Buying Holiday Toys for Children with Disabilities

By John M. Williams

Elizabeth Johnson wrote, “I have a seven-year-old child with two disabilities. She is speech challenged and not very well physically coordinated. What would you recommend for me to buy her for Christmas?”

Joseph Meyers asked, “What can I buy my grandson for the holidays. He is nearly blind and has one leg shorter than the other.”

Phyllis Thomas inquired, “I have twin sons, age 10, with CP. Their speech is sometimes not clear and they are challenged walking. They wrestle with each other and me. They laugh a lot. They are not challenged intellectually. They love building things. They are physically strong. My wife and I want to buy them unique gifts for the season. What would you suggest?”

Every year around the winter holidays I receive scores and scores of e-mails from people seeking to buy gifts for a family member with a disability. I love responding. Here are some of my suggestions.

VTree™ LLC ( develops special needs software and assistive technology. The company designs video games action that promotes confidence and enhances social interaction. It designs customizable games especially for those who are challenged by cognitive and/or physical disabilities. VTree’s games are adaptable and accessible. Its games can be manipulated to match the player’s level of competency. As certain skills are mastered, the games become more challenging, allowing the player to experience success at each level.

Toys and gifts for muscle sensory integration include softballs with Textured Surface, punching ball, stress ball (to squeeze), play dough, vibrating toys and vibrating toys.
Other toys include touch and read books, swings, ball pit, bouncing ball, rocking horses, inside play tents, Bean bag chair, large golf clubs, tricycle or bike with large wheels, trampoline, scooter board, spin and move toy, large trains, crawling tunnel, record player, basketball hoop, switches that move animals and large dolls,

And there are Braille playing cards, large print playing cards, audible balls, and a variety of tactile board games.
Each year, Exceptional Parent (EP) magazine reports on games and toys that could be fun and helpful for children with special needs. The site feature several toys that stand out as fun products that could foster creativity, coordination, self-discovery and social interaction.

For information about choosing toys for specific impairments, go to the National Lekotek Center’s website

The Toys “R” Us Guide for Differently-Abled Kids evaluates the listed toys and helps millions of people choose just the right toy for the children in their lives with disabilities.

The 2010 Learning Calendar from Fat Brain Toy Co. features 365 days of historical, biographical, little-known and amazing facts all from the world of Spectacular Science! Every month in 2010 includes a cool science experiment which can be done at home or in the classroom with everyday items.
If you have a specialty toy store in your area, the owner is likely someone who can be a resource for you as you try to find materials for your child. You can contact the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association otherwise known as ASTRA at to locate a store near you.

Here is what to keep in mind when toy shopping!
For multisensory appeal: does the toy respond with lights, sounds, or movement? Are there contrasting colors? Does it have a scent? Is there texture?

For activation: will the toy provide a challenge without frustration? What is the force required to activate it? What are the number and complexity of steps required?
Regarding adjustability: does it have adjustable height, sound, volume, speed, level of difficulty?
Opportunities for success: can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way? Is it adaptable to the child’s individual style, ability, and pace?
For the child’s individual characteristics: does the toy provide activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages? Does it reflect the child’s interests?

Reproduced from