Friday, November 30, 2012

Special Needs Blogger Weekend Link-Up: Come One, Come All!

It's another weekend link-up for bloggers with kids who have special needs. Are you tired of holiday shopping yet? I am. But let's all just take a few and spread some post love around.

The idea

Share a favorite post of the week.

What to do

Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this post. Where it says "Your name" put the name of your blog followed by the title of your post (or just the name of the post, if there's no room—you get 80 characters).

Like this: I Need A Vacation From Real Life

Where it says "Your URL" put the direct link to the post.

Click "Enter." Leave a comment if you want to say more. Go check out some great posts.

Happy linking!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When smart people make clueless remarks about special needs

American Girl recently debuted Special Sparkle, a line of doll accessories. It includes a hearing aid, a wheelchair and an allergy-free lunch with a medical bracelet and EpiPen, as reported by Dodai Stewart on Jezebel.

A writer I've long admired, Dodai noted that these accessories could help kids with special needs feel included, and even "normalize" disability because they're on the same catalog page as everyday items like boots and a hairbrush. These objects, she said, could also help raise awareness about kids who need hearing aids and wheelchairs. Props, I thought. Even better, make dolls that come with this stuff. Y-e-s! But when she questioned the "ultra-customization," it touched a nerve.

"Does it put too much emphasis on the individual?" she mused. "Is it all connected to this new selfishness, the kind of parenting that insists every child is a special snowflake, worthy of praise for just existing?"


That doesn't describe this parent, or the many I know who have kids with special needs. If there's one thing I want for Max, it's for others to see him as NON-special. I'd like kids and adults to quit thinking of him as different. I ache for people to look past his disabilities and see the kid in there.

It's not that doll accessories are going to change how the world perceives kids with special needs (as if), but they couldn't hurt and they might help. And I sure could use any help I can get because many parents don't seem to speak with their kids about how to treat those with special needs.  

He's just a boy, I sometimes feel like shouting. Stop staring at him like he's an alien. Just talk to him. Play with him.

Oh, and to be sure, I do think my kid is a "special snowflake." Countless others think their children are, too. They're called "parents." That's our jobs. If we're not our kids' publicists, who's gonna be—Leslie Sloane? As moms to kids with special needs, it becomes our mission to get others to see how much they rock, the opposite of what Dodai calls "selfishness." Otherwise, our "special snowflakes" would fade away.

So when companies include our kids in some way—and it's rare, despite recent ads featuring children with disabilities—I'm thrilled, as I'm sure many special needs parents are. Let's not over-think what's going on here. Sure, Special Sparkle is part (or all) marketing ploy. But I see no bad...other than the fact that American Girl is charging 38 bucks for a doll wheelchair.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A happy ending to the toilet-training saga

Perhaps you read it on the front page of The New York Times, or heard the news on CNN: Max is toilet-trained. It's like things often go in Max's life—it may have taken him awhile to get there, but he did it.

Weekend Boot Camp training back in April was a good start, but Max still resisted going at home even though he regularly went at school. The hardest part of potty training was carving out the time—you basically need a repeated series of days at home, life centered around the toilet. As devastating as Superstorm Sandy generally was, it did the trick for this; we devoted ourselves to potty training while we were cooped up inside a hotel.

Max had a whole lot of accidents, but they've dwindled in the weeks that have followed. Now he regularly tells us when he has to go (no. 1 and no. 2!), whether we're at home or out running errands. He's loving his Cars potty seat. We're working on timing because he tends to let us know approximately a minute before he really needs to go, and he doesn't always make it. At night, he's still wearing Pull-ups.

He is sooooo proud of himself. Dave and I are even prouder. And seriously thankful, a major milestone close to Max's 10th birthday.

We took him to Toys 'R Us to check out the Cars 2 electric ride-on car we promised him when he aced toilet training, but he was too big for it. He had his eye on some ATV type vehicle that fits two kids, only we'd practically have to take out a car loan to get it. I'm pretty sure he'll find some other Cars 2 object of desire.

It's still a little hard to believe, so long have we waited for this.

It's another one of those times when I'd like to go back to those grim doctors at the NICU and say: See? Look at my boy now.

