January 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 1
Matching Special Toys With Special Needs
Toys for Disabled Kids Have Challenges of Their Own
ATTEMPTS FOR AUTISM
At least two new DVDs, “Kibbles Rockin’ Clubhouse” from Noteabilities Inc. and “Skill-Building Buddies” from Mazzarella Media, are designed to teach children with autism disorders and will debut in April — National Autism Month.
One in 150 children have some form of autism, pointed out Owner and Vice President Alexander Provda of The Pencil Grip, whose Development by Design brand encompasses products targeted to those kids, and their parents, too.
DbD employs iconology — symbols that represent gross- and fine-motor skills, sensory processing, coordination, visual perception and more — to help caregivers know how they’re working with a child.
A GROWING MARKET?
According to Safe Kids USA, 13 percent of the U.S. population under 18 years of age has been diagnosed with special needs. And the Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 7 on a California Department of Public Health study confirming that rates of autism have risen steadily over several years.
Meryle Lehn developed SticKids software to help children who have sensory processing challenges, such as autism, due to sensitive nervous systems. The program includes 120 activities — taking a deep breath or biking, for example — that parents or teachers can encourage children to do.
ARE TOYMAKERS DOING ENOUGH?
Despite pointed efforts, there’s concern that most toymakers aren't interested in special needs products.
“The toy industry hasn’t really done anything for physically challenged children for 30 or 40 years,” Founder Steve Kanor of Enabling Devices told TDmonthly.
He called the Toys “R” Us’ Guide for the Differently-Abled Child “a crock,” commenting that the recommended toys “are effective for some children, but they certainly won’t work for a deaf-blind child.”
Executive Director Diana Nielander of The National Lekotek Center, a non-profit organization that evaluates the toys selected for inclusion in the Toys “R” Us guide, acknowledged that there’s certainly a “little underworld for specially adapted toys.”
But, she countered, “It's a mistake to think that toy manufacturers are going to create toys that are specifically for this market when the channels … are horribly underdeveloped.”
GIVING TOYS A MAKEOVER
That’s where Enabling Devices comes in, modifying mainstream toys by adding motors, lights and sounds, and connecting cords and switches so that physically limited and wheelchair-confined children can use the products.
Lekotek recently partnered with Rokenbok and Crane Industries to create 1,000 Rokenbok sets specially designed for disabled children.
But further efforts aren’t underway because resources are scarce. Rokenbok CEO Paul Aiken believed in the project, Nielander said. “Unless somebody is behind it with such a passion, you can’t get it off the ground financially.”
Though it hopes to advise toymakers on making better products for all children, Lekotek developed the AblePlay rating system to help guide parents of children with disabilities toward appropriate choices.
Parents might also be comforted to know that addressing special needs is sometimes as much about attitude as it is about the kind of toy. Dolls and books by Possibility Thinker and Kids With Possibilities, for instance, respectively teach children about being themselves and discovering their strengths through new activities.
“As an educator who has worked with children of varying abilities and challenges,” Kids With Possibilities Founder Laurie DesRosier said, “I have learned never to underestimate a child’s potential.”
See developmental and special needs-related toys below:
This product attaches to most swing frames to eliminate the need for pushing. One swing puts the other in motion, so that parents can easily swing along with their children, and older siblings can swing younger siblings.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16759 (added 12/26/2007)
Kyle happens to be deaf, but that doesn't stop him from going camping, playing baseball at the park and teaching his teammates sign language. His friend Wendy uses the Braille alphabet to read and has a spunky seeing-eye dog named Liam. “These plush dolls with their positive message have arrived to inspire action through play and thus to seek out the rising star within each child,” Kids With Possibilities Founder Laurie DesRosier told TDmonthly. Launch date: September 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15020 (added 9/4/2007)
Possibility Thinker P.T. Character Doll (Red) by POSSIBILITY THINKER INC.
Other products from POSSIBILITY THINKER INC.
This unique character doll allows individuals to communicate through interchangeable heart messages such as “I love you,” “I miss you” and “You are special and unique; there's no one else just like you.” Inspired by company founder Marlene Balbach’s long-term positive battle with multiple sclerosis, P.T. is 22” long and features a soft corduroy body, a head that turns, an embroidered face and an embroidered red heart on the chest. P.T. comes dressed in a soft fleece hooded sweatshirt, a removable matching headband, blue jeans, and blue and white sneakers. “There are 35 messages to choose from…so you’re sure to find just the right message for your P.T. to bring to that special someone,” Balbach told TDmonthly. Launch date: October 2006.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11468 (added 2/19/2007)
Written by Marlene Balbach and illustrated by Laura Glusha, this story tells how P.T. makes a new friend by looking past the outside and getting to know the person for what's on the inside. He extends friendship to someone who’s a little different than everyone else, and enjoys a fun-filled day at the zoo. Launch date: December 2007.
