Boutique offers toys for kids with disabilities

May 3, 2012 (CHICAGO)

It's a place where both children and parents can fully participate and enjoy.

Out of personal frustration of finding the right products for her two children with developmental differences, the boutique owner added the sensory kids store to her business.

The back half of Chicago's North Side Bellybum Boutique is the sensory kids store.

"Almost everything is sensory friendly. I think every child or adult in the world, there's not a child that doesn't benefit from a sensory diet, so most toys on the market have sensory applications," said owner Ellen Sternweiler.

Sternweiler said she has experienced the same challenges of finding the right products as many parents who have children with disabilities.

"You find a huge big box store that has kind of jumped on the special-needs bandwagon I hate to say that, you know, where they've got 50 million toys, and they've said, you know, 'Oh well, we have a couple toys that are sensory friendly," said Sternweiler. "The other thing that has existed are medical websites and medical catalogs, and they are for any parent who's ever had to look through them. It's horrid, it's 150,000 products.

"My store is inclusive of all developmental difference, so I don't limit it to autism I certainly cater to a large community of children on the spectrum," Sternweiler said, adding that the most popular toys in her store depend on the abilities of the children.

"Usually the vertibular toys, things that help with balance and movement, the children absolutely love," Sternweiler said. "We have foam tummy scooters, [and they] are very, very popular, that's probably one of... our best-selling items, that is, movement-type of toys or therapy equipment."

The sensory kids store opened last November. Kate Mueller became a customer because of her twins Nico and Josie.

"They do have mild brain deformities and obviously cognitive delays. You know, anything from visual processing issues to sensory, there's a whole gamut of disabilities going on, but they do well," she said.

Mueller said finding the right products for her twins has been challenging until now.

"First of all, finding the therapy toys are really hard to find. Second of all, you go into a store, and they see your children and go, 'Oh, these toys are great for them,' and I say, 'No, we need the baby toys," she said.

"The sensory kids store has clothing for children with developmental differences. I carry compression and weighted clothing and seamless socks and seamless underwear and some seamless shirts and pants," said Sternweiler.

"It's an amazing store. They understand that it's not just a general delay, they understand each of the special needs, whether it's a visual things or a sensory thing," Mueller said.

Prices range from $1.50 to $1,700, which is for a therapeutic gym box. For more information visit

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