See also:

Kamikaze potty training
Potty training a kid with special needs: Yet more inspiration
Potty training kids with special needs: Weekend Boot Camp, Day 1
Potty training kids with special needs: Weekend Boot Camp, Day 2


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's my birthday, and I'd like to celebrate our kids

Today's my birthday. Wheeeeee! Max is not exactly thrilled; he doesn't like that my birthday is first (his is coming up in a couple of weeks). "Max, Mommy's birthday is tomorrow, but you are going to get so many presents!" I said last night by way of consolation, which did the trick. I actually can't wait for his birthday party to be over, because I am a little weary of discussing Cars 2 paper goods.

Here's the little gift I'd love from you: Tell me something great your kid has done lately, big or small. That's so worth celebrating, today and any day. It'll give me a bliss lift that beats any sugar high from birthday cake. Not that there's anything wrong with birthday cake. Or a nice piece of jewelry. DAVE.

I'll start:

Max is potty trained. YES!!!! (More on that another time). And Sabrina keeps acing her spelling tests, which does this editor mama's heart proud.

Thanks for sharing something happy-making about your kids.

And in case you are wondering, my age is Not Old.

Image: Flickr/

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dear Nike: How about helping more kids and adults with disabilities?

Dear Nike,

I've been following the story of Matthew Walzer with enthusiasm. When I first read the letter the Florida high-school junior wrote to you, mentioning that he has cerebral palsy and that he has trouble tying his shoes, I knew just what he meant. Like Matthew, my son, Max, also has CP and cannot tie laces due to challenges with fine-motor skills. Like Matthew, doctors told us Max might never walk and, wow, does he walk. And if he is headed down the block toward the ice-cream store, he runs.

Max has orthotically-correct shoes with Velcro that fit over his foot braces; as you may notice, they're big and clunky and not exactly the kind of style that inspire shoe envy. We haven't been able to find a cool pair that fit over his braces, or that he could close on his own. (You may also notice the Nike sweat jacket, it's his sister's and they regularly argue over who gets to wear it; Max is not the least bit sibling-rivalry impaired.)

I loved Matthew's suggestion: that Nike design and produce basketball and running shoes with good support and a closure system that could be used by everyone. It was awesome when the letter spread through social media and reached your chief exec, Mark Parker. It was also awesome that Nike responded, creating a specially-engineered shoe for Matthew, and that you delivered two more pairs before Thanksgiving.

This is fantastic...if you are Matthew Walzer. Of course, it's a heartwarming story for all to hear; it's nice to know that companies care. Still, here's the thing: We parents of kids with special needs would like to think it's more than a token act of goodness. There are thousands more Matthews with cerebral palsy who sure would love an adaptive pair of Nike sneakers, just as there are many parents who'd like their kids to be able to wear the sneakers they grew up in and love.

Unlike Matthew, Max isn't yet able to write letters to companies. So here I am, his mom, speaking up for him in my usual quest to make him happy, help him fit in with his peers, empower him and generally enable him to kick butt.

Nike has a reputation for social good. Nike also has the smarts and technology to manufacture a line of sneakers for kids and adults with disabilities. How awesome would it be for a major apparel company to do that? I can't think of any other mass ones that make products for people with disabilities. You could, once again, show the world the way to innovate. And you are cool enough not to name the sneakers ortho-anything!

Max would rock those sneakers on his Little League Challenger Division team, for kids with special needs. He'd rock them when he rides his bicycle, plays adaptive soccer or cruises the mall for chicks. (Oh, OK, he's not yet doing that.)

So I'll borrow the phrase you made famous:

Just do it.

Your fan,

Max's mom

Friday, November 23, 2012

Special Needs Blogger Weekend Link-Up: Post-Thanksgiving edition

It's another weekend link-up for bloggers with kids who have special needs. I'm going to assume that however much you stuffed yourselves at Thanksgiving dinner, you have the energy to share some posts.

The idea

Share a favorite post of the week.

What to do

Where it says "Your name" put the name of your blog followed by the title of your post (or just the name of the post, if there's no room—you get 80 characters).

Like this: Every Day I'm Thankful For Therapists, Speech Apps and Stuffing

Where it says "Your URL" put the direct link to the post.

Click "Enter." Leave a comment if you want to say more. Go check out some great posts.

Happy linking!


