Special Needs Kids: DIY Therapy Toys

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Sensory Stepping Stones -  Guidecraft - Toys
No matter the challenge or disability, therapy equipment and toys can be one of the biggest expenses moms of special needs children face. They figure that these toys are either one-of-a-kind or complicated, so they shell out the dough without question.

But aurorabunny, mom of a 2-year-old autistic son, tells us that with a little creativity, some of these crucial learning toys can be made for little or next to nothing. I'm giving her the floor now so she can give you the how-to for several of them:

Sensory Stepping Discs

A version of this therapy aid, Sensory Stepping Stones (pictured above), sells for $34.99 at Toys R Us. These are discs of different textures and fabrics used to help children with have sensory issues or SID (Sensory Integration Disorder). 

DIY tip Glue items you already have -- sand paper, scraps of old sweaters, dish scrubbing pads, smooth stones from the backyard -- onto paper plates.

Flash Cards

Almost all kids in therapy have used flash cards at one time or another, whether for teaching sign language, emotions, or letters and numbers. Flashcards are a therapist's best friend and can be invaluable teaching aids for children who are often visual learners. Super Duper Inc.com, a popular therapy toy website, offers up card sets like the one pictured below for $49.95.Ouch.

DIY tip All you need is access to the Internet and a printer. Free Printables for Teachers (which boasst 1800+ flashcard images for children) and ESL Flashcards let you make tons of flashcard sets for the cost of paper, as well as custom pick images and card sets will appeal to your individual child's likes and dislikes. 

Fine Motor Skill Helpers

Many special needs children have difficulty with fine motor skills and often use Therapy Putty in countless games based on the concept of putting objects in and then taking them out of something. Amazon.com, usually one of the cheapest places to look, sells 4 ounces of Therapy Putty (below) for $7.


Therapy Putty Green Medium - Latex Free 1 lb.

DIY tip Click here to make home-made silly putty from a few cheap ingredients.

As for items to practice "putting in and taking out" activities, one of the basic cornerstones of fine motor work, try plastic baby juice bottles (like the small, Gerber kind). They're cheap, washable and you get the added bonus of being able to have your child work on taking the lid on and off. 

Dixie cups or any other plastic cups you have laying around work just as well. For filling them, try cereal. Different types of cereal can be used if you're moving on from basic fine motor skills to color sorting. Let your child nosh on some Fruit Loops mid-activity.This sure beats digging one of those hard plastic bears from the back of your child's mouth. (Trust me, I've done it.) 

Counting out dry beans and taking them in and out of a pot can be just as beneficial for a child as doing the same action and motion with a toy that was much more expensive.

Aren't creative enough to try these? Short on time? aurorabunny says many of her son's best therapy aids come dollar or novelty stores, which sell inexpensive toys that spin, light up, have funny textures, or make unusual noises.

"On multiple occasions, I have seen a toy in a catalog that we snagged from a party favor store for about $2 that had somehow risen about $6 in price since someone slapped the word 'therapy' on it!" aurorabunny says.

++How much money do you spend on special therapy toys? Please share your creative DIY ideas.

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