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Finding Adaptive Toys for Special Needs Children

Cari Jean resides in North Dakota, where she works as a freelance writer and blogs at Faith's Mom's Blog.

How to get the best toys for your special needs kid.

How to get the best toys for your special needs kid.

It's no secret that kids love toys. They see a new one on a television advertisement and tell their parents, "I want that!" If kids had their way, they would have every toy imaginable. Toys can be a great way for kids to use motor skills, learn to play by themselves, and learn to share with others.

Special Needs Toys?

But what happens when children do not have the required skills to play with their toys? Kids with special needs may not be able to play with many of the mainstream toys available. That's why there is a market for adaptive toys for special needs children.

Finding the Right Toy for a Disabled Child

There are different adaptive toys available for different special needs. For example, a child with cerebral palsy who has poor motor skills might find switch-activated toys more helpful while a child with autism would do better with toys that promote sensory. Adaptive toys are usually made so that a special needs child can improve the skill that they are lacking.

When trying to find adaptive toys to suit your child's needs, it is also important to keep in mind age appropriateness and the ability for your child to reach developmental goals. It is important to talk to those who regularly work with your child, such as an occupational therapist, early interventionist, pediatrician, or special education teacher. You don't want to get your child a toy that only causes frustration.

How to Choose the Best Toys for Your Special Kid

Some things to keep in mind when finding the right adaptive toy:

  • Which of the five senses does it appeal to?
  • Will the child be able to activate the toy?
  • Where will the toy be used and will the child be able to use it in various positions? (For example, in a wheelchair or lying on the floor?)
  • Is the height and volume of the toy adjustable?
  • Will the toy allow the child to interact with others or allow the child to play on his/her own?
  • Is it safe for that child's intellectual age, well constructed, and durable?
  • Is it appealing and interesting to the child?
  • Is it right for the child's physical capabilities?
  • Is it suited to the child's mental and social development?

Remember: The toy should not be fragile, breakable, or contain any toxic materials.

adaptable playstation controller

adaptable playstation controller

Switch-Activated Toys

Many special needs toys are switch-activated, meaning that a child simply presses a button to activate the toy. Some toys come with a special button installed, but for others, you will have to connect to a special switch. The button switches come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and textures.

Puff or Breath-Activated Toys

Besides switches that need to be pressed, they can also come as puff switches where the child puffs into a device to activate the toy. The puff switches are for those who are severely disabled and have very limited motor skills.

Companies That Sell Adaptive Toys

There are many companies that make and sell adaptive toys. For example,

  • Ability Station
  • Fat Brain Toys
  • Kado Kid
  • Different Roads to Learning
  • eSpecial Needs

Friendship Circle provides a comprehensive list of toy stores for children with special needs.

Why Are Adaptive Toys So Expensive?

While parents of special needs children appreciate the availability of adaptive toys, they often share the complaint that they are too expensive. For example, an adaptive Tickle Me Elmo costs around $150, while the unadapted version costs $25. There are obvious reasons for the difference in price. Adaptive toys are not mass-produced and there is much more work that goes into making them.

How to Get Less Expensive Adaptive Toys

There are a few ways to get around paying for the expensive toys.

  • Make your own adaptive toys. Usually, any toy that runs on batteries can be adapted. There are many websites that contain instructions on how to adapt your own toys. This website is one of many that can take you through the steps to create your own adaptive toys.
  • Check with state agencies. Sometimes there are state agencies through which the toys can be funded. It is a good idea to talk to your Disability Case Manager about such funding before going ahead and spending a lot of money. Also, some programs have toys that you can test to make sure they are a good fit for your child before you buy them.
  • Find unadapted toys that work for you. Even though adaptive toys are great, they are not a necessity. It's okay to buy "regular" toys for your special needs child but you have to be sure it will be a fun experience, not frustrating. There are a lot of educational toys such as those made by VTech or LeapFrog that can still be used by your child, though you may have to assist them in playing with it. Other toys that are great for special needs children include puzzles, building blocks, books, and balls (again, you will probably have to assist your child in playing with these toys).
Usually, any toy that runs on batteries can be adapted for a kid with special needs.