Thursday, November 22, 2012

11 Thanksgiving traditions at our house

• We'll watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which I've done since I was a kid.
• Tom the Turkey will be our table centerpiece. Best $6.99 Marshall's purchase ever!
• We order most of the meal from Whole Foods except...
• ...for the sweet potato pie I make especially for Max, who's loved sweet potatoes since he was a baby, so much so that his skin had an orange tint.
• Everyone will comment on how well Max is doing and how far he's come. Never get tired of hearing that.
• Dave will be very proud of himself for his turkey-carving abilities. (He is available to carve your turkey, for a small fee.)
• Max will mostly want to eat sweet potato pie; he's not into turkey. Sabrina will eat twice her body weight in turkey.
• I will mostly want to eat stuffing. You could just serve me a meal full of stuffing and I'd be happy. Someday, I'd like to open up a restaurant named Stuffing. And guess what it will serve?
• My mom (who gets full after approximately five bites) will watch me take another helping of stuffing and think to herself "Oh, dear, she has got to stop eating that stuffing because she has to lose some weight" only she will not actually say a word.
• For once, everyone in the extended family will be on their best behavior.
• After dinner's done, everyone will go hang out in the living room in a food stupor as I clean up in the kitchen, only I will not mind because by then I will seriously want to be alone.
• I will vow to never eat again, but then somehow, I will be hungry for breakfast in the morning.

Happy, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

And from my Babble blog...

8 Ways To Have The Ultimate Thanksgiving Tip #7: "Find a Pied Piper. This is the house guest you will ask/beg to entertain the kids so you can get finish prepping food and not have anyone dipping their fingers or other body parts into the gravy. Every year, my cousin plays games with the kids before dinner and generally makes them laugh. So what if it's all about fart jokes?"

Stress-Free Plane Trips: 12 Tips For Parents Sanity Tip #8: "Decorate your seat. Before we head out on vacation, I print photos of where we're going to, pack some of that poster putty stuff and tack the pictures on the closed trays. For our trip to Disney World, I printed out Mickey and the gang. Bring a bunch and redecorate throughout the flight; feel free to feng shui your row of seats, while you're at it."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Our basement renovation: crowd-sourced decorating! Weigh in!

Therapy has been a part of Max's life since he was a month old and Early Intervention started. Usually, the therapists and Max hang out in our basement. It's important for him to be someplacer quiet, so he can focus.

But the basement's never been an ideal area for therapy, mainly because of the open shelving filled with toys that distract him. There's also no dedicated place to keep therapy stuff, like this giant plastic ball he uses and other stuff, and no wide open area for him to do more physical stuff during therapy. Also: After the basement got flooded during Irene last year, we had to tear out the bottom part of the sheetrock—not the most attractive look.

And so, we've been faithfully contributing to our Basement Renovation Fund and finally saved up enough to get the work done. Some companies are contributing stuff, which is rather awesome, including IKEA, Pottery Barn Kids, Lowe's, Whirlpool and Sherwin Williams.

First up: get rid of the column smack in the middle of the basement that you can see up above. It's called a lally (I am getting to be quite the construction expert). We used LallyGone, a company that specializes in lally removal from basements and garages. It's run by George Nader, a structural engineer, and his super-nice wife Elizabeth.

Basically, the crew removed the sheetrock around the colun, screwed in gigantic pieces of metal on both sides of the beam for support, then removed the lally.

Max supervised the project for me. (Am I going to get in trouble with a union for that?)

Buh-bye, lally!

After! See something missing here?

It took maybe a few hours, and suddenly, we had this great big open space. Then we paid someone to rip out all the sheetrock (it wasn't in great shape), the shelving and the tile floor. And voila: 

Back to a before.

Now we basically have a raw space that needs to be sheetrocked again, a floor that needs covering, walls that will need painting and lots of ideas. I've started a Pinterest board with potential paint colors, furniture, cabinetry and flooring.

The flooring, I'm sure of: I want a dark-ish brown one, and I found a beautiful kind by Mannington (you'll see it's on Pinterest—looks like wood, actually vinyl). I'm also definitely getting the simple-yet-stylish IKEA Besta cabinetry; you can design your own. A few panels will have glass, and the rest will be an out-of-sight-out-of-mind place for toys and therapy equipment.