— While struggling with multiple sclerosis, Marlene Balbach founded Possibility Thinker to encourage others to express their feelings and see their purpose. The company produces P.T. dolls and a book that demonstrate acceptance and show the good in being unique. “P.T.’s message is ‘Just be you; no one can be you better than you,’” she told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16364 (added 11/30/2007)
This plastic plastic device features engraved (or raised) grooves that form a path. Since the fingertip is a superhighway to the brain, fingertip movement along the paths provides tactile brain stimulation. Brainpath uses the fingertip's touch receptors (over 3,000) to stimulate the brain in the same way Braille stimulates the brain. Available in a variety of sizes, shapes and configurations, Brainpath tools will teach kids to focus — a skill they will need when learning to read. This product is a 2007 Creative Child Magazine Seal of Excellence award winner. Launch date: October 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14467 (added 8/2/2007)
Rhino's "Everybody Ball" just got bigger: bigger circles, bigger holes, bigger ball and bigger action. And it's just as smooth, shiny and indestructible as the original Oball. Kids can kick it, stomp it or crush it and the Big Oball bounces right back to a perfectly formed sphere. Amazingly fun and durable, it also comes in a variety of colors.
— "That would probably be the Oball. We sell lots of those," said Char Mcaulay of Toy Town in Casper, Wyo., when asked about great gift sellers in her store.
— Three of 45 retailers agreed that Rhino's Oball is popular with customers, reporting average sales of about 10 to 20 a month.
— "The Really Big Oball is available in two color combinations: blue/green and blue/orange. Its unique patent-pending and compressible design makes it a perfect fit for the smallest of spaces in luggage," Suzanne Silvergate, owner of Rhino Toys, told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14250 (added 7/23/2007)
These six linking beanbags weigh 8 oz. each and provide endless game possibilities. Throwing and catching are made easy with two Snap Bags linked together. They create a calming presence when all six are attached and used as a shoulder or lap weight, and open a new world of gross-motor, fine-motor and social skill game opportunities. Ideal for children with autism or other sensory or learning disabilities, they introduce colors, numbers and shapes, and are great for sorting and matching. Snap Bags are durable and spot washable, come in a drawstring bag for storage, and are accompanied by a booklet that introduces several play options. Launch date: Mid March 2007.
— “Pencil Grip is the first company I’ve seen that is doing toys 'engaging children' with autism,” David Hesel, owner of Concord Toy Shop in Concord, Ma., told TDmonthly. He purchased products in the DbD line at Toy Fair 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11577 (added 2/23/2007)
These textured blocks are a weighted foam alternative to classic blocks. The extra weight and unique texture provide increased motor control, and the non-standard, interlocking shapes help avoid self-stimulatory behavior and encourage creativity in building. The blocks come in an eight-piece starter set that includes a booklet featuring easy, medium and challenging play options.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11783 (added 3/6/2007)
Created by Meryle Lehn Occupational Therapist, this software and activity kit offers user-friendly treatment strategies that support children with challenges related to sensory processing, sensory integration and motor skills. It allows parents, teachers and therapists to create unlimited trackers, planners, games and activity cards to help one or more kids throughout the day. “Kids whose nervous systems are exceptionally sensitive need to have a whole menu or sensory diet of these activities,” Lehn said. SticKids helps the child cope with those sticky sensory moment throughout their day. The program comes in one version "For school, Home and Everyone."
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16991 (added 1/9/2008)
This soft, cuddly doll is ideal for children with physical challenges and can be fun and educational for all kids. Wendy is a precocious little girl who uses the Braille alphabet to read and also loves to play music. Her seeing-eye dog is named Liam. Wendy's friend Kyle happens to be deaf, but that doesn't stop him from playing baseball at the park and showing his teammates sign language. “Play can become a powerful vehicle for summoning courage, regaining strength and building confidence,” Founder Laurie DesRosier of Kids With Possibilities told TDmonthly. “These dolls and products have come to market to inspire, motivate and celebrate uniqueness. Books will accompany the dolls, too." Launch date: September 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11661 (added 2/27/2007)
Children can push the buttons or pull the switches on this brightly colored box to activate lights, music or vibration. It's designed to help develop fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and gross arm movements. The product measures 10.5" x 5.5" and requires 2 C batteries.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 17049 (added 1/14/2008)
This X-shaped ball flies farther than a football but it’s soft so it won't hurt the kid catching it. The Yackle Ball comes with many fun and stimulating games to encourage outdoor play. It is available in 10 colors. CEO Patricia Littwin of Ttalf Corporation chose to manufacturer the original Yackle in the United States, and automation within a 10,000 sq. ft. North Carolinian facility allows production at only 10 cents more per ball than was quoted in China, she said. “We like the Yackle Balls by Ttalf,” Owner Linda Angel of Kidoodles Toys in Norman, Okla., told TDmonthly upon her return from Toy Fair 2007. Awards: TDmonthly Innovations 2007. Launch date: June 1, 2006.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11076 (added 1/11/2007)
This colorful system comes with a colorful panel that fits in the child’s lab and connects wirelessly to a receiver that hooks into the TV. The signal work from 9 feet away, and parents can choose from three grow-with-me play modes – Play Time, Watch & Learn, and Learn & Explore. The system works with Baby Smartridges, which each feature five learning games with 10 different baby signs. This product was named one of the Top 100 Best Children’s Products of 2006 by Dr. Toy, and requires 4 AA batteries.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10290 (added 11/28/2006)
This set includes 96 colorful Wikki Stix one-of-a-kind creatables, wooden shapes, feathers, pompoms, four blank faces and more. The re-usable, non-toxic Wikki Stix stick with just fingertip pressure; no glue is necessary. This product is made in the USA. “The thing that sets it apart from other kits is that there are so many different and varied things you can make, and most of the components are included,” President Kem Clark of Wikki Stix told TDmonthly.
