Group helps pick toys for disabled children

April 10, 2011 8:01:17 AM PDT
Playing is one way children learn and develop, but for those with disabilities, finding the right toys can be a challenge.

For more than 20 years, a Chicago not-for-profit organization has been in the business of finding the best toys for different abilities.

Every year the National Lekotek Center evaluates between 850 and 1,000 toys sent to them by toy manufacturers. The evaluators are both trained experts and young customers.

Aileen Dressler's two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Claudia, tested toys. Claudia has multiple developmental delays.

"She's non-verbal. So we've been trying to use like assistive tech devices. We're working with a speech therapist. She got speech OD, occupational, physical and developmental therapies right now," Aileen Dressler said.

Mother and daughter come to the National Lekotek Center for play therapy.

"She's working on toys that help encourage her to walk across different surfaces. She's also working on standing. So, one of the toys that we are evaluating for our Able Play website was really useful because she was able to practice stand on it, and also she can use it to walk across," said Deidre Omahen, who is in charge of training evaluators, as well as evaluating toys with children.

"We are also working on her not swiping toys. She tends to take a toy and push it away. So, we're trying to find toys that have like velcro or magnets that stick together," Omahen said.

Staff evaluators have backgrounds in special education and therapeutic disciplines.

"We have ways to adapt the toys, which is really helpful. So, for each disability category, we would say how you could adapt it to their needs. And then, we also talk about the developmental skills that are used. So, it's really great resources for families," said Omahen.

Manager of Business Development Ellen Metrick says even though there are so many different toys, not everything is suitable for children with disabilities.

"We're dissecting the toy, and we're able to see if it works with a child who has visual impairments. It may not work for a child with autism. That doesn't discount the fact that it's really good for one type of disability, and that's how we created Able Play," she said.

For a child like Claudia, toys are essential for her development.

"I think that was one thing, what they had was a Big Mac, a certain device that you could add to a toy that would make it move. Like, if she couldn't push the actual buttons on it to make it move, they had a device that assisted so that she had to push one button, and that the doll or whatever would light up or do certain things," said Dressler.

For more information, visit and Representatives from these organizations help with the Toys-R-Us toy guide for differently-abled kids that comes out towards the end of each year during the holidays.

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