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MU ADA Expert Discusses Finding the Perfect Toy for Children with Disabilities to Avoid Frustration, Encourage Fun

Nov. 11, 2010

Story Contact(s):
Christian Basi, BasiC@missouri.edu, 573-882-4430

VIDEO: MU ADA Expert Discusses Finding the Perfect Toy for Children with Disabilities from MU News Bureau on Vimeo.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­­­– The holidays can be frustrating. Shoppers wade through store after store for months, trying to match gifts to interests, but searching for a present for a child with a disability can be particularly daunting.

Julie Brinkhoff, associate director of the Great Plains Center at the University of Missouri’s School of Health Professions, says that shoppers should focus on what a child wants for the holidays and not how a gift might help “fix” the child.

Julie Brinkhoff, associate director of the Great Plains Center at the University of Missouri’s School of Health Professions, says that shoppers should focus on what a child wants for the holidays and not how a gift might help “fix” the child.

According to Julie Brinkhoff, associate director of the Great Plains Center at the University of Missouri’s School of Health Professions, many gift givers either overestimate or underestimate the abilities of the child when they are shopping. It can be frustrating for children, parents and shoppers to find the perfect balance between age- and ability-appropriate toys.

For example, a child with limited gross motor skills and poor dexterity might find toys and puzzles, like small legos, to be frustrating; therefore shoppers should look for larger versions of the same toys. Brinkhoff reminds shoppers to be careful about assuming a child’s ability or development level. Even though a child might not be developing at the same rate as their peers, they may still be interested in the latest trend.

“A disability doesn’t interfere with the need for self-expression. Children with disabilities have peers and they want to be part of that group,” Brinkhoff said. “Buying a pink, doll-themed CD player for a 15-year-old with a developmental disability is probably something to avoid. That 15-year-old is probably interested in an iPod, just like her peers.”

According to Brinkhoff, there is a trend among some gift givers outside the immediate family to buy presents for differently abled children that are educational or meant to help with a physical disability. For example, some shoppers might want to think twice before purchasing educational materials for developmentally disabled children or books for dyslexic children. Brinkhoff said that not many children, in general, use educational materials for fun and the materials might frustrate them.

“You aren’t buying a toy for a kid with a disability; you are buying a toy for a kid,” Brinkhoff said. “For kids, the holidays are times to get what they want, not times to get a toy that will ‘fix’ them.”

Just like any child, children with disabilities have a wide range of interests. Therefore, Brinkhoff urges shoppers to talk to parents and ask about their child’s personality. Brinkhoff also encourages parents to reach out and tell family members about the child’s preferences.

Many shoppers are unaware of the options that exist for differently abled children. Every year, Toys “R” Us issues a toy guide for differently abled kids featuring toys specifically for children with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities. Assisted technology toys also are available through specialized companies and national disability organizations. These companies and organizations adapt toys and games, such as a soccer ball that beeps for blind children, for children with disabilities. Brinkhoff suggests checking websites of national disability organizations, such as the American Federation for the Blind, for some good hints for the holidays.

Many people also shy away from toys that involve interaction, like games or sports equipment, but Brinkhoff believes that social interaction is important to all children and should be considered when buying gifts.

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