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Playtime for Children With Cognitive Delays

Enlist the Help of Your Child's Therapists

Cognitive delays span a broad variety of difficulties, and children's personalities can differ greatly. So it's a good idea to consult with your child's physical therapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and any other experts who are helping and guiding your child's development. Ask them for guidance on specific activities that you can do at home.

While focusing on the fun, it's also important to know the rationale behind some of the suggestions that experts may make for the playful activities that you can enjoy with your child.

Here are some of the reasons for certain expert suggestions, for the best activities for children with cognitive delays in different age groups.

Play Tips: Newborn to Age 1

Pratola states that sensory motor play is beneficial at this young age. These activities will involve body play, like tickling, along with lots of close face to face interaction and eye contact.  Be sure to play games that feel good to your child and that include tactile elements, like making a game out of giving your baby belly rubs.

Trish Cox, a certified child life specialist and social worker at the Portsmouth School District in New Hampshire, states that at this age mobiles are also very important for healthy development, because they engage children’s visual senses. She suggests lullabies, rattles, and toys with different sounds -- even toys or books with distinct smells, in order to engage all your child’s senses.

''Offer a mirror so the child can look at himself,” Cox suggests. Consider a play mat so he can spend time on the floor in different positions.

Play Tips: Ages 1 to 3

Sensory play should continue from the first through the third birthday, advises Pratola. You can add imaginative role play, which combines pretend and imitation. "It's laying the groundwork for using play as a way to learn things.” Provide your child with items that she can pretend with, such as toy kitchen sets or baby dolls.

Also, when your child begins potty training, it may benefit you both to get a baby doll that your child can put on a miniature potty. This will make potty training fun, while giving your child a model for the lesson.

Let your child manipulate toys as much as possible at this stage, Cox states. Building blocks are ideal. Let your child build them up and knock them down, and repeat the activity as much as she likes. ''All kids really need that repetition and mastery over the toy.”

By ages 1 to 3, you can also start adding structure to your child’s playtime, Davitt says. “Kids with cognitive delays benefit from structure even more than other kids.”  So, for instance, you might tell your child that as soon as she wakes up in the morning, she will have breakfast and get to listen to a short story every morning.

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