Top Summer Toys for Kids with Special Needs

Some of the biggest challenges of summertime for parents are keeping children entertained and developmentally stimulated. You probably want to add fun activities, exciting adventures and a couple of new toys to the mix to keep things interesting. Below are a few hot toy ideas that are fun and focused on your child with special needs–and just may give you an edge on the summertime blues!

Fidget Spinners, Puzzles & Tangles

If you’ve witnessed the latest toy craze, fidget spinners, then you know these tactile-type products are a hot item for kids of all ages and stages; however, they can be quite beneficial for children with sensory issues. They provide a pleasing, hands-on sensory experience that requires concentration from your child, making them a perfect stress-, anxiety- and boredom-buster for those restless moments on summer days!

Fat Brain Toys Squigz

Another hands-on toy – the visually unique and sense-stimulating Squigz by Fat Brain Toys – is described as “fun little suckers” according to the packaging. By the use of suction, they can connect to each other and any solid, nonporous surface, encouraging creativity, fine motor skills and playful experimentation – a fun addition to any toy collection!

Hedstrom Sensory Products

Hedstrom offers exceptional, quality products for kids, most notably their Sensory Stepperz that kids can balance, hop and step on. Features include different patterns and textures that help develop balance, coordination and gross motor skills. These can go outside or inside of your home, making them a great summer toy option!

Sand and Water Discovery Tables

Let’s not forget the classics! Sand and water tables – like this one – have been around for many years, but there’s a reason for that! A favorite for many, they not only provide hours of entertainment, but give your child a multisensory experience. And instead of using just sand and water, consider adding dry beans, shaving cream and other items of different textures, stimulating different sensory input.

SkyCurve Platform Swing

And finally, when you think of summer, long afternoons of swinging in the sunshine always cross the mind. Parent’s Choice and Creative Child Award winner, the SkyCurve Platform Swing by Hearthsong is a longer swing that allows your child to comfortably lay down if necessary, or it can hold multiple children sitting up. Nothing beats the great outdoors for stimulating all of the senses, and relaxing on a swing can be icing on the cake after a full day of play!

Summer certainly doesn’t have to be a bore! With a few new items in the repertoire, you’re sure to keep your child entertained, while giving them developmental tools to grow and have fun all at the same time!

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New Year’s Goals: How to Involve your Child with Special Needs in Making and Achieving Goals

By Diane M. McCullom

It’s January—the holidays have come to an end. It’s back to school, back to work and back to routines. With the end of one year, comes the beginning of a new one—and a new opportunity to make goals for the upcoming months.

But this New Year’s tradition doesn’t have to be limited to adults. Children of all ages and aptitudes should also be encouraged to set goals for learning, personal growth and their futures. When children learn to set goals and reach them, they can visualize their futures, make good choices and make their dreams come true.

Unfortunately, it’s easier for children with special needs to get distracted or discouraged from setting and achieving goals. The Frostig Center, a program dedicated to improving the lives of children with disabilities through research, development and education, did 20 years of research on what makes people with disabilities successful as adults: Goal-setting was one of six success attributes.

Here are a few ways you can cultivate successful goal-setting in your children, students or friends with special needs:

  1. Ask children about their dreams and desires, and encourage them to set goals related to those dreams and desires. In this case, their own desires will fuel their motivation. Listen to their dreams, and don’t squelch them, but help to shape them. For instance, maybe the child lacks social skills necessary in working with others, but he tells you he wants to play basketball as a goal this year. In that case, perhaps you could start by taking him to the library and learn by reading books or watching movies related to the sport. You could also practice social situations in public with the end goal of playing basketball later in the year. With the desire in mind, the child will have a higher chance of being more motivated to achieve his goals.

 

  1. Make goals achievable, measurable and time-sensitive. Big goals are positive, but make sure that the goals are realistic for the individual child. Breaking a big goal down into several smaller ones can make the task of achieving them seem less daunting. For example, getting an A in math for a semester is a great goal, but does the child normally get D’s? It may be overwhelming for the child to suddenly feel the pressure to make all A’s. Smaller, more achievable goals could be getting an A on an assignment or a B on a test.

