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Choosing holiday toys.

The season for exchanging gifts will soon be here. Parents (and relatives) will try to select appropriate gifts for all their children from a vast array of possibilities. While there can be special considerations because of a child's disability, the child with a disability is a child first. Children with disabilities are likely to enjoy the same toys and games as their peers as long as they are able to use them. Nonetheless, finding appropriate toys and games for children with disabilities can be a major challenge for parents and relatives.

This article is about fun gifts, not necessities like clothing or luxuries like portable television sets. While necessities and luxuries can be appropriate gifts for children or adults, we will not discuss such purchases. The focus of this article is fun.

Fun gifts include materials--such as board games--that require (and hopefully, invite) the participation of others and gifts that provide the child with ways to have fun by himself--such as craft activities. Some gifts may serve both purposes. If the toy or game is meant to be used by more than one child, parents need to consider the number of players needed and select toys or games that will be appropriate and interesting for all the children (or adults) involved.

In a short walk through a nearby department store, discount store, or toy store parents will red a wide variety of toys--all sizes, shapes, materials and prices. Some will be familiar ones that we may remember fondly from our own childhoods. Others will be new and unfamiliar. Some may make parents wish that they were children again, while others will make them think wistfully of the "old days" when things seemed simpler. Do not be tricked by contemporary names; many items with modem names are actually old-time favorites that have simply been repackaged.

Today, all parents must contend with powerful television advertisements and print media promotions that are aimed directly at children. Children's toy requests are heavily influenced by this barrage of advertising. It takes time for children to appreciate what parents have learned from experience as shoppers: some toys are as great as the commercials make them appear, but many are not and most seem over-priced.


Parentry to respect their children's interests and desires when they purchase gifts. At the same time, parents want to choose girls that are appropriate for an individual child in a particular family. Parents need to consider the child's ideas as well as their own. Children's interests--especially when they are very young--are likely to be short-lived. Children are also highly suggestible and may change their interests in an effort to imitate siblings or adults. Since the child's range of interests is likely to be fairly fluid at any given time, parents can introduce new material that the child will find interesting.

Young children are usually unable to make realistic judgments about how their interests fit in with the rest of the family. A child may really want a drum when the family places a high value on peace and quiet. Another child may long for finger paints or similar materials that are likely to be very messy, in a household where neatness and cleanliness are important. Thus, while parents want to respect their child's interests and wishes, it is important that they also consider their own standards to be sure that the gifts they purchase will be welcomed by the rest of the family.

Similar principles apply to the purchase of games in which parents will be expected to participate. If parents shudder at the thought of playing a particular game because they think it is repetitive or boring, it is best to buy another that will be more appealing to all players. Children are also unlikely to appreciate realistic constraints like necessary play space or needs for storage space. Thus, a child in a mid-town apartment may "really want a pony."

Quality, Safety and Cost

Safety, quality of materials and cost are not major concerns of children. Despite media attention to issues of toy quality and safety, in the pressure and rush of holiday times, these factors are sometimes neglected.

When a child puts almost everything in his mouth, parents try to avoid toys or games that include parts that are sharp, poisonous, or can easily be broken into small, sharp-edged pieces. Toys made of softer, more flexible plastic or cloth are not only more durable; they are much safer. While most parents are mindful of the need to avoid toys or games with pieces that can easily be swallowed, they may forget that small batteries are a component of many larger modern toys. Be sure that battery compartments are secure. From a safety point of view, battery compartments that are difficult to locate and open are ideal.

For any child, but especially a child with poor coordination, parents must be watchful for sharp edges, loose parts and other signs of poor quality. If a child is both poorly coordinated and tends to put things in his mouth, it is even more important to be sure that toys will not come apart easily. If your child . throws things, including toys, this becomes a problem in terms of the survival of the toy (as well as the survival of other items and people within striking range). In all of these cases, it is necessary for parents to predict how an individual child is likely to react to a given toy, and then to consider ways to deal with those aspects of the toys that are likely to cause problems.

Costs are important, but higher cost doesn't necessarily mean better quality. Most adults have had the experience of spending a lot of money for a toy or game that ends up being used only once or twice. If a toy is expected to last, paying extra for durability can be a worthwhile investment. Some expensive items, however--like fancy doll house furniture--seem to be made for adults and museums, but not for many children. Essentially, parents need to consider how and where a youngster and his brothers and sisters and friends are likely to use the gift.

It can be especially useful to consider specialty or uncommon items when a child has had a difficult time with ordinary toys or games. Not only will the child have a chance to succeed but other children may be more interested in a novel activity.

Despite parental hints and direct suggestions, children are likely to want something useless, even "terrible." Although parents do not need to purchase such items, they do want to help their children to become informed consumers and make appropriate purchase decisions. Accordingly, parents may sometimes "give in" to pressure to purchase a toy while sharing their concerns about the item with the child.

