. This is a great game to get kids to interact with others. The game is for 2-6 players.


Toys R Us Toy Guide is a great resource for anyone buying gifts for a child with special needs. This guide will help you find toys that will encourage kids to grow, achieve and interact with others. This booklet is also available online at:

The INDATA Project hosts 5 FREE full day trainings per year and this past year we were fortunate to have Lekotek provide a training on Making Play Accessible. Those trainings are archived and you can click here to view that full day training.  Click here if you are interested in joining our mailing list where we send out invitations to our FREE full day trainings.  They were also part of our Annual Holiday Shopping Episode where we discuss all kinds of great assistive technology gift ideas. Click here to listen to that podcast and be sure to catch part 2 on Friday December 5, 2014.

Finding the right gift for a loved one is a great feeling. We hope this guide or our holiday podcasts help you find that perfect gift for those on your list.

Happy Holidays.

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  1. As a parent, I stumbled upon your blog post on the Top 10 Tips for Buying Toys for Kids with Special Needs and found it incredibly informative. The author did a great job collecting in-depth information and sharing it with us. I also wanted to recommend The Giant Toys Store in Australia, which I recently visited. Their toys are of excellent quality, and the customer service is top-notch. I highly recommend checking them out for toys suitable for all ages. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and recommendations with us!

  2. Puppets are a wonderful toy for children with special needs. They offer a creative outlet for communication, imagination, and emotional expression. The tactile experience of manipulating the puppets can also provide sensory stimulation and relaxation. Overall, puppets can be a valuable tool for therapeutic play.

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