Usually, any toy that runs on batteries can be adapted for a kid with special needs.

Toys Are for All Children

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when finding the perfect adaptive toy for your special needs child. Adaptive toys can be very fun and rewarding but at the same time, so can toys that don't need to be adapted. As long as the child is interested in and engages with their toy, they are learning and improving some skills they may lack. Toys are for all children, but you do have to be more selective when it comes to buying toys for your special needs child. When you do find that perfect toy for your special needs child, it can be an especially enjoyable experience.

More Special Needs Articles


A name... on December 06, 2018:

I am doing a assignment based on cerebral palsy, this helped me so much!

QUAN on December 04, 2018:

Very lit

Cameren on December 03, 2018:

Thank you for the information

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on April 03, 2012:

Sebastian - thanks so much for your comment. A toy can become a very frustrating thing for a child instead of something fun - depending on the skills a child has or lacks. Thanks again for stopping by!

Sebastian72012 on March 18, 2012:

This article was very helpful. I work with infants, where they are just learning how to use their fine motor skills. It is so true, not all toys are great for all children. With my class I observe them daily to see what skills I need to work on with them and not every toy works with all of them at this point. They do get frustrated with certain toys, because they do not yet know how to use it.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on January 27, 2012:

Levertis - Your brother sounds like an amazing person - thank you so much for sharing about him. I can't imagine what it was like years ago trying to find resources and support for those with a disability. Nowadays that information and support is just a click away w/ the Internet. I'm thankful for those who have fought for the rights for those w/ special needs as my family and many others are reaping those benefits.

Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on January 25, 2012:

When my brother became blind many years ago when my siblings and I were young childrem, the realization of it was so devastating to my whole family. We did not understand so many things about this difficult tramsition that he, as well as his family, had to endure. He was lost in a world of stress and blindness, and the ones who loved him were groping around to find him. Many years, many frustrating moments, some outside intervention, although minimal, and many mistakes and learning opportunities finally led us to the light that we needed to see our brother as a young man who soon realized that a disability did not have to be a handicap. Today, he is an older man, but has enjoyed a full, challenging life as an independent and productive citizen, advocate for community and people with disabilities, and a family man.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 24, 2011:

Caroline - thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate you stopping by!

Caroline Desmond-O'Brien on December 16, 2011:


Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on October 16, 2011:

HomerMCho - thank you so much for your comment. I do hope it is helpful for children with special needs.

HomerMCho on October 15, 2011:

Another useful hub for children with special needs. Interesting topic. Parents with this types of children must read this hub.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 28, 2011:

toddwertz - thanks so much for your comment and for voting this up!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 25, 2011:

ktrapp - thanks for your comment - actually the hub of the day article was on assistive technology for students with disabilities - but that's ok. What a great website - thanks so much for sharing.

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on August 23, 2011:

Cari, I noticed this article in the "hub of the day" section and just wanted to share some information with you and some of your readers. I used to do work for an organization called the National Lekotek Center and they do various work for children with disabilities. They have a website, , where they rate non-adapted toys for how well the toys would be for children with physical, cognitive, sensory, or communicative disabilities. Each toy also has a review that includes ways to adapt it to meet specific needs.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on June 11, 2011:

randomcreative - thanks so much for your comment.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 10, 2011:

Great resource for parents and teachers. Thank you!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on May 09, 2011:

celeBritys4africA - thank you so much for your kind comment.

celeBritys4africA from Las Vegas, NV on May 09, 2011:

God bless you for your wonderful work.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on January 14, 2011:

AskAshlie3433 - Thank you so much for your comment and your kind words - very encouraging!

AskAshlie3433 from WEST VIRGINIA on January 12, 2011:

I just thought this was a great hub for you to do. Very cool. You have a way with words Cari. Best wishes. Expect and except!

Shane Belceto from WA USA on November 22, 2010:

Quite welcome and great keep at it! smiles

~Expect Miracles

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on November 19, 2010:

Shane - thanks so much for your heartfelt comment and yes, I do expect miracles!