Toys that "fit"

Children may be clear about their interests but unrealistic about their ability to master the materials. It helps to consider the child's experience in the neighborhood or at school. She or he may have already tried and enjoyed a certain toy. Also, when time permits, it pays to experiment with similar materials borrowed from others or from a toy library.

Along with considering a child's abilities, it is important to think about the environment in which a child will use a toy or game. Space is an important consideration. For example, will the toy fit easily on a wheelchair tray or bed tray? Does it need to be used on a table or on the floor? When a game is set up, can the child easily reach all of its parts?

One dilemma parents face in choosing gifts is whether to pick materials that they know their children can use and enjoy or whether they should choose at least a few gifts that might have some degree of therapeutic value by providing the child with experiences in areas in which he is limited. Such gifts can have a gnawing appeal to parents because they look like materials that might be helpful in solving a problem.

At holiday time, however, fun should be the major criterion for selecting gifts. The hoped-for educational and therapeutic value of a toy or game calls for careful consideration. The label "educational" (or "therapeutic") may be attached to materials for children simply to increase sales potential. In fact, most toys and games can be considered "educational" because they teach such essential skills as waiting one's tum, playing by the rules, counting, or following directions.

Parents can consult with professionals who know their child whenever they are tempted to purchase materials that supposedly have educational or therapeutic value. Teachers and occupational therapists can be especially helpful because they often know how to use many different, commonplace materials in an educational Or therapeutic manner.

Parents want to select a toy or game that "fits" the child for whom it is intended. Manufacturers' age-level recommendations tend to be relatively poor guidelines to use when buying toys for a child with special needs. At the same time, a child may be put off by a toy that is too easy as well as one that is too hard. Children usually are eager to work towards goals that they perceive as attainable. It can be a delicate balancing act to find a toy challenging enough to hold a child's interest, but not so difficult that it leads to frustration and failure.

At first glance, many toys and games may appear to require thinking, memory or fine motor abilities that are beyond a specific child. Materials or instructions may initially appear daunting. However, creative parents and professionals have developed many flexible adaptations that allow children with complicated disabilities to utilize everyday playthings. The play materials need to be adapted, but the adaptations will not diminish a child's enjoyment of the toy.

Various aspects of games can be adapted. Many board games require the ability to move a small object from space to space across the playing surface. Markers may be made heavier or larger. The playing surface may be attached to a turntable to make it easier to get to the board or it may be mounted on a piece of wood so that holes can be drilled in each of the spaces of the game. Then markers can be attached to golf tees or small dowels that fit in the holes so a child can move them from space to space without losing count or upsetting the board. Card games and other table games can also be adapted with the use of magnetic boards or special devices to help grasp the cards or dominoes.

Many typical toys can be adapted. Relatively simple modifications like a Velcro mitt may help a child grasp toys or game pieces. Similarly, a non-slip material can be glued to the bottom of lightweight checkers to keep them from sliding around the board.

Rules for participation are also adaptable. It is unfair to expect young children to remember intricate rules or even be particularly concerned about following them. Parents can create simplified rules initially. A memory game, for instance, may be made easier by using fewer pairs of cards or more difficult by using more. Many toys can be played with in more than one way. Dominoes, for example, can be played as a game with other children or used as a building set.

While this article has emphasized toys and games, books, records and tapes, and pets can also be exciting gifts. Books can be fine gifts even when a child is intellectually limited. Children of all ages enjoy being read to, especially by adults. Today, many children's books have been rewritten as highinterest, low-vocabulary versions so even children with limited reading skills can enjoy interesting stories. Librarians are excellent resources for recommendations of high-interest, low-vocabulary books. Librarians can also direct parents to children's books dealing with disability related issues.

Audiotapes and videotapes are also popular gifts--especially if they invite interaction and participation with others. Earphones may become important when parents lose interest in repeat performances.

Most children look forward to pets without completely appreciating the time and energy necessary for proper care. Here, experienced parents suggest starting with creatures requiring minimal care.

Active rather than passive

Toys, games and other materials that give the child an opportunity to be active are better than materials that require only relatively passive observation or listening. This is particularly important for children with limited mobility. Electronic games can be great fun as long as the child is able to handle the controls.

School-age children usually enjoy the thrill of making things for themselves or as gifts for others--jewelry, collages, scrapbooks, models, etc. Such common childhood activities can be difficult for children with disabilities because they may be unable to read the instructions or handle the fine detail work because they cannot perceive the materials or coordinate their fingers with the necessary dexterity. By visiting a craft shop and being imaginative or talking with an occupational therapist or art therapist parents can discover ways in which they can alter the available materials so their child can succeed. For some activities, it may be necessary for a parent to work closely with the child. If so, parents can try to encourage the child to do as much as she can do on her own.

