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Toy Trends for Children with Special Needs
by Ellen Metrick, National Lekotek Center   |   March 4   |   0 Comments
Toy Fair proved to be exceptional this year, celebrating the 110th year for this Toy Industry Association event.  Although there were many overall trends, what we strive to do is to view all the new product offerings with a lens on how they might relate to children with special needs. 


This year, three areas that we felt were well-served and are particularly important to children with special needs are:

  • Toys that offer a social and/or emotional component
  • App appeal and accessibility
  • Toys that include a sensory experience


Social Emotional Health is an area of child development that is getting a lot of attention.  Children are being exposed to stress factors at younger and younger ages in the form of academic and social pressures, overscheduling issues and less physical release outlets like exercise and outdoor play.


Many toy manufacturers are adding a social/emotional component to their offerings.  Sometimes a person just needs a little comfort, a shoulder to cry on or something to hold close.   Three companies that fill the bill are Stuffies, WishPuppies and Kimochis.

Stuffies is a comingling of a plush toy, a pillow, a toy chest, an overnight bag, a story and a surprise all in a cuddly package.  The seven pockets in each of varied characters make this a perfect re-purposing play product limited only by one’s imagination. 


WishPuppies is a plush with a purpose that ranks high on the emotional intelligence scale.  The inventor realized that sometimes in life, even a small act like writing down a dream can help it come true.  The inside pocket serves this purpose  We also like the concept that it’s normal and natural even for adults to need  a cuddle and the comfort this remarkably huggable plush pup was created for.  

Kimochis is series of cute characters that were created to help children explore emotions and feelings in a safe, easy and fun way.  These creatures make an ideal vehicle for a child to feel safe and share their feelings.  Great first step in educating kids about the importance of understand and dealing with the complex world of inner emotions.   


App Appeal and Accessibility captures the trend that apps can make play more appealing and can be used as a component to make traditional play accessible for all kids.  Accessibility is an often used term when talking about children with special needs and it refers to their being able to participate fully in something.  Apps are a perfect example of making play more accessible because they require no pressure to activate, they incorporate visual and auditory appeal and they are mobile.  Several companies are leading the way with such products as the Fisher-Price Little People Apptivity Barnyard, the Mattel Barbie Digital Makeup Mirror and Hasbro’s Nerf N-Sports Cyberhoop where the iPad is enlisted to keep score, provide commentary, capture video and enable replay viewing of your lay-ups and fad-aways. Augmented Reality 3D kits from Popar Toys and the plush toy with an iPhone brain, Ubooly, are also gaining momentum.


Sensory Experiences are how children learn to relate to the world around.  Some children need to work on integrating sensory stimulations into their experiences. Another trend I saw was toys that included a novel or unexpected sensory aspect.  BeginAgain Scented Scoops Ice Cream Set is a prefect example.  In addition to appealing to the eye, it also provides an aroma that adds a sensory scent of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.

Waboba Ball Moon Ball.  Waboba continues to astonish us with ways to reinvent the ball.  One of their first product offerings allowed their ball to bounce on water.  The latest explores a new outer texture that provides a great impact sound when it hits the ground.  Who says you can’t teach an old ball new tricks! 


Playaway Toy Company swings in as the new company on the block.  Think playground in a doorway.   Perfecting multiple ways to swing, these innovative inventors push swinging to a whole new level in limited space.  There is lots of research on the benefits that rocking/swinging have for children who are on the autism spectrum, who have sensory processing disorder or ADHD. Families who have limited play space or playground accessibility issues will find this product is a perfect solution. 


Dealing with emotions, news ways to play through apps and sensory stimulating play are three benefits kids of all abilities can take advantage of through toys and play. Please keep in mind this is a snapshot from Toy Fair, where new products are unveiled. Some of the products mentioned above are available now, while others will be in stores soon!

This article was written by Ellen Metrick, Director of Industry Relations & Partnerships for the National Lekotek Center.  Lekotek is a not-for-profit and leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Lekotek is dedicated to providing children of all abilities access to the benefits of play experiences. Visit www.ableplay.org for a complete listing of toys for children with special needs. Follow us on Facebook!


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