Picking the Right Toys for Children with Special Needs

Card for AblePlay Rating SystemôChoosing the right toy for any child is a challenge, but it can be even more difficult when considering the interests and abilities of children who have special needs. Now, parents, relatives and caregivers have a new tool to help them make the right choice.

In November, the National Lekotek Center, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization that works to make play accessible and successful for children of all abilities, launched the AblePlay Rating Systemô. This free, online resource, available at, features toys rated for their accessibility regarding physical, sensory, communication and cognitive disabilities. It also includes detailed product reviews and creative ideas for adaptive play.

"Many toys will work well for kids with disabilities," says Lekotek Director Diana Nielander. "Parents and other toy shoppers simply need to think about a toy's features and adaptability."

For example, consider a card-matching game that relies on memory and concentration skills. The game may work very well for a child with a developmental disability, Neilander notes, as long as it is played with a smaller portion of the full set of cards - so that the user can opt to play with, perhaps, five matching card sets instead of 20 sets.

In creating the AblePlay Rating System, Lekotek's toy and play experts thoroughly evaluated each toy and learning product and calculated the ratings featured on the AblePlay Web site. The accompanying product reviews detail the "hows and whys" of each product, specifically for children with disabilities, and include a product photo and a link to an online retail site.

Lekotek has long enjoyed a reputation as the leading authority on toys and play for the 6.2 million U.S. children with disabilities (13.2 percent of the nation's children). In addition to their work to make play products accessible to all children, the experts at Lekotek also serve as the toy judges in the annual National Parenting Publications Awards program (see

For more information on how to select a toy for a child with a disability, check out

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