Shane Belceto from WA USA on November 17, 2010:

Thoughtful and helpful HUB .. thank you for its creation.

I feel main thing to rmember is they are kids no matter what direction or toys you decide to go with.

I understand on the high price thing too for the special toys always bugged me too .. similar with adatptive technology the cost is outragiouse for most items ... it cost me more for the softwear to use my PC then the PC itself does practically .. but yes like you said not widely made so price they feel needs to be high .. I don't fully agree but is the way it is for now.

~Expect Miracles

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on November 16, 2010:

okmom - thanks for that information. We actually go through Easter Seals for our respite care so we will have to ask them about that program. Thanks for your comment.

Donna Oliver from Midwest, U.S.A. on November 15, 2010:

Interesting hub. Easter Seals offers a program which lends appropriate toys to children with challenges for one month. All it takes is a phone call to your closest Easer Seals.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 27, 2010:

toneyahuja - thanks so much for your comment. You're right, toys can do many things for children. Thanks for stopping by.

toneyahuja from India on August 26, 2010:

good information on adaptive toys for children.Ah awesome information on toys. In fact toys are the robust mean to sooth and entertain the kids, whether these are electronics, animal stuffed toys. Easy to choose and buy the toys online

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 17, 2010:

RoseGardenAdvice - thanks so much for your comment. Very interesting about your friend working with special needs children in the Middle East - I'm wondering if they have just as many or less resources for special needs children as we do here in the U.S.

RoseGardenAdvice from San Francisco on August 14, 2010:

I have a friend who works with special children in the Middle East and am sure she would find your hub very useful in her work. The checklist for understanding the type of toy a child needs is well thought out. Special kids needing special toys is something I hadn't considered until I read yr hub. Thanks.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on July 24, 2010:

PMHD - thanks for your comment. I truly appreciate it.

PMHD from USA on July 23, 2010:

Toys that are essential to the development of real children.

I think so.

Best Hub

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on June 18, 2010:

macie - thanks for reading. Check out the following link it may help with what you're looking for.

macie on June 17, 2010:

Looking for info on big mac switches or other adaptive switches that enable user to turn on and off appliances? Not sure if adapter is needed?

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on May 16, 2010:

dansmith86 - so glad this article was helpful. May you and your cousin be blessed!

dansmith86 on May 16, 2010:

My cousin has Downs Syndrome and this article is amazingly helpful so thankyou!!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on February 24, 2010:

TurnOnYourSenses - thank you so much for your comment and as a pediatric physical therapist I totally commend you for all you do to help children. I don't know where we would be without our daughter's PT - she is amazing! She has helped immensely in teaching our daughter how to "drive" her powerchair. These kids really do have amazing spirits.

TurnOnYourSenses on February 22, 2010:

Great Hub. I, too am passionate about toys. How do you do the hub mob feed? I thought that was great! I am also a pediatric physical therapist and I love when children with special needs interact with a toy and their eyes light up. I miss working with children who were more physically involved because they taught me to appreciate the little things in life. I taught a little boy how to use an electric wheelchair and as he was speeding down the hallway he said, "Look, I am running!" What a beautiful little spirit! So full of life!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on February 03, 2010:

clare - thank you so much for stopping in and for your comment.

clare on February 02, 2010:

Great hub :)

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on February 01, 2010:

ateenyi - thank you so much for your comment, for following and for so many exclamation points!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on February 01, 2010:

quildon - thank you for your comment. I really admire the knowledge and patience of therapists who work with kids. Thanks for all your hard work!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on February 01, 2010:

screation - thank you for adding to the list of finding the right toy. I will add them into my hub. Thanks again.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on February 01, 2010:

amulets - thanks for your comment. I think the right kind of toys are better than too many toys!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on February 01, 2010:

Bearfoot - thank you so much for stopping in and thanks for your comment.

ateenyi from Chicago on January 31, 2010:

Great Hub Cari!!!!!!

The clarity and balance shine from this hub. The toys fascinate every one, and kids are just attracted towards it instantly. The kind of visual delight these colorful toys provide in unsurpassed. I have added my list to follow. Thanks a lot for providing so fruitful information.

