Holly Robinson Peete Covers Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids

08/21/2010 at 05:00 PM ET
Courtesy Toys ‘R’ Us

As they build their budding developmental skills, all babies benefit from playtime with age-appropriate books, toys and games.

For parents of children with special needs, however, playtime often carries a different significance — it can be a place where breakthroughs are made or frustrations boil over.

Holly Robinson Peete knows this better than most. Mom to RJ, now 12 and diagnosed at age 3 with autism, the Celebrity Apprentice star fronts the 2010 Toys ‘R’ Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids.

She tells PEOPLE Moms & Babies she hopes parents will view the guide — now in its 16th year — as a resource, resulting in more informed, more constructive gift-giving for children with developmental disabilities.

“While raising RJ, I saw the importance of selecting the right toy,” Peete explains. “Being able to show everyone buying a gift for RJ which toys he could use to build the skills he was working on was very helpful.”

More often than not, Thomas the Tank Engine toy trains fit the bill! “[They] were the ones RJ gravitated to the most when he was younger,” Peete reveals, adding that RJ wasn’t the only one to benefit.

“We were able to interact with him the most while playing with them,” she says. “Since all the vehicles had odd yet lively names and personalities, I feel strongly that this particular toy brand had a tremendous positive social impact on him.”

Courtesy Toys ‘R’ Us

Each recommendation is based on research from the National Lekotek Center, which also contributes its ten tips for buying toys.

All gifts are given with good intentions, the organization notes, but they might not be a good fit for the special needs child; To that end, relatives and caregivers should ask pertinent questions before purchasing, like “Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration?” or “Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way?”

Peete points out that each toy featured in the guide is an “everyday plaything” that is regularly found in stores “so every child can play with these toys alongside their friends, brothers and sisters.”

What sets the guide apart is the way in which it is presented, with each toy labeled with different icons denoting which skill they enhance: auditory, self esteem, creativity, thinking, language, social, visual, tactile, gross motor and fine motor. The guide makes a point of not categorizing toys by disability nor by age, and a toy selection index even sorts and lists the toys according to the skill they help to build.

For a copy of the Toys ‘R’ Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids visit your local Toys ‘R’ Us or Babies ‘R’ Us, or download an electronic version by clicking here.

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Showing 13 comments

AutismClassroom.com on

That is great. I just happened to see that tonight at Babies R Us!

MZ on

What a great idea! I will definitely check this out. My son was recently diagnosed with autism, so I was just talking with one of his therapists about finding developmentally helpful toys for him for Christmas. Most of the toys he has he doesn’t play with and I think are not at the right place for him right now. One idea the therapist suggested was getting a kitchen set, since my son loves to stack and sort measuring cups. This way we can work on his sequence play (make a sandwich) and some mimicking as well.

Erika on

I think this is a great idea! Not only are they more fun for children who may not be able to use other toys, but they also help them to develop skills. Some of them are really cute too! I would think they could be fun and beneficial for kids without disabilities too.

Meesh on

Okay, am I the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous that we can’t even say “disabled” anymore??

Kaleigh on

Meesh, People with Autism are not disabled. They are just different. My 3 year old son was diagnosed with autism at 19 months. He is increadibly smart and physically able to do anything, if not more, than other 3 year olds. His mind just works differently, and thus he does not necesarily enjoy playing with the same types of toys other kids his age enjoy.

Sarah on

I think this is a Wonderful move in the right direction!
A couple years ago my son was invited to a birthday party of a classmate who happen to be Autistic; I knew very little about Autism and walked around the toy department for an hour. I wanted him to have a gift that would be beneficial, enjoyable and have more meaning than a gift card. I ended up looking through one of the books by Jenny McCarthy about her son to understand a little more of what Autism is like for a child and what would be more appropriate for this birthday boy. I’m thrilled with this guide; it will come in handy for the uneducated, such as me, and more importantly for the children.

DS Mom on

@ Meesh – The guide is not only for disabled kids. It is exactly what it says it is for – those that have different abilities. If you think a child with Autism is disabled then maybe you too fall under the disabled category as you dont seem to possess the reading comprehension skills that most have! Time & Place Meesh!