— During a January 2010 TDmonthly survey, two of 48 retailers said Wikki Stix are a top-selling arts and crafts item in their stores, with sales averaging three dozen per month.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14826 (added 8/22/2007)
DbD Play Pack - Social Interaction for Large Groups by THE PENCIL GRIP INC.
Other products from THE PENCIL GRIP INC.
DbD Play Packs offer great skill-based game ideas that individuals can do at home or school. The games use readily available supplies and can be easily adjusted for a range of abilities. Play Packs are perfect for parents, caregivers, teachers and other professionals. The Social Interaction pack for large groups includes 15 skill-based cards and six information cards.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11796 (added 3/6/2007)
According to Valtech Co., Magna-Tiles were inspired by Pythagoras of Samos (560-480 BC), an important historical mathematician. (Perhaps you recall the Pythagorean Theorem from high school.) If this lofty inspiration doesn’t impress you, perhaps the design of the magnetic tiles themselves will. While using the tiles to build various constructs, children will also be developing familiarity with geometric shapes, which will lay a strong foundation for advanced mathematics, such as geometry and calculus. This product has no equal, Michael Ziegenhagen, owner of Playmatters in Cleveland, told TDmonthly. "It's used in some schools to teach geometry and spatial reasoning," he added.
— Two of 50 retailers who spoke with TDmonthly in spring 2008 singled out this item as the best-selling construction toy in their stores.
— “We're constantly selling Magna-Tiles. This is a weekly seller, and they're even high end,” said Peggy Sebert, owner of Becky & Me Toys in Glenview, Ill., during an April 2009 survey of 49 retailers on their best-selling construction toys.
— “We sell the Magna-Tiles from Valtech really well on a consistent basis,” Kim Emigh, VP of e-commerce at Growing Tree Toys in State College, Pa., told TDmonthly of her store’s top-selling construction items in spring 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 9551 (added 10/3/2006)
Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse: Vol 1. Expressing Yourself by NOTEABILITIES INC.
Other products from NOTEABILITIES INC.
Developed for children with Austism Spectrum Disorders, this 40+-minute video features fun characters that learn how to express themselves using their voices and bodies, in situations such as being told “no” and needing to calm down. It includes karaoke songs as well as a segment by music and speech therapists addressing therapeutic benefits. Featuring Kibbles, a loveable dog puppet, his friends Handy Sam and Angela, and a cast of children, the "Kibbles Rockin’ Clubhouse" series helps teach children with ASD social techniques and self-care through music, games and stories. Launch date: April 1, 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16992 (added 1/9/2008)
Race against time to find concealed pieces as fascinated opponents look on. Collect interesting play pieces and theme cards for points. Enjoy fast-paced amusement and easy scoring. Develop lightning-fast memory and finger dexterity. It builds confidence and brings family and friends together. The "New" Touch game is an innovative and entertaining fast-paced family table game. This game is a multiple award winner, endorsed by many prominent and respected organizations. It is designed for the whole family, ages 5 and up, although younger children can also play, provided they are supervised. It is a highly interactive educational game for families and schools, and is also beneficial to players with special needs. Playing The Touch develops fine motor and visualization skills, while challenging memory. Adults and children can play in friendly competition on an even playing field. Kids especially love the instant reward of collecting the pieces, and parents will appreciate the educational Fun Facts about each piece. This product received the 2006 Creative Toy Awards Seal of Excellence from Creative Child Magazine and was a 2006 winner of the iParenting Media Award.
