Future Reflections September- December 1983, Vol. 2 No. 5
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by Barbara Cheadle
A father of a five-year-old recently called me to ask for suggestions about what toys he could buy his blind son who lives in another state with his ex-wife. Because he would seldom see his son, he wanted his gifts to be especially memorable and appropriate. This father is not unique. I think all of us who have a blind child in our lives whom we know and love -- whether as parent, friend of the family, teacher, grandparent or other relative -- all of us would like our gifts to be special, something the child will use over and over, and remember with fondness when he out-grows it.
With the exception of Braille books and some board games, you can find perfectly appropriate toys in your local stores, or any other source that is available to the public. With a few special considerations, the same principles you use when buying a toy for a sighted youngster also apply when buying one for a blind child. For example: 1) Toys should be suitable for the child's age and maturity level. 2) The child's personality and interests should be considered. Blind children are as likely to be mechanically inclined, artistic, people-oriented, theatrical, athletic, musical or interested in science as any other child. Toys that appeal to their special interests and abilities will always be welcomed. 3) Toys should be selected for their educational value as well as their "fun" value. Toys play an important role in helping children develop concepts, small and large muscle coordination, and social skills as well. Companies that specialize in educational toys, such as Discovery Toys, would be good places to check out. (Discovery Toys are sold by independent Educational Consultants through home demonstrations. If you cannot locate a consultant in your area, write to: Discovery Toys, 400 Ellinwood Way, Suite 300, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523). 4) The toy you purchase should encourage -- not stifle -- the child's creativity, imagination, and active participation. 5) Consider your pocketbook and your priorities. We all have limitations on how much we can spend. Whether that is a little, or a lot, make your purchases count, and let your child know what your limitations are. Remember, too, your involvement with your child is more important than any toy you can buy. There are times when the money is better spent on a trip to the zoo, or a long-distance call just to that special child.
Now, for the special considerations. The most obvious one is that the toy should appeal to the non-visual senses -- sound, smell, taste and touch. Some parents report that their child loves anything that makes an interesting sound. Others say their child perfers putting things (such as lego's, bristle blocks, etc.) together and taking them apart. Scratch and sniff stickers and books always seem popular. Some children thrive on physical play -- balls, indoor or outdoor gym sets, scooters, etc. -- are just the thing for them. Yet other children get excited about imaginary play. Realistic puppets, "dress-up" costumes, toy trucks and tea-sets would be for them.
You should not ignore or disregard the visually pleasing or stimulating toy. Most blind children have some vision, and would enjoy and benefit from these as well. You should consider contrast, clarity, and reflective character (how much light does it absorb or reflect) of colors and objects when selecting picture books, games or other toys for your child with partial vision. The more you know about your child's vision, (do they see better in bright or muted light?) the easier it will be to make toy selections.
Don't be put off if the toy is not perfectly adapted for your child. Some toys, such as board games, can be adapted at home with a few tactile markings or Braille labels. Use your imagination and ask a blind friend or acquaintance for ideas. There are also places where you can purchase print-Braille books and adapted board games. National Braille Press (see article on page 15) now has children's print-Braille books for sale. Science for the Blind Products (SFB) and Aids Unlimited also offer board games. SFB also has Touch and Feel, Scratch and Sniff, and other kinds of books for children. (See the Hear Ye! Hear Ye! section for more details and addresses.) There are other places, too. Ask your child's vision teacher, other parents of blind children and blind adults for information about what is available in your state or local community.
A comment should be made about the fourth principle in buying toys. "The toy should encourage -- not stifle the child's creativity, imagination and active participation." Too often, blind children are not encouraged to be physically active. Because of fear, (they might hurt themselves) we make the mistake of allowing them to sit and listen to music or recorded books to the exclusion of playing with toys or engaging in activities which give their large and small muscles a real work-out. Blind children can be as physically strong and graceful as sighted children... if given the proper encouragement and tools to work with. If your child has already decided that "listening" to music or books is the only "fun" activity for them, you need to start coaxing them into more physical play immediately. Limit their listening time, find toys and games that combine sound and physical play, play (physically) with your child more... these are just some of the ways you can get your child moving again. Finally, you should consider your own motives when buying toys for your child. Let's face it, it is not uncommon to feel some guilt when we discover our child is blind. That guilt -- never a rational thing in the first place -- can make us do some pretty irrational things. Buying all kinds of expensive toys that we cannot afford, or our child does not need, might be one way to make us feel better, or be our way of trying to "make-up" for our child's loss of vision. It may temporarily make us feel better, but it is harmful to us and the child in the long run. First of all, it will not bring back their sight. You have already probably done everything you can to deal with that. Secondly, children are sensitive and quickly learn how to play upon an adult's feelings of guilt. The result could be a demanding, selfish, whining child prone to temper tantrums. This is not to imply that all, or even most, parents react this way. But a little "self-examination" never hurt anyone, and may reveal some surprises.
It has been said that a child's work, is play. If so, toys are their tools. We can make sure they have the best tools available so that they have a rewarding, enriching experience as well as lots of fun.
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