Christmas is a time to make smiles happen! Children with special needs are sometimes the best smilers too!
Christmas time and everyone is thinking about how the children are going to react when they see all the wonderful things that Santa has brought them. The empty cookie platter, with just a few tell- tale crumbs and the half empty glass of milk, lets everyone know that the Jolly Old Soul Himself had come by for a visit. The children are still bleary eyed and the parents as well, from the night before, when reading “Twas the Night before Christmas”, made them more eager to stay awake, than to go to sleep. But, and here comes the big BUT, what happens when your child doesn’t quite understand all the kufuffle going on around him? What happens when your child can’t see all the changes at the shopping mall, or hear the noises of Christmas?
Looking at Christmas from a Different Perspective
The Senses of Christmas
Christmas is a time when the sights and the sounds are at an all time high. Just step into any mall and you are treated to (some would say assaulted) by music. The next thing is the eyes, that take in lights and glittering stars, angels, Santas, bells and baubles of every colour size and shape imaginable. Then there are the inevitable aromas, gingerbread, candy canes, special cakes and torts. You can feel Christmas around you, by the hussle and bussel of the people, you can sense their tension to find that perfect gift and sometimes you can feel the warmth and hospitality. More often though you will feel the curt and pushy nature of people on a quest and nothing or nobody better get in their way. Dicotomies of the season is what I call it. It is supposed to be the season of Good Will to Men, but more often is the “Season of Get out of my Way!”
What I really want to focus on is how our senses are enticed into the season of Christmas. For parents that have children with special needs, they will look at all the fuss and may wonder how to make it special for their children as well. If your child is blind or sight challenged (I think that’s the politically correct phrase), all the lights, flowers, decorations, even the Big Guy himself will be missed as we see them. I do think though that children that are sight impaired can still have a sense of what is going on around them. While they cannot see with their eyes, they can feel what’s around them and they certainly can smell the aromas of things they don’t smell all year long. Even the Big Guy can be felt, his velvet suit with the fur trimmings, his long curly beard and flowing hair. The white gloved hands that reach out for each child as they are placed gently on his lap for their picture and the clicking of the cameras as mom and dad try to get that perfect shot for the memories they will evoke in the future. The sounds are definately there for them to hear, Christmas songs, the jingle of the bells at the Salvation Army Kettles, the cash registers ringing up the sales and the people busstling about, all these are parts of the whole Christmas atmosphere that a sight challenged child can still enjoy and revel in. But what about gifts for that child? One of my favorite gifts is books. Thank goodness there are now books for all ages that can be listened to rather than read by sight and there is “Seedlings” where books are incorporated with Braille for the Sight Challenged Children all over the world. When you have a child who needs extra help, you have to think in terms of the disability and re-think your gift strategy for that child. When one of the sense does not work, you need to explore ways in which to use the other senses to make play fun. Crinkle toys, or fabric toys with different textures, dolls and stuffed animals with squeekers, buttons, bows, zippers, different textures and shapes are all really good toys for children with sight issues. You need to play with the other senses so that the child will enjoy through those senses that still function normally. It is not impossible to do, you just need to be a little more cognisant of the child and what will work for them.
If you have a child with a sight issue, even if they are not totally blind, Seedlings is a great place to find all kinds of great reads and meets the challenges of sight impaired
Kids with special needs are first and foremost kids! – Kids love to play, we just have to wrap our minds around different ways to play!
It doesn’t matter if your child has special needs, what does matter is that they want to play too! Using the senses helps all children to learn and playing doesn’t really have any rules. You just need to think outside the box sometimes.
That in itself is nothing new. Kids, all kids need to have their sense stimulated, it is a major part of playing. Finding toys that work with kids who have a sensory deprivation is just a little more challenging. But I think I have found some that are incredible for learning impaired children.
Top Ten Toys for Sight Impaired Children – Seeing without your eyes!
In this busy world it’s much easier to go through a list and see what’s available. So just for you I have gone through many “stores” looking for gifts appropriate for sight impaired children.
•Let’s Rock Elmo: Let’s Rock Elmo is an interactive toy that sings and plays music. The toy comes with various instruments that Elmo and the children can play together. Let’s Rock Elmo does not have to be purchased through a specialty store and can be purchased at most large retailers. Make sure to install the batteries before you give the toy to the child so that they can start playing with it immediately.
Braille Learning Doll: The Braille Learning Doll is a specialty doll that is available through several different vendors, including Enable Mart. There are 6 buttons on the stomach of the doll which allows the child to make all braille letters. This is an educational gift that will help the child learn Braille.