Right now, I'm stuck on a couple of things:

• We're going with yellow paint, something warm from Sherwin Williams' new Emerald line, which is zero VOC. So! Many! Great! Yellows! I loaded my faves onto Pinterest.

Then I got mini cans of paint and dabbed them onto sample boards I bought at the store

Then I painted my three favorites on the part of the wall that still has sheetrock. From left: Sherwin-Williams Solaria (6688), Friendly Yellow (6680) and Lantern Light (6687).

I'm leaning towards Solaria (bold and rich) or Friendly Yellow (lighter yet still warm); Lantern Light is too lemony for me. But then I was concerned I'd get tired of a yellow so bright. I asked Max's opinion and he suggested "Cars 2"—as in, decorate the room with Lightning McQueen and Mater (I was surprised he didn't ask for purple, but his Cars movie obsession is going strong and the purple one seems to be dwindling). Sabrina and a friend over for a playdate examined the colors, declared "Polka dots!" and cracked up. Dave's non-answer: "Well, I usually go for bolder colors so maybe Solaria but then I can see why you like the lighter one. The right answer is whatever you like!"

SO... I'm stuck. Do I own the yellow and go bold? The lower half of the wall will have wainscoting, so it won't be all yellow. Or do I play it safe with the lighter shade?

• Seating: I'm gong with IKEA's Ektorp Love Seat and Sofa. Do I get the blue pinstripe (the fabric seems much more practical with kids), or go neutral with beige or white? The white Ektrop sofa (I Googled around, people seem to love it) has a machine-washable slipcover;  a new one runs $99, so it's not that expensive to replace. The other covers are dry-clean only.

SO... What to choose?  

Advice/thoughts on paint and sofa colors welcome! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Best Toys For Kids With Special Needs: Holiday Gift Guide 2012

The best toys for kids with special needs don't have to cost a small fortune or come from adaptive catalogs, as these parents know. They've shared the reasonably priced, get-'em-anywhere toys their kids have most loved this past year—ones that encourage speech, fine-motor and gross-motor skills, communication, cognition, imagination and social skills. 

The guide, created with, is for parents, friends, family members or anyone wondering what kind of toy to get for a child with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, ADD, developmental delays and other special needs. As with my special needs toy guides from 2011 and 2010, I haven't included ages because what works for your child's abilities works.

Most of all, I hope your kids enjoy them. Because, after all, fun should come first when it comes to toys.

Toys that help with speech and communication

Magic Mic by Toysmith
"He actually has a desire to make utterances and sing songs—it's a great motivational toy," says Melissa, whose five-year-old, Quentin, has autism. "Our speech therapist recommended it, because anything to get him talking is helpful. We also use it to take turns singing songs. It's pretty much a junky piece of plastic, so I was shocked it actually works to amplify his voice!"

Hedbanz by Spin Master Games
"My son Philip is 8 years old, and has autism. He loves this game and I do, too, because it encourages communication and critical thinking. Each player has a headband containing a picture card and has to figure out what the picture is by asking questions of other players. This takes Philip out of his comfort zone for the entire game—he has to express himself by not only fishing for clues to his own card but by providing clues to other players, and deal with frustration when he didn't guess right. He also had to resist the impulse to outright tell other kids what their pictures were. I guess you could say that it was a great lesson in when to communicate, and when not to!"

"This vibrating thingie is genius because it's oral-motor therapy disguised as a toy!" says Ruth, mom to Grant, 9, who has cerebral palsy. "We've had various ones over the years, including the elephant and the gator. Even though he has sensitivity, he likes the feel of it against his cheek and actually holds it there. Our speech therapist is always telling us we need to work on loosening up Grant's mouth more so the words he tries to speak will be clearer, and I think this really helps."

Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway, by Learning Curve
"After watching the Thomas shows, Graham modeled language, pretend play and appropriate social play between the trains," says Jessica, whose son has Aspergers. "I don't like the show and I was just indulging him but I quickly realized how useful it is once he had a vocabulary to work with. The trains greet each other, they have conversations, they have emotions—it's his most engaging play. He always wants to take one anywhere!"

