One of the biggest problems we have is buying toys for our son. First off, we have to limit the number of toys he has access to at any given time so he doesn’t go into sensory overload. Second, we are paranoid about toxins, chemicals, effluence and the like, so we try to buy stuff that will not poison him or fall apart in his hands. Third, every toy has to have a use over and above being a toy. For example, if we buy Raymond a train, he has to tell us which train he wants, thus creating a language opportunity. Then, the train he picks out will be used with the appropriate train set with mommy or daddy, thus creating another language opportunity during play. We keep his train sets boxed up, so he has to ask for whichever set he wants to play with, and he has to clean up whichever train set he has out prior to getting another one. This cuts down on clutter and forces language. Toys aren’t just for playing anymore, or rather playing isn’t just for fun. It has a purpose, and its purpose is development.

Kids use play to develop. The studies I’ve read show that play is essential to building creativity, decision making and abstract thought. However, our son has difficulty doing some of that himself, or will get stuck endlessly recreating a video he watched about Thomas the Tank Engine. We have to help him break out of that loop, so we do it by introducing challenges into his play that he has to overcome. I’ll get into that a little more when I talk about DIR behavior therapy, but suffice it to say that we have made a lot of progress using that method.

So let’s talk about toys. The first couple links I’m going to give you will get you on the safety path, because nobody wants their kid chewing on a train covered in lead paint.

Environmental Working Group – http://www.ewg.org – This is a non-profit focused on finding toxins in every day products. This site is a wonderful source of things to avoid and get out of your home. This isn’t so much a toy toxicity site, as an overall household toxicity site. Still, it does list some chemicals, like Bisphenol A, that are used in toy manufacturing.

Healthy Toys – http://www.healthytoys.org – I’m sure most moms have heard of this site. These folks to an amazing job finding toxic toys and rooting them out.

Healthy Child – http://healthychild.org – I’m on the fence about this one, but that’s mainly because I see Harvey Karp’s face staring at me, and he has stated point blank that toxins do not play a role in developmental delay. However, read it over and see if it sounds reasonable. They do seem to have some relevant and well written articles, so you be the judge.

Let me take a minute to acquaint everyone with a term I learned in a Green Building class. Its called “Greenwashing,” and a number of companies are doing it. Greenwashing is misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. For example, the auto industry is currently greenwashing ethanol because it is renewable. However, ethanol burns hotter and faster, meaning cars burn more of it, and it still creates CO2, which means it has a bigger carbon footprint. Although it is renewable, it is not truly “green” as it causes more harm to the environment than it does good. There is a lot more information on greenwashing at the Greenwashing Wiki Site.

Okay, on to the toys! I’ve listed a few sites where we order toys.

The Therapy Shoppe – http://www.therapyshoppe.com – Great source of therapy related toys

Super Duper – http://www.superduperinc.com – Another great place for therapy toys and educational materials

Professional Development Programs – http://www.pdppro.com – The best place for low cost, high quality OT toys. Thanks to our former OT Cindy for telling us about it.

Southpaw Enterprises – http://www.southpawenterprises.com – These guys are great too, but the price tag is higher as they typically sell to schools and therapists. Still, we bought our platform swing from these folks and it was worth every penny.

Also, we get a lot of toy advice from our therapists. In fact, probably 50% of the toys we buy come directly from therapist recommendations. We were very fortunate that a couple OT’s from our local school system had a class on therapeutic toy buying last year, and that really helped us reorient our buying. Below are some lists from folks on the internet and some corporations that are trying to help out.

Preschooler Autism Toys on Amazon – This woman did a great job putting together a list of toys you can buy right there. Check them out and see if they’ll work for your child.

Toys for Autism– We haven’t purchased anything from these guys, but the toys look pretty good.

Discovery Toys – They make great, high quality toys. We have several things from them.

Ikea – They have some surprising finds. The “egg chair” or Lomsk is one of Raymond’s favorite places to sit and relax. They used to have a crash pad for about $80, but I don’t see it on their site. Poke around in the store. You are bound to find something good.

The real key, for us, is multiple use. Does the toy only do one thing? Then its probably not the right toy for us. We need multiple uses from every toy, because we spend all of our extra money on therapy. Shop for value, but also shop for quality. Our theory is that one multipurpose $30 toy is better than 3 $10 single purpose toys.

Also, my pal Bonnie over at Autism Family has some similar hints and additional sites on her site. You can check it out at Bella Online. Happy shopping!

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