Physical, intellectual, social and emotional abilities vary, but all children have some capacity to play. Adaptive toys are designed to help children with disabilities reach developmental goals while they experience pleasure. Toys encourage the development of cognitive, social, linguistic and physical skills by providing opportunities for sensory stimulation, hand-eye coordination, gross motor function and interaction. For example, squeezing spray bottles can prepare a child for use of a scissor. Toys also prepare children for formal education, communicating information about colors, shapes, numbers, letters, animals and words.
The toys, materials and furnishings in a play area should be physically manageable by the child. A goal is to encourage the child's independent function while adults model and supervise play. Toys should be placed within reach of the child, and furniture should be appropriate for the child’s size. All materials in a playroom---from the floor to the ceiling---should be safe, durable and easily cleaned. Since 2010, American toy manufacturers have been guided by safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
Many adaptive toys are controlled by a capability switch, a battery powered, on/off mechanism that activates a toy’s function via touch. Capability switches are designed to allow children with motor impairments to “turn on” toys. They also teach cause and effect and give children a sense of control over their environment.
Playroom preparations for family members with disability vary with the nature of the disability. For example, children with physical disabilities may require a seat-belt for their chair or a tray that is placed between wheelchair arms and used as a play surface. Children with low vision will benefit from bright, contrasting colors that distinguish different playroom areas, and guard rails along the playroom’s wall that serve as a guide. Sound-proofing may be helpful to children with cognitive disabilities who become easily distracted. Everyone who uses a basement playroom will benefit from good lighting.
The needs of parents and grandparents with disabilities should be considered when planning a playroom. Adults with disabilities will be able to supervise and share their children’s play if the playroom and its materials are accessible to them.
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