When we buy things, we often don’t think too deeply about why we’re buying them unless they’re very expensive. Maybe they’re fun, or beautiful, or we just want them because some advertisement persuaded us (or our child) to want them.

Toys usually fall into the cheap category, so most of us don’t think too hard about why we’re buying one toy vs another for our niece, nephew, son, daughter, etc. For children, this often means that they get a huge stack of toys and games during their birthday or Christmas, but there isn’t much rational behind these purchases regarding why they were bought and how they fit into a child’s development or interests. For autistic children and other children with special needs, it’s especially important to think before buying about these issues.

To help you keep some guidelines in mind when making purchases for your autistic children or those of others, I’ve tried to summarize some ways that toys can benefit children:

  • Spark imagination
  • Develop Eye Hand Coordination
  • Teach children about social roles

Spark Imagination

Toys can spark imagination in children and help them develop their storytelling abilities. These skills are important in improving a child’s communication abilities, as well as to develop their own personal narrative as they grow up and try to figure out who they are.

Develop Eye Hand Coordination

At their most basic level, toys and games are all about physical manipulation of objects. (Note here I’m only referring to physical toys and board games, not digital entertainment like iPad or video games.) By playing with toys and games, children develop intuitions about mass, shape, form, and eye-hand coordination.

Teach children about social roles

Toys can teach children about social roles. These roles may be beneficial or not beneficial to learn, depending on your point of view. For example, a girl may learn that toy guns aren’t for girls but that dolls are, reinforcing gender preferences, or a boy may learn that hitting people with toy swords isn’t acceptable behavior. By providing certain types of toys to children and discouraging or encouraging certain types of behavior, parents shape the social development of children.

Related to this point, toys can serve as a social bridge between children and others. Playing a multi-player board game forces a child to work in a group setting, while playing a toy that requires an adult for help develops social norms for teacher/student or colleague relationships between adults and children.

Please come back to catch my later posts as I continue discussing other benefits of toys and games in children’s lives.

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