Children who have cerebral palsy require to have specialized toys. These toys are specially designed keeping in mind their limitations and special needs. Cerebral palsy is a broad term used to describe any one of the several neurological conditions that appear during infancy or early childhood, and lead to permanently affect the body movement, and muscle coordination of a child.
Cerebral palsy comes about because of certain abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements; and though a majority of children who have cerebral palsy are born with it, there are others in whom this condition is detected months or years later. The earliest signs of this condition usually appear in the child before 3 years of age.
The most common signs of cerebral palsy are stiff and tight muscles, lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements, dragging one’s legs, a crouched gait, walking on toes, knees crossing over when walking, and exaggerated reflexes. Cerebral palsy, in some, could also be brought on due to brain damage in the first few months/years of life, a head injury (from a fall, child abuse, or an accident), and brain infections like viral encephalitis or bacterial meningitis.
What to Look For
It is important that children with cerebral palsy engage in activities and use toys, so that their physical, intellectual, social, and perceptual development is aided. However, when it comes to choosing toys for children with cerebral palsy, there are certain factors that have to be kept in mind. Children who have severe cerebral palsy cannot use the same toys that other children their age use.
Children with cerebral palsy are not capable of producing the same range of motion, muscle coordination, and dexterity that playing with these toys requires. So what might seem like a ‘simple enough’ toy for normal children, might pose a lot of limitations for a child with this condition. In fact, it can have an even greater impact–the inability to play with the provided toy can lead to frustration in the child. It may also lead to a lack of motivation, and a general feeling of passivity.
There are two ways in which toys can be chosen for children with cerebral palsy:
One, the toys have to be such that they are geared to suit the abilities that the child currently has.
Two, they are such that they will move the child towards developing the abilities that he/she is working towards.
Many toy companies have started manufacturing specialized toys for children diagnosed with cerebral palsy after recognizing this special need. So when you visit a store to purchase toys for your child, make sure that you inquire about this with the store manager.
Different Types of Toys
The following are some of the toys that are most popular and effective for children with cerebral palsy.
A swing is one of the best toys that you can choose because it provides for great stability, and support for the back due to its design. This toy lends a great sense of movement and freedom of riding into the air-something that the child enjoys immensely.
Children with cerebral palsy have limited mobility and body control. They therefore need toys that are solid and stable. Ride-on bikes fulfill this exact need. A child could be strapped into the toy and could be pushed around, if he cannot propel it in the direction that he wants by himself.
Using varied colored chalks, colors, and other craft material helps the child develop cognitive skills. Not only are the colors a real attraction, but the crayons come in different shapes as well, like round and triangle, such that they make it easier for the child to grasp and use.
Big Building Blocks
Children with cerebral palsy often have involuntary, spastic movements, hence, toys with big parts are better for them to handle. Huge building blocks make it easier for them to grasp onto them, and the different colors help in building their visual abilities.
Musical Soft Toys
Musical toys provide for a whole lot of sensory stimulation to the child. The music, colors, texture and designs, all help. Even though a child might be unable to wind the toy himself, he will enjoy the actions, music, and the colors. Choose a toy that has soothing music, and not something that is loud and ear piercing.
Playing with a ball is one of the most popular activities that children indulge in. Use balls that have a slightly ridged texture for easy gripping. Also, try to use balls that have less bounce in them so that they do not travel far, and out of reach. You could, instead, focus on balls that are bright-colored. These will stimulate the visual senses of the child.
There are several toys that can be looked into for children with crebral palsy. Toys that can be joined and pieced together, like puzzles, or toys that have magnets in them-again, to fulfill the same purpose, are always a great way to help the child develop coordination. Multi-colored bells with easy-to-grip handles are also a great choice for children with cerebral palsy. The music is soothing and their visual and aural abilities are duly heightened.
There are high chances that the toys that have been purchased might be a little tough for your child to handle. In such a scenario, the toys can be adapted such that they lend the maximum utility, and the child can continue to use them well enough. Here are a few things that can be done in order to enhance the utility of the toys and suit the needs of a child with cerebral palsy.
- Make sure that the toy moves out of the child’s reach as little as possible. The toy can be stabilized by using varied methods like masking tape, Velcro, dual-sided tape, or non-skid adhesive strips on the underside. This will limit the movement of the toy and allow the child to use the toy better.
- Children with cerebral palsy are quite likely to have their hands in a fist–so they require help in opening the hand and grasping things. In that direction, using a hand splint is seen to help. A splint will allow them to grip onto varied toys, and play for long periods-something that might not have been possible without a splint.
- Inflatable toys, like a plastic ball, for example, may have a lot of bounce in them, and could easily travel a great distance away from the child. In order to arrest this, pierce the ball and let some air out before masking it close with a tape. This will make the ball less bouncy, and it will not move away from the child as much, thus allowing him to play for a longer period with it.
- Sometimes, a child’s range of motion is so limited that he can only use toys that are operated by a switch. In order to facilitate the action of using the switch, or in case the surface area of the switch is quite less, then stick something atop the switch to increase the surface area, and allow easy handling.
Toys for children with cerebral palsy are conceptualized and built in such a way that they not only make playing with toys an enjoyable activity, but also enhance the child’s motor skills. However, it is essential to understand that every child affected by cerebral palsy suffers from a different kind of disability, and severity level. The toy should be chosen only after considering these factors, because what might be an effective toy for one child, might become a cause of frustration for another. Visit an occupational therapist who is proficient in dealing with children with special needs. He will conduct sessions with you to discuss the child’s interests, capabilities and shortcomings, and understand the child’s preferences and needs. This evaluation will help the therapist determine the kind of toys that are most beneficial for the all-round development of the child.
The right toys for children with cerebral palsy are those that promote development of the child’s motor skills, voluntary movements, communication, and cognitive abilities. Anything complicated, and the very purpose of choosing the toy is lost. So, make sure that you consult an occupational therapist, understand your child’s needs, and choose something that will help him not only enjoy the toy, but will also help in his all-round growth and development.