Angela Joseph from Florida on January 30, 2010:

Great hub. As an occupational therapist who has worked with special needs kids in the school system, I can relate to what you are saying. The right toy can do so much for a child's - not just a special needs child - physical as well as intellectual development. Now when I buy toys for my grandkids I think about how the toy benefits the child.

screation on January 30, 2010:

thanks Cari Jean for this useful hub.

When choosing a toy for a child with special needs the following factors must be carefully considered:

Is it safe for that child's intellectual age, well constructed and durable?

Is it appealing and interesting to the child

Is it right for the child's physical capabilities?

Is it suited to the child's mental and social development? The toy should not

Be fragile or breakable . Have any toxic materials

amulets from Singapore on January 30, 2010:

Nice hub. I remembered when I was young, my parents simply buy things that I wanted. But I will have them for at least a few years until it is un-usable before discarding. I have friends that having toys that piles up the entire room.

Bearfoot on January 30, 2010:

I am lucky that I don't have to do the work of taking care of any child, much less a special needs one. But this does give me the "Warm fuzzies' Knowing that these childern are lucky enough to have people who love them.

That is something that every kid needs. Parents who love their kids are, as we say on the internet "Made of win."

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on January 27, 2010:

JenDobson27 - thanks for stopping in, I love getting comments from new hubbers. It's true that people just get so busy they forget to have fun! Thanks also for becoming a follower.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on January 27, 2010:

HealthyHanna - welcome to HubPages - it is a great online community. I appreciate your comment and agree there is a lot of learning and healing in play.

Thanks also for the link, I will check it out!

JenDobson27 on January 27, 2010:

Absolutely, play is extremely important at young ages especially, and I think it's also important that we still have 'play time' and free time as we get older too. So may time people just get busy and forget how to have some fun. Great Hub Cari! I really enjoyed reading it and have added you to my followers list.

HealthyHanna from Utah on January 27, 2010:

Play is so important for all of us--disabled or not. There is a lot of healing and learning in play. I have been working with a play therapist, and it is amazing what we can learn from play. So if you are one who has a hard time putting things out of your mind, it gives relaxing and playing a new meaning and way of 'working'.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on January 20, 2010:

stars439 - thank you so much for your comment. Is Becky your only daughter? Our daughter has CP and she is our only child, she too is very beautiful. It is very wonderful that there are people who purposely find ways to help those with special needs.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on January 19, 2010:

This is and extremely important hub Cari Jean. Our daughter Becky was born with a neurological disability that crippled her.She has never walked, and only uses one hand and can see from only one eye. Fortunately Becky is very beautiful. Today she is our adult daughter that we take care of.

You have touched on to a vital need for the disabled, the need for creative minds to take a little time in inventing things that disabled citizens can use to improve the quality of their lives. God Bless you dear heart.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on January 03, 2010:

rmcrayne - thank you so much for your comment. I would love to see some "companion pieces" on this topic! I will be looking forward to them.

rmcrayne from San Antonio Texas on January 02, 2010:

Cari Jean you did a great job on this hub. I saw my notification in my daily HP email when it was published a few days ago. I did not get to read it right away, but it has been on my mind! You have got me thinking about companion pieces. It’s been a while since I wrote a clinically oriented hub, so I guess I’m overdue. If you don’t see something in the next few days, feel free to shoot me a friendly reminder! Hope you and your family are off to a Happy New Year.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 31, 2009:

Pamela99 - I know the parents enjoy the toys just as much as the children do! It's also great to be able to see your special needs child play independently which is something even special needs children need.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 31, 2009:

janiek13 - thank you so much for your comment. Yes, it's true, parents get so caught up with the special needs they sometimes forget the importance of just letting their child be a child. Playtime can be just as important as physical therapy.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 31, 2009:

What a wonderful hub. Special children require more care and attention and I would imagine these toys are good for the parent as they are for the child. We all love our children and want them to have any advantage possible.

Mary Krenz from Florida's Space Coast on December 31, 2009:

Excellent choice of subject matter. Sometimes you can be so busy taking care of the special needs, the playing part that is essential for a child can be overlooked.