Parents and caregivers can find developmental benefits in lots of different toys, it all comes down to how you want to use them. I’ve outlined some of my favorite toys for kids with special needs that can be played with in alternative ways, allowing for play variation based on a child’s developmental level. Each offers skill and therapeutic benefits, in addition to being fun to play. Those grownups with children with ADD, ADHD, or Autism may find these toys especially helpful. Plus, most of these toys are electronic-free (or can be played without the electronic component) to reduce overstimulation.
BIG FEELINGS PINEAPPLE (LEARNING RESOURCES)
- Kids explore emotion identification and expressions with 26 changeable pieces, such as mouths, eyes, eyebrows, and hands.
- Includes a guide with tips for introducing social-emotional learning (SEL) skills.
- This pineapple is double-sided, so kids can build two faces at once for double the fun!
- Ages: 3+
- MSRP: $9.99
- Available: Amazon, Learning Resources.com
Why it’s great for kids with special needs: This is a great toy for kids to learn to recognize social expressions and emotions in themselves and in others. It helps them work on identifying social cues in a playful and fun way, while also letting kids express their creativity and master their fine motor skills. All the pieces can be stored inside the pineapple for easy travel and organization!
PELICAN EXPLORE & FIT CYCLE (MGA ENTERTAINMENT)
- Have fun, learn, and exercise at the same time!
- Kids see adults riding and they want to ride, too. Now they can with the Little Tikes Pelican Explore & Fit Cycle.
- It’s like a cycling or spin class for kids! Free, easy to access, trainer adventure videos on YouTube where kids can cycle to videos and feel like they are mountain biking, snowboarding, or being on a roller coaster.
- Built-in audio adventures and the Bluetooth speaker that allows them to play their very own music and ride along to the beat.
- Ages: 3+
- MSRP: $157.99
- Available: Amazon
Why it’s great for kids with special needs: With the ability to have a tablet on the handle bars, kids can do remote learning on the bike if they need to be active or move during lessons. It can also be beneficial to quickly get out ‘the sillies’ so they can be redirected to required tasks. Kids can work on core and leg strength in addition to gross motor skills and coordination. Adults can also use it to preview standalone outdoor bikes, and teach kids the basics including how to get on and off in a safe, controlled environment.
PAWZ, THE CALMING PUP (HAND2MIND)
- Pawz is a beloved calming companion as his auto-adjusting lights guide kids through deep breathing patterns.
- Watch Pawz and follow the lightened prompts: Inhale when the light gets brighter and exhaling as the light fades.
- There are three different breath patterns: square breath, four-by-four breath, and laddered breath.
- Includes a night-light with color choices of white, green, blue, yellow, and purple with a timer that can be set for five, 15, or 30 minutes.
- Ages: 3+
- MSRP: $21.99
- Available: hand2mind.com, Amazon
Why it’s great for kids with special needs: As Pawz guides kids through different breathing patterns and relaxation techniques, it is also working on social emotional regulation. It can be used as practice, as well as a calming aid during behavioral episodes. Pawz’s plastic exterior means it can be wiped down with a disinfectant cloth. It can also be used as a soothing night light at home or in medical facilities for comfort at nighttime.
HEDBANZ BLAST OFF! (SPIN MASTER GAMES)
- Everyone’s favorite guessing game is back with an exciting twist!
- Hedbanz Blast Off! is the high-flying, fast-talking version of the classic guessing game “Who Am I?”
- Split up into two teams and take turns asking questions (they don’t have to be yes or no) as players go head to head and their team gives one word answers.
- Figure out what’s on your card before the timer runs out and the card Blasts Off out of the headband!
- Win when the guesser guesses three cards correctly.
- Ages: 6+
- MSRP: $20
- Players: 4+
- Available: Target, Walmart, Amazon
Why it’s great for kids with special needs: Kids learn to take turns as they practice verbal and descriptive skills, as well as learning to listen and practice ‘bounce back’ questions. They also have to look for visual cues on the cards, which can help them practice attention to details, all while having fun playing a game. If grownups are concerned with the electronic component, they can keep the headbands off and just use a sand timer instead.