Catalog purchases

Busy parents often find mail order catalogs helpful for shopping. Be sure to ask about the company's return policy in case you are dissatisfied, the item doesn't work properly or it tums out to be inappropriate. Also verify whether continued on page 55 the item requires any other purchase-like batteries or switches--to make it usable, or if it requires an electrical outlet.

With parental creativity, children with special needs can have toys and games that challenge their emerging abilities and enable them to interact with their environment. What is more important, toys that truly "fit" give children with disabilities something that the rest of us may take for granted--a sense of control over their world.

The Gift of Love

Dear Santa Claus: When I talked to you at the department store today, I did not have time to tell you all the things I wanted. In addition to a pony a dog, a new, television, a motor bike and a baby sister, I would also like...

Fortunately even Santa has some limits--the size of his sleigh, the pack on his back, his ability to negotiate himself and his pack down the chimney, or through the vents as the case may be.

This is the season for the exchange of gifts in most families. Parents must choose appropriate gifts for all of their children. Hopefully, everyone will enjoy giving as well as receiving. The most important gifts exchanged between parents and children at any time of the year, however, are care and love. Material gifts are but symbolic of the giver's feelings about the receiver. The number or price of material gifts certainly does not affect the quality of love.

Parent's love must also include helping the child understand his own limits. This is especially true for the parents of a child with a disability. Some parents find themselves looking for extra and special presents for the child in a fruitless attempt to make up for the child's deficits. Sometimes aloud and sometimes in silence, parents and the child share the wish for the gift of a miracle. No mortal can provide such a gift. Instead, the parents have a task that, when accomplished, seems like a miracle. Their task is to provide love for the child in ways that include enabling the child to accept himself and his limitations and yet maintain the courage and hope necessary to lead as full a life as possible. In addition, parental love requires helping the child to accept the limitations of all human beings, including parents.

Other relatives may also want to "help the disability" with extras. They need to be reminded that the plea of the child is: "treat me like everyone else," and the plea of the child's siblings is: "I am a part of this family too---I understand the special needs but I have trouble understanding the special privileges."

Many parents face conflicts within themselves on gift-giving occasions. Parents may feel that they have not given a child enough this year (or in some other time in the past). They may have been preoccupied with financial problems, illnesses or community activities. Sometimes this feeling of not giving the child enough is related to the parents' feeling that they have been short-changed. They may believe that they can undo this feeling by showering the child with gifts.

At times, all parents feel they can never give enough to their children. At other times, they may feel depleted and think they have no more to give. If you find yourself feeling that you need to give more and make up for the past by showering your child with gifts, stop to consider exactly what you are doing. Think about your life, the life of your family and your own commitments and priorities. Your feeling that you have not done enough is probably an inappropriate and unfair judgment on yourself. On the other hand, it may be a realistic judgment that does require efforts for change. In either case, showering the child with gifts is a short-term non-solution. You cannot really "make up for it" all at once.

Parents who feel, realistically, that they have not given enough to their children (or to their spouses) owe it to themselves and their families to look to the new year as a time to reorder their priorities. A consistent daily effort to understand the needs of our loved ones and to give them realistic encouragement is a gift of love that transcends all seasons. While reassessing their priorities, parents should also give themselves some gifts. All too often, parents of children with disabilities find themselves sacrificing much of their lives in the interest of their children. It's fine to dedicate your life to caring for your children, but don't give up your own life in the process. Find ways to nourish yourself as well as your family.

Parents can also demonstrate their love by showing their appreciation for the gifts given to them by their children. Sometimes, children, especially children with disabilities, feel that they do not contribute to the joy and excitement of holidays. By involving children in the fun of selecting or making a gift for a parent, sibling or relative, they will learn that they can give as well as accept love. Since grandparents as well as children may sometimes feel left out, they too can be invited to join this joyful process of giving and receiving.

Sometimes, our gifts are not appreciated no matter how considerate we have been. Such situations are aggravating but should not be used as a measure of one's competence. Instead, on such occasions, remind yourself that as a parent and human being, "you can't win 'em all," and wish yourself a happy holiday.

Resource persons

Thanks to the following individuals for their assistance in preparing this article:

Ilene M. Goldkopf, OTR, and Michelle V. Tobias, OTR, rounding partners in Pocket Full of Therapy, P.O. Box 1 74, Morganville, NJ07751.

David Hancock, special educator, Catalog Marketing Director, Flaghouse Inc., 150 No. MacQuesten Parkway, Suite 94201, Mt. Vernon, NY 10550.

Nana Mclntosh, President, Jesana Limited, P.O. Box 17, Irvington, NJ 10533.
COPYRIGHT 1993 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related story: The Gift of Love
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Annual directory of national organizations: 1993-1994.
Next Article:A fine purpose.

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