Special needs children learn language development and social skills in play

Published: 03rd April 2007
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Learn to play with your special needs child to help language development and stimulate valuable social skills in autistic children



From experience, I know that developmental and educational toys alone are not enough to help a child with special needs. But, you can easily help your child learn through play. For example, blowing toys can help to overcome language delay or sensory toys to overcome touch reluctance in a child on the autistic spectrum.



Learning to Play

Children do most of their learning through play so children with special needs can be instantly disadvantaged if their play skills are impaired. Children on the autistic spectrum often lack a natural interest in play and will need extra help to learn to play. The restricted social skills in autistic children and some other special needs children make it difficult for them to accept social interaction during play.



As a parent of a child with a severe language delay and a child with autism, I knew the importance of play and was particularly aware of the value of play based language development. However, I quickly realised that I too needed to learn to play. Merely presenting my special needs children with an array of toys was not sufficient to help develop their play and interactive skills. By spending even a few minutes playing with them, I was able to make a huge difference - and felt much more confident in my own parenting skills.



Using developmental toys

The first step in initiating play with a child with special needs is to gain your child's attention. Often they need to be attracted away from their solitary play or their favoured activity. This requires a toy that is of interest - it does not have to be a specialist developmental toy.



Once you have your child's attention you then need to hold their interest long enough to give them enough of a chance to practise the activity and get to like it - both of which will build confidence and eventually mean they will want to do it again. Peek a boo with a scarf, bubbles, balls, bean bags and puppets are very simple devices for attracting a child to join in with a game and can be started easily anywhere at any time.



Cause and effect toys for children with special needs

I have found cause and effect toys are really good because a child will quickly learn that if he does one thing something else will happen - press the button and a light comes on, or a character pops up or as with the Sound Puzzle Box where if a shape is correctly inserted into the right hole it makes a squeaky noise.



Ball or car ramps and pop up peg toys can be used to help queue in a child, who otherwise is reluctant to involve you in their play or to interact during play. Merely holding onto the car or ball at the top of the slope saying 1,2 3 'GO' but only letting go once your child looks at you accompanied with a big whoop is another good way of increasing your child's enjoyment as well as promoting interaction and eye contact.



Games to stimulate social skills, especially in autistic children

Ball and car ramps are also very good for practising social skills such as turntaking and waiting, you may have to work hard to stop your child from grabbing the ball when its not his turn but doing these sorts of activities frequently can really help your child to wait and participate more willingly. These are just some ideas to help entice a child with special needs away from solitary play even for a short time initially and to help develop a desire to play.



How SenseToys aims to help parents and carers

When my children's special needs were identified, I was amazed that I couldn't find a shop or mail order catalogue selling the kind of toys I wanted for my autistic son, Eddie. There were plenty of pre-school educational toys but I had to search high and low to find things that were suitable. I also needed some guidance on the best way to play with them to help Eddie. It is all very well having special toys but if you don't know what to do with them or how to engage your child it is not much use. It is not the toy, it is what you do with it that gives it value for an autistic child. The aim of the SenseToys website is to bring you colourful, fun toys and lots of inspiring ideas for how to play with them with your special needs child.

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