Board games: A company called Maxi Aids offers a large line of standard board games that have been modified to work for sight challenged kids. Some of the games include Checkers games that have high contrast color pieces, Scrabble games that have large print tiles and boards, and Monopoly that comes in a large print edition. Since both sight and blind people can play these games, it can help foster inclusion.
Bop It/Bop It XT: Bop It is a fantastic game that a child can play alone or with friends. The Bop It gives verbal commands that tell you to bop it, twist it, pull it and shake it. Once the child knows where the different parts of the game are they should be able to play by listening to the verbal cues. There are many different games within the Bop It toy and there are different levels of play as well. This is a great game for the whole family.
Dolls: If you buy a doll, make sure that it plays to more than one sense. There are dolls that talk and play music that a blind child may enjoy. Dolls with texture can be great for visually impaired children too. Look for clothes that have patches or embroidery on them so that the child can tell the difference between her dolls and doll accessories.
Stuffed animals: Everyone loves a nice soft stuffed animal to hug, but to make this toy even better for a sight challenged child you may want it to engage more senses. Choosing different types of stuffed toys, like ones stuffed with beans, crinkly paper and batting can help engage additional senses. The texture of the animal is important too. Maybe it’s a lion and it has a long haired fuzzy mane, soft fur on the back, and a long tail. All of those things will make the toy more fun for a sight challenged child.
Braille games: Maxi-Aids also makes card games like Uno, Phase 10 and Dominos that all come equipped with Braille cards. While the child can often feel how many dots are on a domino they can’t tell what color it is without some help from the Braille dots.
Audio Dart Master: This dart game has a texturized board that the sight challenged person can feel prior to play. The rest of the game is played by audio commands. The board calls out the player’s name and score, and will even give off a signal to help a sight challenged player aim for the bulls-eye. It’s available at audiodartmaster.com.
Wikkistix: This is a very useful gift because it’s a toy, a craft, and is useful for marking things for sight challenged kids. Wikkistix are sticky string-like sticks that come in various colors and can be bent and wound around anything. Kids can make creatures to play with or create greeting cards. The Wikkistix can even be used to teach shapes and to label things like a keyboard.
Rib-it-Ball: Someone was really thinking when they created the Rib-it-Ball. The ball has sections of bright colors so it’s easier to see for sight challenged kids. The ribs stick out so that it’s easy to catch and the ribs crinkle like paper so it’s easy to hear when it’s being thrown to you. This ball will help with muscle control and hand/eye coordination.
This Top Ten List Comes from: http://www.visuallyimpairedchildren.com/2012/06/10…
Any of the many Leapfrog Toys, while some of them are extra great with visuals, many have sights and sounds as well!
Talking Globes, music cds and musical instruments are also good choices. Anything that makes sounds can be turned into fun for the sight impaired child.
Where are the sounds of Christmas?
Like any other sensory impairment, hearing is another that can cause some distress during the Christmas season. But hearing is different than sight in that even if a child is profoundly deaf, they can see the movements and feel the vibrations that cause sounds.
This time of year, many parents ask me about how to choose the best toys for their child with hearing loss. Here are a few tips:
In general, less is more, and low-tech is better than high-tech for encouraging cognitive development and creative play.
You can never go wrong with books – choose books with strong, durable pages for young children, books with lots of Learning to Listen Sounds. For older children, choose books that appeal to their interests.
Choose toys that can be played many different ways. For example, a set of pretend food and kitchen tools can be made into a restaurant, a birthday party, a family dinner, a grocery store, or more. On the other hand, themed toys based on popular characters often limit children to reenacting only scenes they’ve seen on videos or TV. Character- and/or media-themed toys limit children’s innate creativity.
Choose toys that encourage development in a variety of domains: speech/language, cognition, fine motor, gross motor, and pretend play.
Choose toys that encourage social skills and cooperative play (dollhouses, games, sports), rather than solitary or parallel play (videogames).
Whenever possible, limit toxins that damage your child and the environment by choosing natural toys.
While children with cochlear implants and/or hearing aids have noise limiting features built into their devices to limit damage from excessive noise, noisy toys pose significant risks for noise-induced hearing loss for children with typical hearing.
You DO NOT need to buy every toy used in your child’s therapy sessions or classroom. It breaks my heart when well-intentioned parents spend money that they do not have because they think there’s something “magic” about the toys used in therapy that will help their child learn to listen and talk. Your time and attention are worth so much more than a toy. Give your child experiences, not stuff.
