COLUMBUS — Toys with small switches and buttons can be a challenge for a lot of children and impossible to operate for many with disabilities.
So for the past two years, the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital has worked with families to teach them how to modify toys so that they can be used by all children.
They showed about 25 families on Saturday how to take apart a Talking Elmo, a dump truck that moves, and a drum. They also demonstrated how to add a wire so that buttons of varying sizes can be attached by a cord, allowing children to play without holding the toy.
A big button added to a bubble-making toy will allow 9-year-old Emma Buchwald to use it by herself. She has cerebral palsy and would need help otherwise.
“I think it will be rewarding for her,” her mother, Heather Buchwald, told The Columbus Dispatch.
The hospital’s biomedical-engineering staff and occupational and speech therapists showed the families how to adjust the toys.
Parents can use the modified toys to help their children develop skills they’ll need as they get older, therapists said.
“If they start young, and if they start with toys, they will be capable of moving on to more-advanced technology,” said Angela Meyer, an occupational therapist at the hospital.
A Chicago organization that helps families with disabled children and works with manufacturers to adapt toys says one in five children has a disability or special need.
“I think all children’s hospitals should be doing this,” said Macy Kaiser, director of the National Lekotek Center.
The center hosts play sessions for families that include toys that focus on cognitive, sensory, communicative and other skills. Families can borrow toys too.
“Of course, the child wants the cool toy that every other child gets,” said Ahren Hoffman, the center’s manager of industry relations and partnerships.
Julie Shrider, who attended the hospital’s program in Columbus, said it’s tough to find toys for her 3-year-old son and that she often has to put his hands on a toy so he can play with it.
“He doesn’t play with what a typical 3-year-old plays with,” she said as her husband took apart a truck and adjusted it.