 

  1. Model perseverance. Teach children that it’s ok to fail as long as they get back up and keep trying. Lead the way this new year by making a family vision board—something in plain view that you and your child see regularly. Seeing how you handle your goals, in success and failure, could be the greatest example of perseverance that your child experiences. Regularly check in with your child about his feelings, encourage the areas where he’s experiencing failure and praise his successes.

These few steps can help your child with special needs make giant leaps in feeling purpose and making dreams come true. Happy new year!

 

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 21 states.

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5 Tips for Hosting a Child with Special Needs This Holiday Season

By Diane M. McCullom

For most people, the holidays are a joyful time spent with family and friends, though they can be quite stressful and demanding with party-attending, gift-buying and schedule-juggling. Families with children who have special needs face these same demands and more—wondering how their children will feel at social gatherings is just one of the many questions asked. If you have the privilege of hosting a child with special needs this holiday season, chances are you are wondering about some ways that you can help ease the process for these families and for yourself. We have a few ideas:

Check in with parents – Before your holiday gathering, check in with the child’s parents for a list of do’s and don’ts, traditions, food sensitivities and recommendations. This step can go quite the distance in ensuring that the child feels comfortable and at home in a new environment.

Be prepared – Organize your home in a way that provides few distractions: remove clutter, keep overstimulating items out of the central focus points of your home, have backup food that the child likes, and have fun, skill-appropriate activities and games available for the child in those moments when uneasiness or restlessness sets in.

Be flexible – You might have to throw all of that preparation out the window on a whim. And guess what? It’s OK! Be flexible enough to change your plans to meet the needs of your guests.

Teach your family – Use your experience hosting a special needs child as a teaching time for your own children or relatives to learn about awareness, difference, respect and acceptance.

Relax and have fun – A kid with special needs wants to be independent too, so let them attempt things on their own instead of immediately jumping in to help. Things might get spilled or kids might jump on your couch. As long as a safe and fun environment is maintained, don’t sweat the small stuff!

With a little preparation and an accommodating mindset for those special kids in your life, the holidays are sure to be a success for everyone this year!

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 21 states.

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Guidelines for Choosing a Gift for a Child with Special Needs

By Diane M. McCullom

Walk into a gift store this holiday season, and chances are, you’ll be overcome with more items than you could possibly imagine—the hottest toy trends of the season and all things merry and bright. This same overwhelming sensation can be quite stressful for parents and those shopping for children with special needs. So what are some guidelines for finding that perfect, yet appropriate, gift for the child with special needs in your life? Here are a few questions to ask yourself when shopping:

Is the gift multisensory? If it’s a toy, does it respond with lights, sounds or movement to engage the child? Does it have scent, texture and contrasting colors? Sometimes these things can be overwhelming to children with sensory disorders, so depending on the specific needs of the child, these may or may not be positive things.

Does it provide open-ended play? This means the gift has no definite right or wrong way to use it. Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration? Is it adaptable to the child’s individual style, ability and pace?

Does it meet the child’s individualistic needs and abilities? Does the gift allow for personal creativity and making choices? Is it developmentally appropriate?

Is it practical in terms of safety, durability and adjustability? Does it fit the child’s size and strength? Does it have adjustable sound, height, speed and level of difficulty? Is it easy to keep clean and store? Could it fit on a wheelchair tray?

For specific gift ideas, check out Toys”R”Us’ toy guide for “differently-abled” kids that categorizes items by different skill sets. For more than 20 years, they have offered this one-of-a-kind resource that provides parents and caregivers with gift recommendations that aid in the development of children with disabilities. With thousands of pins popping up under the search phrase “gifts for kids with special needs,” Pinterest is also a fantastic resource for finding gifts specific to the needs of each child.

Get creative with your gift buying and don’t forget to have fun with the process! With a little research and preparation, you can find the perfect gift and make Christmas special for these uniquely special kids.

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 21 states.

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