Meesh on

DS Mom, I’m sure you feel better now that you’ve told me off. Good for you! And stating that perhaps I’m disabled — wow — that’s so completely clever. You should probably go check on your disabled child, though.

You perfectly illustrate my point, which is that people today get WAY TOO OFFENDED over things that amount to nothing. Seriously. They’re disabled. Thirty years ago, or twenty years ago, or maybe even ten years ago no one would have ever thought to say “differently-abled.” I for one will never say “differently-abled.” Get over it.

Another Erika on

DS mom- I think it is a little over the top to call Meesh disabled and bash her reading comprehension. She was stating an opinion and I kind of agree with her that its rediculous we can’t use the word disabled anymore. Disabled is not an offensive word, and I don’t see anything wrong with it. Even if you don’t consider autism to be a disability (which I honestly thought it was before reading this- sorry to offend anybody) these toys are not exclusively for kids with autism, they are for kids with down syndrome, low muscle tone, sensory issues, deafness and blindness, speech delays, learning disabilities and more. When I first saw these, I didn’t automatically assume ‘autistic kids’. No need to go off on someone because they have a different opinion.

And off topic but I think some of these toys are just adorable. I love this one- what a great way to teach manners! http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3304530

Carson on

I feel like “disabled” tends to refer to the physically handicapped while “differently-abled” is a more positive way to describe the variety of children that can benefit from this guide. Gotta love Toys”R”Us!

MZ on

Actually, as someone who is “disabled” while I don’t take offense at the term, I do applaud the use of “differently abled.” I have a physical disability, but there is a LOT that I can do. When I think of the term disabled, I think of someone who can’t do anything. I work with kids and teens with my same illness, and the labels have a BIG affect on them. I know to many of you they’re just words, but people can take them to heart. When some of these kids hear they are disabled, they shut down. They feel it is the end of the road for them and they should just give up. We talk with them about how although they have one disability, they still have many abilities and yes, that knowledge and affirmation and re-labeling does make a big difference.

So, before people start railing against what is PC and what is not anymore, just take a minute to consider how the words affect the people they are actually about (and how those people may not have a uniform opinion; I’m just stating mine and my observances).

Tracy Todd on

Words have the most incredible power. They have the power to heal. But, they also have the power to hurt. More importantly, they have the power to change perceptions, attitudes, ideas, thoughts and mindsets which, in turn, changes actions and how we treat the world and its living.

Do yourself a favor and look the word “disabled” up in The Thesaurus. This is what I found…
“disabled bedridden, crippled, handicapped, incapacitated, lame, maimed, mangled, mutilated, paralysed, weak, wrecked, damaged, unfit, debilitated, impaired…

Antonyms healthy, whole, wholesome, strong, robust, fit, able-bodied.”

Despite the fact that I am paralyzed from my neck down, I am able to relate to the antonyms far more easily. Ironically, society views me as disabled now – but, I have never felt more whole and healthy in my entire life. I try to focus on what I can do – which is a lot more than some (so called) able-bodied people out there.

Giedre on

I much prefer kids with special needs over “differently abled” kids. This is because everyone is “differently abled”. And yes, autism (and the autism spectrum disorders in general) is technically a disability and people with it are allowed protections under the ADA and they are allowed IEPs and aides and other supportive services. Being classified as a disability is not bad. I say this as someone who has hidden disabilities, as well as having a disability that has the biggest group of people who don’t consider themselves disabled, and have a culture of their own, and are very vocal in saying they are not disabled. I consider being called disabled to be a neutral thing, just the way that someone says “I’m paraplegic” or “I’m blind” or “I’m deaf.” It just is, it’s not a pronouncement that someone is less than an able bodied person.

When this catalog came out, people were trying different names in the disabled community to see what worked. Back then “differently abled” was being bandied about as a positive thing. Generally now it’s considered twee. Dollars to doughnuts if that catalog were to come out today for the first time, it would say “toy guide for kids with special needs”

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