Play Is Fundamental
Play has been described as the most important “work” of being a child (Glenn et al. 2013). Children learn cognitive, social, motor, and linguistic skills by manipulating objects in the context of play (Cardon 2011; Lee, Song, and Shin 2001; Roussou 2004). Play offers young children the opportunity to create, imitate, imagine, and practice while interacting with their environment. Participating in play for all children is extremely important, but children with physical, sensory, or intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) cannot always access the same opportunities as typically developing (TD) children. They may not have the physical ability to reach for or manipulate a toy or may have diminished awareness of a toy to begin with due to visual or hearing deficits. Because of cognitive or other limitations, the quality of play and learning of skills may be compromised for children with disabilities (Hamm, Mistret, and Goetz-Ruffino 2006; Musselwhite 1986; Porter, Hernandez-Reif, and Jessee 2007; Robins, Ferrari, and Dautenhahn 2008). Children with cognitive or other severe disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cannot experience or explore the world like other children, and these limitations can lead to further developmental delays during formative learning years. The lack of independent discovery and exploration of the environment can negatively affect learning and social interaction outcomes for children with cognitive disabilities (Brodin 1999).
Toys have an essential role in enhancing play skills because children are naturally attracted to them. Toys may have greater impact for children with severe disabilities when they have educational value or when a child can use them for learning purposes (Brodin 1999; Hamm, Mistret, and Goetz-Ruffino 2006; Lathan et al. 2001). Brodin stated that children with disabilities, particularly when they are young, have to be “lured into, tempted, persuaded and sometimes nagged at in order to actively engage themselves in objects or people. They need exciting opportunities, not only as much, but much more than ordinary children” (Brodin 1999, 31).
Toys that are adapted to provide multisensory input and allow for repetitive interaction can provide an exciting opportunity for a child with a disability (Hamm, Mistret, and Goetz-Ruffino 2006; Porter, Hernandez-Reif, and Jessee 2007).