Here are my “go-to” toys – the ones I always keep in my office, because they are great for children of almost any age and encourage communication and cognitive skills.
Learning to Listen Sound figurines: miniature animals and transportation (Careful – not too small for little mouths!)
Lots and lots of books.
A dress-up box full of old clothes (these do NOT have to be specific “costumes.” Really, just cleaning out your closet will do.)
Balls of all sizes, colours and differences, some with glitters inside, some with lights, some with shapes within.
Play-doh, rolling pins, and cookie cutters
Art supplies – tape, glue, scissors, paper, crayons, markers, stickers, stamps, etc.
Dollhouse with people and furniture
Barn (to use with Learning to Listen Sound animals)
A sensory bucket full of sand, rice, or beans for digging, scooping, and hiding those Learning to Listen Sound figurines.
Pretend food and kitchen accessories
Games – my favorites are dominos (there are many games you can play, and, on a budget, these can do double duty as blocks), Barnyard Bingo (great for Learning to Listen Sounds, matching colors, turn taking), a deck of cards (for Go Fish, Memory, etc.), Apples to Apples (a great language game for older children, the “junior” version is more PG, while the regular version is fun for adults)
Magnet toys – there are many on the market, and I love them because they are great for building, as well as scientific exploration. It’s a great conversation starter when a child puts two positive ends together and realizes they will not stick. Even very young children learn cause and effect from this, and it’s fascinating to watch their brains try to figure it out.
If you want to learn more please visit the site that spurred this list. There is a whole lot of really good information there for all children, but especially for those with hearing impairments.
Paralympic Orchestra – Just because you have special needs……
See what happens when effort is put into kids with special needs.
Superheroes for those with Hearing Loss – What happens when someone can make a positive change
When we think of children with hearing loss, we don’t quite understand what their lives are like and their perceptions. Sometimes they need parents to act as their advocates. Just like this mom did for her son. What a great outcome not only for her son, but for thousands of other hearing impaired children.
Speaking the Sounds of Christmas
What if you can’t?
Speech is closely linked to hearing, if your child is slow in making sounds from infancy, it is a good time to have a serious talk with your child’s physician. Babies will start to giggle at a few months of age, they listen for your voice and follow sounds, they enjoy the cooing and clapping, music and sounds in nature. When you notice that your infant is not responding to any of this kind of stimulus, it is time to get some expert advice.
Finding out that your child has special needs is difficult, but early detection is critical for both your child and you. The earlier you know about any sensory impairments the earlier you can learn to accomodate and encourage your child’s development.
If your child has difficulty with speech, then there are tools out there for them too.
I found a great site that has many, many, choices for all kinds of sensory impairments and will provide the link here. What really interested me though was the games made to help people learn American Sign Language.
This ability to learn is like learning a whole new language, like Spanish or French. If you have a keen interest in learning this method of communication, there are some fun ways to learn.
Santa Knows a lot! – And there are a whole wide range of things for children with special needs.
One subject not really touched on too much is Music as Therapy for children with all kinds of cognitive impairments. Music is the language that moves through all boundaries. Even hearing impaired children can feel the vibrations and some of the tones. What it does with children who have other issues, can be seen in some of these videos.
Each child has their own way of making music, and it just lights them up to know they can do this.
A Wonderful result for a young child with Autism – Looking for the triggers that spark a new Path to Learning.
It amazes me when I see the transformations that can happen with children who “work, play, think, and develop” differently than our acceptable norms. There are many ways that can stimulate our children to learn and once that new road is opened up, there is no stopping the progression. Our children deserve every chance and opportunity to learn and have fun at the same time, with different approaches. Our children are not cookie cutters of each other. Every one of them has their own unique abilities and triggers. One thing is certain, it has been proven by many experts in children and education, that music makes a big difference in how the mind works. Ask any leading educator, child physcologist, social worker, child specialist and I bet every one of them will have something positive to say about learning to play musical instruments.
It can be as simple as teaching a child to keep a beat with a drum, or playing a musical instrument. There are many benefits for the child and the parents.
Special Toys for Special People – Toys for children and parents
There are many site developed to help children with special needs. Sometimes though, it’s much easier if they are all in one place. I’m hoping that this lens will be the place for you to find those really special toys and games, for the special people in your life.
Check out some interesting reading from Playworks.org at http://www.playworks.org/