Fun Mongo Monkey by Gund
"One of the best toys for encouraging speech therapy at our house is a monkey that sings 'If you're happy and you know it' and claps," says Katie, mom to Charlie, 5, who has cerebral palsy. "We'll have Charlie ask us to make him play again. He can't actually say any words yet, but it's good practice vocalizing and expressing his needs. My youngest needs speech therapy now, and we're using it the exact same way with him. I can't believe I just admitted we have a singing monkey at our house." [Note: If unavailable, consider Chatimal The Talking Monkey, Richie The Repeating Rabbit and Pete The Repeat Parrot.]

"My daughter's speech is difficult to understand at times. This game, where you have to match pieces to a board, helps her use her bilabial sounds—consonants you articulate with your lips like 'm' and 'p,'" says Sarah, Mom to Zoe, 4, who has muscular dystrophy. "Our speech therapist recommended it. She always wants to play with it."

Toys that help with gross-motor skills
"By the time my daughter was ready for a ride-on toy, which her therapists recommended, she was too tall for many of them," says Sandra, mom to Adeline, 3, who has Down syndrome. "We found the Inchworm and it was perfect! It's helped strengthen her legs and develop balance. The bouncing is also a great sensory aspect, and helps work her core strength, too. With this toy, my daughter has been able to go out and ride with her brother while he is on his bike. She is so happy to go to the park and ride bikes, just like the other kids."

"You should see him smile when he's using this!" says Elisha of son Gabriel, 3, who has PDD-NOS. "It is fun to hop, jump and bounce on! It has helped with his balance issues and even the stiffness in his arms."

"I make her use her feet to direct where she wanted to go, and it's helped strengthen her legs," says Kerri, mom to Boo, 3, who has global developmental delays. "She loves that she can go backward and forward, and laughs and giggles."

"When we say the word 'caterpillar,' his face lights up," says Ali, mom to Caleb, 14 months, who has cerebral palsy. "The rocking motion forces him to engage his core muscles, and the antennae allow him to hold on and use his arms to remain upright. The caterpillar's big red nose makes noise, so Caleb likes to reach forward with one hand—isolation!—and make the little bell in the nose ring. The seat is nice and plush and low to the ground. He's recently started to rock back and forth on his own!"

"This encouraged my son to creep towards it!" says Jodie, mom to Ian, 2 who has agenesis of the corpus callosum. "He loves the bright color of the car, the movement, and the music that plays as it rolls. He crawls toward it with a big smile on his face. It also encourages kids to learn cause and effect, because it will not stop rolling until the child either shakes the rattle or rolls the ball on the top of the car."

"He is constantly bending down to pick up cards to race down the ramp, which has helped strengthen his hips," says Juli, mom to Ethan, 3, who has a genetic syndrome that's caused gross developmental delay. "Placing and releasing cars helps with hand/eye coordination, and watching cars go down the ramp is good for visual coordination."

Toys that help with fine-motor skills

Go Baby Go! Poppity Pop Musical Dino by Fisher-Price
"I saw this at Target and fell in love," says Jennifer, mom to Joey, 2, who has Down syndrome. "It's helped Joey learn to release objects. It gets him to focus (which helps strengthen his vision) and when we put it on the table it motivates him to try and stand up. I love watching Joey try to put in the dog's toys, which don't fit—a wonderful lesson in cause and effect!"

"Joe, who's 4, has only begun to manipulate toys with both hands—he has global developmental delays," says his mom, Lia. These have a design that's easy to manipulate. The ridges give a texture that is appealing to his touch and vision, and he can combine two with very little effort. He really loves taking them all out of the container. He's not as fond of putting them back in, of course."

“The big pieces are easier to hold and join together than standard LEGOs,” notes Bronwyn, mom to Cooper, 7, who has cerebral palsy. “The pieces allow Cooper to be creative and use his imagination—there is no right or wrong way to use them. They are a great way to discuss math concepts, too! He spends a lot of time using them.”

"I bought two sets of this!" says Cate, mom to Abby, a 5-year-old with Down syndrome. "We do a lot of making cones and stacking, and the pieces are also good for matching, counting, sequencing and patterns, and teaching her to ask for what she wants. It came on vacation with us!"
"This was recommended to me by Matthew's occupational and speech therapists, because they've learned that music is a powerful motivator for him," says Brandi, whose two-year-old has cerebral palsy and visual and hearing impairment. "The bright colors of the instruments attract his attention, and the different shapes have forced him to open his hands more and grasp different textures. He laughs, smiles and coos and dances side to side in his chair."

