Adaptive Toys for Children with Disabilities and General Toy Safety


Toys are an important part of every child’s development, they’re also fun to play with! However, every year thousands of children are treated for toy-related injuries. Choking is one of the biggest risks for children 3-years-old and younger. While toy manufacturers follow guidelines and label most toys for specific age groups, parents are encouraged to help keep their kids safe by supervising play time.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, closely monitors and regulates toys. Toys that are made or imported into the U.S. after 1995 must follow CPSC standards. Here are some helpful guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for toys.

·         Toys made of fabric should be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant.

·         Stuffed toys should be washable.

·         Painted toys must use lead-free paint.

·         Art materials should say nontoxic.

·         Crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236 on the package, which means they've been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

The CPSC has produced a detailed guide about buying toys for children 5-years-old and younger. You can view the guide by visiting CPSC’s websiteParents can report unsafe toys by calling the CPSC hotline; (800) 638-CPSC. For more information and tips on the safest toys to purchase click here

Adaptive Toys for Children with Disabilities 

Adaptive toys allow children with disabilities the opportunity to have experiences they may not be able to otherwise. As technology has improved, there are methods of adapting toys so that children with disabilities can enjoy and interact with a toy that many may not have thought possible. Finding or adapting your current toys isn’t as hard as you’d think! Each year, the Technology Access Center in Nashville hosts a Toy Adaption Day. The event takes place each December, just in time for holiday gifts!   

When a child with disabilities is having trouble using a particular toy, it may be time for some toy adaptions. For example, switches. A switch works like an on/off button. It’s connected to a battery-operated toy or electrical appliance and lets a child safely and easily turn the item on or off. Many different types of toys can be adapted for use by children with differing abilities. In order to connect to an electrical appliance, such as a lamp or a fan, additional hardware is needed.  You can find a few examples of this kind of hardware by clicking here and here

Almost any kind of book or puzzle can be adapted for children with special needs. For example, books with sturdy pages, also known as board books, can have page turner tabs and bookstands added to help children with disabilities read on their own. When it comes to arts and crafts, parents are encouraged to use large crayons and markers while utilizing hand grips. Click here for more ideas on adaptive art supplies.

Here are some features parents with children who are physically disabled should consider when purchasing toys.  

·         Large buttons or simple levers that don't require complex motions to activate

·         Enlarged handles for easier grip/grasp

·         Attachment straps (to attach to hand or play surface)

·         Ease of maneuverability by an adult

·         Simple cause and effect activity

·         Rubber, non-slide bottoms or suction cups to aid stability

·         Adjustable height to meet the child’s needs

Here are some features parents with children who are visually impaired should consider when purchasing toys.

·         Varying auditory cues, vibrations and noises (music boxes, tape recorders, toy instruments)

·         Different textures and shapes

·         Distinct scents

·         Open ended activities (flannel board with shapes, numbers, letters, activity sets)

·         Bright, high contrasting colors

·         Tactile exploration and interest (squeeze toys, cuddly toys, balls, water toys)

·         Imaginative and creative play (cook sets, tool sets, dolls and puppets)

·         Large or easy to activate knobs and handles

·         Realistic and familiar sounds and objects

Here are some features parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing with hearing should consider when purchasing toys.

·         Objects with bold, contrasting colors that stimulate visual interest and exploration

·         Tactile interest and exploration (clay, puzzles with textures, cuddly toys)

·         Differing scents and smells (scented balls or clay)

·         Variety of sensory stimulation, like lights, vibrations, and sounds.

·         Amplified and/or adjustable voice and music levels

·         Varying sounds and vibrations

·         Textures that invite exploration with the hands

·         Scented items that heighten sensory awareness

Parents will likely find that it will be well worth the extra effort to look for special features on toys that make it more appropriate and adaptable for children with special needs. Don’t feel overwhelmed at the toy store, instead dive in and find something that will stimulate and excite your child! Click here for more ideas on adaptive toys. You can also view the Technology Access Center's work with assistive technology centers across the state by visiting their website