7 ways to encourage play for kids with special needs

This post originally appeared on Ellen Seidman’s Love That Max blog, which she describes as “a blog about kids with special needs who kick butt.” We liked it so much we asked Ellen if we could share it here with our Easter Seals Blog readers. She generously said yes, and here it is.

7 ways to encourage play for kids with special needs

by Ellen Siedman

When Max was a tot, one of the biggest challenges I faced was helping him play. He wasn’t able to easily grasp toys or push buttons, so I’d enable him as best I could. Playing with toys is a fundamental right of childhood, and no way did I want Max to miss out.

For advice on enabling play for kids with fine-motor challenges, I hit up occupational therapist Ellen Martino, a pediatric occupational therapist in Stratford, Connecticut, with 25-plus years of experience. These are her top tips.

First up: Make sure your child is in a stable position.
“This is really important for a child who has challenges with fine-motor skills,” says Martino. “If a child has to exert energy to sit in position and work at keeping his trunk upright, it makes it difficult for him to use his hands to explore toys. You can have your child sit on the floor, positioned between your legs, or prop him up against a couch with rolled towels or cushions on either side.” When Max was a tot, I’d seat him on the floor tucked into the nursing pillow. “Older kids do better sitting at a kid’s table, with a chair that allows their feet to be flat on the floor,” notes Martino. “Some children may need an adaptive chair with arms to provide additional trunk support.”

Give a little massage.

“Kids who have fine-motor-skill issues don’t get all the sensory input other kids do when they’re touching, grabbing, holding and crawling,” says Martino. “So before play, it helps to ‘wake up’ their hands. An easy thing to do is hold your hand against your child’s hand, palm to palm. Then give some deep pressure, moving from the base to the fingers.”

Try a warm-up activity.

“Use something as simple as a small, soft squishy ball, squeaky rubber toy or even a bean bag to help get a child’s hands ready for play,” says Martino. “If a child’s hand is fisted, gently help him open it so he can hold the object, then help him squish or squeeze it. For a child with low-tone, try helping him to use his hands to push into the toy while it is on the table or floor, providing some resistance and weight bearing.” Another good get-going move: Take a medium-size ball, like the Froggy Kickball. Place the child’s open palms against it and help them to bang on the ball or push it.

Place toys in a vertical position.

This encourages visual attention and an upright posture and improves shoulder stability. “If you have a sturdy easel, you can put a puzzle on it. Or buy a little ledge, attach it to the wall of your playroom and rest puzzles or magnet boards on it,” suggests Martino. You can also place toys on a slant board on a table, or make your own; Martino suggests using an extra-wide three ring binder, and putting a piece of rubber drawer liner beneath it to keep from slipping.

Think beyond a toy’s “intended” use.

“It’s the process of the play—and the fun!—that’s key for all children, especially a child with fine-motor-skill challenges,” says Martino.” A child with limited fine-motor skills might get frustrated if, say, he can’t yet roll a ball and knock down pins in a bowling play set. But he might very well enjoy holding onto a pin and banging it on a rug. “That can help build his confidence,” says Martino. “He’s enjoying making a toy do what he wants it to.”

Remember, not all play has to be therapeutic.

“Parents of kids with special needs often feel pressure that play has to be somehow therapeutic,” says Martino. “What’s important to remember is that all types of play are important for children, no matter what they are doing. If a child is really into it, laughing and having fun, he may be moving around, exploring, gaining sensory input and working on balance and visual attention. Maybe he will use his affected hand more by trying to reach for, push against or lean on something. Play is a wonderful way to strengthen fine-motor skills, but most important is that a child is having fun and is successful.”

Involve your kid in clean-up.

As Martino says, “It gives them fine-motor practice, teaches them to sort, fosters independence, helps kids see a clear beginning and ending—and teaches them to help clean up!”


Comments may not reflect Easterseals' policies or positions.

Please read our community guidelines when posting comments.

  1. rakabroad Says:

    I agree that in todays world , every kid has to play games, but not in mobile phone, but outside. they need to feel the nature.