WADDLE HIP HOPPERS (FLYBAR)
- Features an easy grip handle and stands up on its own for indoor and outdoor fun.
- Supports up to 250 lbs.
- Kids can choose from Unicorn, Dino, and Bull.
- Ages: 5+
- MSRP: $29.99
- Available: Walmart, Amazon, Specialty Retail
Why it’s great for kids with special needs: Waddle Hip Hoppers help kids work on coordination and strength while having tons of fun hopping both indoors and outdoors! It is also a fun way for kids to work on their school skills. For example, grownups can use chalk on a driveway or write on index cards indoors with numbers 1-10, then ask for the answer to simple math problems, like 2+5 or 3×3. Kids can hop on the waddle hopper and then bounce to the correct answer. They can also do the same for spelling and geography. These types of games will introduce a physical element to learning.
POM POPS (SUNNY DAYS ENTERTAINMENT)
- Series 1 Pom Pops includes three cute themes: Unicorn, Llama, and Mermaid.
- The fun begins by digging through 1000 colorful pom poms!
- Find themed toy surprises to unwrap and play with. There are more than 100 different toy surprise options, so kids never know what they’ll find! Look for surprises like themed bling stickers, beaded bracelets, lip gloss, and more!
- Next, find a scrunchie or hairbow to fill with pom poms and wear as a cute fashion accessory.
- Kids can express their creativity by decorating the hidden plastic charm and then showing it off clipped to their bag or backpack!
- Use remaining pom poms to create fun craft projects. Reference the included activity booklet for inspiration or kids can create their own masterpieces! No pieces go to waste.
- Find four adorable cutouts inside including a heart, ice cream cone, fish and rainbow to customize with your pom poms!
- Ages: 3+
- MSRP: $12.99
- Available: Walmart, Amazon
Why it’s great for kids with special needs: With this craft, kids focus on freeform creativity, but the small poms also help with pincer grip and other fine motor skills. Grownups can also set forth creative goals that kids can follow, which can help with patterning, sequencing, and processing.
GIBGAB (FAT BRAIN TOYS)
- Kids say a word that matches the category on the card and press their button.
- When kids press their button, lights begin to creep toward their opponent.
- Think fast, say a word, press a button.
- The first light to reach the other end of the game board wins!
- Ages: 8+
- MSRP: $24.95
- Available: fatbraintoys.com, Amazon
Why it’s great for kids with special needs: While kids have fun playing GibGab, they can work on concentration, visualization and processing skills, and turn taking. There are three levels of difficulty, so the game can be adjusted for age or skill level. Plus, grownups can modify the game altogether as they work on building up the child’s abilities to play. You could even forego the electronic component and instead kids can play by taking turns giving a response that is on topic and just use an object next to the buttons to show progress.
BARBIE FAST CAST CLINIC (MATTEL)
- Kids can play doctor with the new Fast Cast Clinic!
- Clinic includes a Barbie doctor doll and four play areas: a medical station, exam table, X-ray machine and gift shop.
- Kids can make casts for their doll “patient” (sold separately) with a realistic cast-making feature (use pink, purple or white dough) to create casts for the patient’s arms and legs and create wraps with the bandage maker.
- Playset also includes 30+ pieces to play out the fun: 3 dough containers, leg cast, Chelsea arm cast, a set of crutches, stickers, X-rays, gift shop items, and more.
- Some of the accessories feature a clip so Barbie doctor doll can hold them for even more realistic play.
- Ages: 3+
- MSRP: $49.99
- Available: Major retailers, Amazon
Why it’s great for kids with special needs: This Barbie set lets kids feel in control of doctor visits by letting them role-play as the doctor or nurse! It also lets grownups preview medical visits in advance to reduce anxiety. Kids can make their own arm and leg casts for Barbie to establish empathy and parallel play if they wear a cast or brace themselves.
All in all, these toys are great for kids with special needs. I’d love to hear what you think about this list! Or if you have other toy ideas! Email me at toybox @playroomchronicles.com!