Let’s face it – in a time meant to be joyous, the holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year for families. As a consumer and parent, you’re probably surrounded constantly by messages that you need to buy your child the latest, trendiest toy – from TV commercials, to office chatter, and naturally, pressure from your child himself. And with so many of today’s hot-selling toys being expensive electronic gadgets, holiday gift-giving can cause a lot of financial stress.
Moreover, if a child has ADHD, buying the right toy can be even more difficult if the ADHD symptoms interfere with the child’s ability to play with it. Children with ADHD tend to have an increased need for stimulation, and difficulty concentrating on one thing for long periods of time. In a child with ADHD, these traits may show up as a pattern of losing interest in new toys very quickly.
For example, ADHD’s effect on a child’s ability to focus can make some types of gifts more appropriate than others. For many kids with ADHD, a model car kit that takes many days to complete and requires hours of focus at a time, would likely end up in the attic, half-finished. A more realistic gift might be a toy or game that is more physically engaging and faster-paced. In fact, many hyperactive children find that physical activity helps them manage excess energy.
Another thing worth thinking about is the time required to set up the toy. Toys or games that require extensive assembly or have complicated instructions are the ones most likely to cause frustration, and will end up collecting dust after a week. You should obviously avoid a toy so complex that it makes your child feel frustrated or bad about herself. After all, play is supposed to be fun!
It’s easy to see how the additional needs and challenges of a child with ADHD can make gift-giving especially frustrating (and expensive) for parents. And while there are many toys specifically designed to be “ADHD-friendly”, you don’t necessarily need to be limited to them when shopping this holiday season. (In fact, only giving your child specially-designed “ADHD-specific” toys runs the risk of making her feel singled-out or different). If you shop with some basic considerations in mind, you should be able to find the right gift: one that your child will enjoy, and that will also encourage her to develop her individual abilities and interests.
Toys"R"Us offers a very handy guide for shoppers, the Toys"R"Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, which includes the Top Ten Tips for Buying Toys. The guide was developed in part by childhood education experts at the National Lekotek Center, a non-profit organization that promotes the importance of playtime in children who have special needs. The guide provides a list of things to think about when selecting a toy, regarding its appropriateness and appeal to a child who has ADHD. The following questions can help you decide if a toy is right for your child:
- Multi sensory appeal – Does the toy have lights, move, or make sound that would appeal to your child? How stimulating is it?
- Method of activation – How easy or complex is it to begin playing with the toy? Is it frustrating to set up? Toys and games with short set up times are best.
- Places the toy will be used – Is the toy supposed to be used indoors or outdoors? Does the place where the toy will be used present any challenges for your child?
- Opportunities for success – Does the toy allow the child to be successful (build confidence). Does it have a winner/loser? Cooperative games help build social skills.
- Current popularity – Does the toy fit in with current trends, so that your child doesn’t feel singled-out or different?
- Self-expression – Does the toy or game encourage self-expression or creativity?
- Adjustability – Can the toy be adjusted to better suit your child?
- Child’s individual abilities – Is the toy appropriate to your child’s age and abilities? Something that is too old can lead to frustration.
- Safety and durability – Is the toy able to withstand play without breaking? Children who are overactive play hard.
- Potential for interaction – Does playing with the toy encourage your child to interact with others? Interaction with others helps build social skills.
When shopping for a toy, use these questions to help you think about how your child’s ADHD symptoms might affect her ability to play with it. Of course, you know your child better than anyone else. Thinking about your child as an individual, with her own unique talents, interests and challenges, will ultimately be the best way to guide you as to whether a particular toy is appropriate for her. And remember, just because a toy is popular among your child’s peers doesn’t mean that it will be right for your child.
As adults, we often don’t realize how important playtime is to a child’s development. Children play not simply to amuse themselves, but as a way to learn and understand their world. Playtime helps them gain skills they will use for the rest of their lives. It helps them develop their motor skills, form a sense of imagination and creativity, and learn social skills like sharing and cooperation. The gift you give should be engaging and enjoyable to your child, and ideally, should promote the development of these skills.
The National Lekotek Center, a division of Anixter Center, is a non-profit organization with a national network of affiliates dedicated to making play and learning accessible for children with disabilities and provides supportive services for their families. For additional information on toys, play and technology for children with disabilities, please visit www.ableplay.org or www.lekotek.org.