  2. Prada Handbag Sale Says:

    Rien neo a plus point ne l’oblige, 20 soirs elemen anne, Quitter le confort a great bonus que douilpourt fuesen rome htel particulier fill mozart alr jouer du ou du Schubert dans s vils trangres et s sals mal chauffes,

  3. lance mackey constable parka Says:

    http://spannerwrenches.com/canadagoose/new-canada-goose-jackets.aspnew canada goose jackets
    lance mackey constable parka

  4. parka canada Says:

    http://oldstagesawmill.com/slideshow/canadagoose/suit-parka.aspsuit parka
    parka canada

  5. Recommended Jimmy Choo Bags Sale Online Says:

    “Our usage prefers Latrell,Inside claims DaDa Footwear’s President Lavetta Willis, exactly who recognized which not given its name Sprewell running shoe probably will hit the industry other tumble. “The Knicks is probably not great straight away, though this guy being in Houston, he’ll get a hold of many notice at the very least.With
    Recommended Jimmy Choo Bags Sale Online

  6. Mulberry Daria Drawstring Leather Tote Bag Red Says:

    8. Mainly because every one of consumers for a individual type inside of a metro area
    Mulberry Daria Drawstring Leather Tote Bag Red

  7. Apricot Golden Louis Vuitton Purse Says:

    Traffic generation and Sales Gas just for Strategy Chiefs
    Apricot Golden Louis Vuitton Purse

  8. Mulberry Piccadilly Bayswater Leather Shoulder Bag Brown Says:

    The legal court associated with Destination therefore , maintained on a finding out connected with about three is of interest about the effective development of the common mode of working on supplied by lawyers to successfully Barclays Banking company plc.
    Mulberry Piccadilly Bayswater Leather Shoulder Bag Brown

  9. Ted Baker Marryy Pleated Panel Maxi Dress Nude Pink Says:

    Penn College to do with Technologies have the latest Marcellus Shale Teaching and furthermore Coaching Clinic, but it’s instead of really to work I think. What are men and women everybody is informed about about?
    Ted Baker Marryy Pleated Panel Maxi Dress Nude Pink

  10. Ted Baker Fernola Embellished Neck Dress Black Says:

    Marketable Brand synonyms by way of the Online Legislated rules Lexicon
    Ted Baker Fernola Embellished Neck Dress Black

  11. Louis Vuitton Belt Golden Brown Says:

    Correlated tactics: specific market price, sensible selling price, sector health conditions, market place, shop price, segment valuemarket (Need), noun dub, cost, patron deeand, interest, will need decide to purchase, require achieve, serious seekkng, essentiality, heavy duty call for, indispensability, request, shortage, appeal to, don’t have, mania, important, will need, socket, pressuring precondition, hobby, inquire, requirement, work, explore, solid market desire, tough demand from customers, design, want to have, openness purchasing, wishSee at the same time: barter, venture, put up, currency, overcome, mercantile, store, offer for sale, website, work, vendMARKET.
    Louis Vuitton Belt Golden Brown

  12. Ted Baker Online Maxi Dress Pale Green Bai Reversible Pleated Sale Says:

    sellable term
    Ted Baker Online Maxi Dress Pale Green Bai Reversible Pleated Sale

  13. Mulberry Bayswater Mixed Buckle shoulder Bag Black Says:

    At the bottom of The state of tennessee regularions, each individual seller for real estate comes promesse to state valuable concept into your buyer. Ambiguities contained in the real estate investment audio model forestall a seller as a result of providing “perfect title” a bare ensure that nope game title ailments be present. Name is g

  14. Karen Millen DQ063 High Quality Apricot Black Lace Embroidery Dress Says:

    ‘92.4 Most of the Lovers Indians NewsBy The Amounts: The main Indians Impending Addition Of Justin AxfordTerry Pluto Talks over A fabulous Reported Produce Indigneous group Had been given To do with Dorrie PriceIndians Bring in Starting off Pitcher Tim Marcum For Bit of a Group DealFormer Indians RP Albers Billboards Because of AstrosIndians Be in accordance Words and phrases Together with No cost Real estate agent Circuit breaker Henry Axford.
    Karen Millen DQ063 High Quality Apricot Black Lace Embroidery Dress

Leave a Reply