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Playtime for Children With Physical Disabilities

Enlist the Help of Your Child's Therapists

Consult with your child's physical, occupational, or speech therapist, or other experts on her team. And get input on what kinds of playing might be appropriate for your child.

Ask your child’s therapist which toy catalogues they would suggest and adapted toys they like and why. With a little research you may also discover that  your community has a toy-lending library in operation.

Physical challenges span a broad variety of difficulties, and you should  be sure to take your child’s own likes, dislikes, and preferences into account as well.

Play Tips: Newborn to Age 1

From birth to 1 year of age, it's crucial to let your child spend a healthy amount time out of their crib, says Doschadis.

Have rattles, mirrors, lights, and other stimulating toys on hand. "With physical disabilities, your child may need assistant in movement," she says. "He may need help turning over."

Focus on sensory play, says Kat Davitt, a certified child life specialist at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Consider tactile blankets, which are made from a variety of materials, some that may crunch, others that may pop, and so on.

Play peek-a-boo for visual stimulation, or play with a rattle to include identifiable sounds in your child’s playtime.

Play Tips: Ages 1 to 3

Doschadis says that at age 1, play can begin taking place in different environments, such as in the water, in the sand, or as close as on the front lawn.

Offer your physically challenged child every opportunity that would be presented to a typically developing child at the same age, she says. You can begin incorporating large, soft balls in your child’s playtime. And keep in mind that adaptation for most materials and toys is usually possible to suit your child’s individual needs.

Movement is especially important in this age range, as children learn to crawl, stand, and walk, says Davitt. Try dancing to music, using just the upper body if your child's physical challenges make lower body movement difficult.

At this stage, your goal as a parent is to help your child feel more mobile and have access to his surroundings, says Trish Cox, a certified child life specialist and social worker who is an adjunct professor of child life at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and an educational consultant for Portsmouth School District in New Hampshire.

Play Tips: Ages 3 to 6

Introduce board games that are age appropriate for this particular stage, Doschadis suggests. And audio books are often beneficial for children in this age range, as well.

Between ages 3 and 6, children become much more social, yearning to be with other children and make friends. So you can bring other children into your child’s regular play sessions. But be prepared for questions from your child’s playmates about why he is moving differently, Davitt says.

Give simple, age-appropriate answers to these kind of questions, she suggests. And as your child gets older, he can provide the answers to his playmates himself.

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Reviewed on October 14, 2010

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