— Adrian Anthony of Anthony Innovations described what makes her game stand out: “Its innovative play container, with a built-in timer and observation window is unmatched and provides a truly unique play experience. Additionally, our game includes many more play pieces than our competitors (ours has 49 and others only have 10 or so).” The game can be played with individual players or in teams.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 9398 (added 9/18/2006)
Tieramid CircleSet offers a multifaceted educational toy system. Its main feature is a unique 22-piece set of circular puzzle blocks. They fit together to make a cylinder that is 4.5" high and 7.5" wide with non-toxic coatings featuring six brilliant colors. It also includes a full-color deck of 48 Tieramid Pattern Cards (Volume 1). Each Pattern Card has an image that represents a possible configuration of the blocks. The cards have three levels of difficulty and are also multilingual.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 6322 (added 1/5/2006)
VTech’s new portable Whiz Kid Learning System lets kids choose from 40 activity pages, place the page into the Whiz Pad, and it comes to life with more than 120 activities. The Whiz Kid grows with young readers through a series of learning curriculum that meets the user’s skill level. The “Story Bytes” activity, for instance, encourages beginning readers to read along with the story and sound out words. Kids can also connect the Whiz Pad to their computer to play activities, track their progress or replace lost or damaged activity pages by printing out new ones. Whiz Kid includes the Wondertown Whizware™ (software) title, which features a focused reading program and activities that help teach counting and encourage creativity. Older kids can even transform the Whiz Pad into a piano keyboard or typing keyboard. Additional Whizware titles include character favorites such as Bob the Builder, Dora the Explorer, Spider-Man and Friends, Scooby-Doo, and Thomas & Friends (ERP: $19.99 each). Launch date: Fall 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11791 (added 3/6/2007)
This patented plush product, said to be the world’s softest and safest plush toy, is anti-mite, anti-mold and anti-microbe, giving children “a clean way to play.” It combines Memory Foam and Silver Nanotechnology to combat common household bacteria, mites and molds. Benny the Bear, Bonny the Bunny, Lany the Lamb and Cody the Cow are also available. “Our product’s ability to fight against harmful bacteria, mold and mites gives our consumers a higher level of safety and a better quality product,” Roy Sharda, co-owner and operations director of Pure Plushy, told TDmonthly. Launch date: July 22, 2006.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11537 (added 2/21/2007)
New for 2007, it's home-sweet-home with the Lil'Ladybug Cottage. Kids can open and shut doors and windows for perfect peekaboo fun, or crawl in and out to their heart's desire. Other Bazoongi Kids' Cottages include the Garden House, Froggy Fun Roof, and Beatiful Butterfly Roof. Bazoongi also makes "Mini" versions of these cottages that are designed for doll and miniature role-play.
— "We just sold a few of the Bazoongi houses," was a testament to the popularity of the item provided by Mary Sisson, owner of Kazoodles in Vancouver, WA.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 13491 (added 6/14/2007)
Little kids can huddle, hike, pass and snuggle with this soft, playful football featuring all-new ribbons. Launch date: February 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11540 (added 2/21/2007)
Magnetic Tangoes® Jr. brings the fun, creativity and problem-solving challenges of Tangoes® to a unique toy designed specifically for kids. With a large playing surface, seven magnetic puzzle pieces and recognizable puzzles, children can create 11 classic tangram images. Each double-sided puzzle card has two levels: on Level 1, the individual geometric shapes that comprise the image are identified; the same image appears on Level 2, but only as a silhouette--making it more challenging as the child gets older. All seven puzzles pieces store in the side drawer and all 12 puzzle cards store beneath the playing surface. Tangoes® Jr. features an integrated carry handle, making it great for on-the-go fun.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15399 (added 9/25/2007)
This large-scale modular construction toy includes colorful, precision-engineered thermoplastic components. Kids can build and rebuild designs and then climb, slide and play indoors and outdoors. The kit helps children with social interaction and motor skills, and was named one of the 100 Best Children’s Products of 2006 by Dr. Toy. “Quadro is the ‘only’ modular large-scale construction toy that you can build multiple designs and then actually play on them. Other products are designed to be constructed and then admired, but they do not have the strength and durability to take the weight of kids playing on them,” George Maday of Phunzone told TDmonthly. Launch date: 2006.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 9987 (added 11/9/2006)
Each flashcard can be customized with personal photos and text to fit the needs of each specific child, making it a powerful teaching tool for autistic children. The innovative flash cards teach children about the world around them through their personal photos. This item, made in the U.S., is recommended for children ages 3 months and up. “Goosie Cards are the first and only custom flash cards on the market!” Goosie LLC Founder and CEO Jennifer Marchetti told TDmonthly. This product received a 2008 Product of the Year Award from Creative Child Magazine, a 2008 Baby Planners Seal of Approval and a 2008 Family Review Center Editors' Choice Award. Launch date: May 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16233 (added 11/21/2007)
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Writer's Bio: Julie L. Jones has written articles for both newspapers and magazines. Before joining the staff of TDmonthly Magazine, she worked as a communications writer and provided editorial support for a market research company. Read more articles by this author
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