Geo Trax Disney/Pixar Cars 2 World Grand Prix RC Set
"I was complaining to a pediatric orthotic doc about too-small remote levers, and that's how I found this," says Julie, whose 10-year-old has cerebral palsy. "Kyle can actually work the remotes as they are big enough. They encourage grasping and moving his fingers because he is so addicted to this toy! We've been trying to decide whether to get him a power chair and the remote control has that forward and reverse that's needed. The nice thing is that you can keep buying things to make the set bigger, great for relative gifts at holidays!"

"This toy helped my son in several ways," says a mom to a three-year-old who has Miller Dieker syndrome. "First it helped him to open his hands to push down the pop-ups. It helped him with finger isolation when putting down and opening them. It helped him to use both hands by holding the toy in place while putting down the pop-ups. It also taught him to bend his elbows to play with the toy when it is close to him. The toy keeps him busy, and has provided a lot of entertainment."

"My son's developmental therapist recommended this toy, which you use to pick things up, to help improve hand-eye coordination," says Jim, dad to Tyler, 7, who has autism. "It's been fun for Tyler—he will happily use it in therapy with no whining!"

"It is really great for fine-motor skills, as she manipulates little beads, pens and shuts the doors, and moves the animals along the track," says Julie, mom to Abby, 2, who has cerebro-costo-mandibular syndrome. "All three of our therapists—OT, PT and speech—recommended it! When Abby first started to stand with assistance, this was the only toy she would stand at and play with for any length of time. There are enough activities to keep her attention, and it's grown with her as she's developed. Now we put it up on a table so that she has to reach up to play with it.

"Our occupational therapist recommended this," says Penni, mom to Garratt, 6, who has Down syndrome and autism. "He has learned to manipulate the buttons on the cat to hear songs and learn about colors and shapes, and to give the cat basic commands such as 'go.' He treats it like a real cat, petting its head, snuggling and chasing it all over the house!"

"This toy is very engaging. It doesn't require batteries—just fine-motor skills," says Faye, mom to Jon Paul, who is four and is blind with Aspergers syndrome. "It also enhances social skills, because he takes turns when playing with others. He really enjoys watching an listening to the cars flip down the ramps. He giggles and claps his hands."

"This doll has improved Sarah's ability to manipulate small objects, while teaching her life skills," says Ben, dad to Sarah, 5, who has fine-motor challenges. "She loves it so much, she sleeps with it." 

"This is great for fine-motor skills," says Emily, mom to Everett, 6, who has epilepsy and right-side hemiplegia. "It's good for visual scan, focus, and taking turns, too. He will get this out and play on his own!"

"Using this toy has helped improve her fine-motor skills," says Sue of daughter Sara, 8, who has Down syndrome. "Sara is engaged by the bright colors. She wants this toy at playtime every day!"
"My son is working on the fine-motor skill of grabbing, and using this toy was the first time he was able to reach and accurately grab an object—he put the coin in the slot and released it," says Rose, mom to James, 22 months, who has cerebral palsy and vision issues. "It helps helps with his gross-motor as he is in supported sitting while playing with it, and he's exposed to colors, numbers, music and cause and effect. He smiles and laughs and keeps reaching for another coin!"

"This is a quick game that is great for fine-motor skills," says Elizabeth, mom to Dennis, 10, who has MERLD (mixed expressive/receptive learning disorder) and auditory processing issues. "The pirate pops up and it's like Jack in the Box. We play it every day! It's a huge hit with all kids."

Toys and games that help with cognition & learning

"Putting balls at the top and using a hammer to pound them and get them to roll down has helped with cause and effect, learning multi-step processes and fine-motor skills," says Beth whose son, Sonshine, 2, has Jacobsen syndrome and global developmental delay. "This is a more challenging toy for him, but he loves it. He smiles every time he watches the balls roll to the bottom, then he asks us to help him start over."  

"My son has ADHD and he can read but really dislikes it," says Jenn, mom to Logan, 8. "This puzzle makes it fun by capitalizing on spotting skills, like finding hidden pictures, and using that to motivate him to find words and understand their meaning. He is really proud of himself to discover a new talent that he had, and it has helped to make reading a more desired activity at home. One day, he finished almost 20 of the 48 puzzles, not even getting up for food, just for the bathroom and water. He was super-focused!"

"This has encouraged my daughter to read words out loud, copying ones she hears," says Kris, mom to Flannery, 3, who has speech delay. "It encourages her to read with games. She doesn't answer when called when she's using it, or comes running to tell us what she did!"

"He loves music and is non-verbal, so I know he's learning while listening," says Joann, mom to Nicholas, 10, who has tubular sclerosis and delays. "The music is great and covers learning basics. He jumps up and down and laughs."

"Reid, who's six with apraxia and ADD, loves anything movement based so this gives him tons of different ways to move his body, have fun and learn!" says mom Ilyssa. "It gives us an active way to take turns counting—we add rolling dice to see how many times to do each movement, and we work on speech as well by counting out loud and saying 'My turn, your turn.' There are also a lot of cards, so playing the whole game works on attention to task as well. Reid's friends love to play it with him when they come over. "

Orisme, 5, has autism and is non-verbal. "This has helped him with learning his alphabet and numbers, and verbalizing," says mom Christine. "He can sit and play with it for a long time without making his non-contextual verbalizations."

"This has been a great toy for my son," says Brooke, mom to a kindergartner with autism, "and I've heard from other parents that they loved this for their autistic or sensory-challenged kiddos, too! I think it's a great tool for all our kids."

Toys & games that help with social skills

"During playdates, these are great! My son asks friends to play with him using this toy, and has to show the other child how it works," says Irene, mom to John, 9, who has autism. "Besides, guitars are cool! He also needs constant auditory input, this is one way to get input in a functional way. Since he is echolalic, he learns phrases from the songs used in speech therapy. Truth be told, we actually have every Paper Jam Guitar ever made because he asks for a new one every birthday and Christmas!"

"This game has helped with turn-taking and waiting," says Lisa, whose son Norrin, 6, has autism. "He gets so excited when it's his turn, and watches when it's mine. We talk and he makes eye contact, not something that happens often. It's good for concentration, too—he needs to focus on trying to 'break the ice' instead of randomly smashing pieces. He doesn't care if he wins or loses, he's just having fun!"

"My son enjoys building with his dad so during free time at school, he tends to go toward the Legos and build socially," says Mary, mom to Logan, 5, who has ASD. "It really helps him with teamwork."

"This game encourages my daughter to use her current social skills while developing new ones," says Hannah, mom to Kendell, 10, who has autism. "The colorful pieces and family photos engage her. She will pick the game off the shelf and say 'I want to play,' a big step for her."

Toys that help with sensory issues

"My daughter's school occupational therapist suggested gymnastics for movement needs and spatial awareness. Since they use trampolines, I decided to invest in a mini one for our home," says Jennifer, mom to Emma, 8, who has Aspergers. "My daughter's ability to have this movement greatly reduces her anxiety and stemming behaviors. She loves to jump and move, and it's great exercise. She gets on her trampoline many times throughout the day, without me having to send her to it—she doesn't even realize it's therapy. She's usually singing or laughing while she's on it!"

Note: Always supervise a kid on a trampoline, and check with your therapist or doctor before letting your child use one.

"Willie, who's 4 with autism, is able to use his energy in a safe and effective way on this," says his mom, Sherri. "It is in our family room, and he uses it multiple times throughout the day. He has learned to not be afraid when his feet are not on the ground! It has also helped with his balance and coordination."

"This is a great item for a sensory seeker! Our occupational therapist thought this would be a great way for my son to 'get what he needs' in a different way than riding a bike or scooter, and it can be used inside," says Ilyssa, mom to Reid, 6, who has apraxia and PDD. "Driving it around our house—way better on hardwood than carpet—has given Reid just enough of a break to come back and finish his homework. It's the first thing he goes to every morning, and when he comes home from school. Best thing ever!" Adds Clara, mom to Garrett, 7, who has autism and mitochondrial depletion syndrome, "My son has enjoyed this for years now. He gets all sort of great sensory input. Once our PT saw it, she started recommending it! She says it's helped strengthen his legs and core, and help with balance and motor planing."

And if you'd like to check out gift guides from other years...

Great toys for kids with special needs 2015
Great toys for kids with special needs 2014
Great toys for kids with special needs 2013
Great toys for kids with special needs 2011
Great toys for kids with special needs 2010

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