6 Fun Educational Toys and Games for Special Needs Kids

Girl playing with Octopus Watch
credit: Octopus

Kids are fascinated by gadgets, and children with disabilities such as autism, sight impairments, and developmental delays are certainly no exception. Gadgets can make life more fun, even when kids are doing tasks like chores or homework that they might otherwise find boring or stressful. Here are six cool gadgets that your special needs children (and the rest of your family!) can enjoy.

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1. Octopus Watch

Introduced at CES 2017 by a company named Joy, the Octopus watch doesn't resemble an octopus at all, although its charging stand does. Offered in a rainbow of bright colors, the stylish-looking Octopus is designed to encourage independence and effective time management among children too young for smart watches.

Although potentially useful for just about any kid in the three-to-eight-year-old age group, the Octopus Watch is especially helpful to those with diabetes, hearing problems, ADHD, and Down's syndrome, according to Joy. The gizmo is icon-based, so it's easy for children to understand.

The watch works as a scheduler, assisting kids in developing positive behavior by associating a "reward stimulus" with completion of daily living tasks.

Parents can use their smartphones to send personal notes, as well as to set reminders about when it's time for kids to take prescribed medications, brush their teeth, leave for school in the morning, feed the goldfish, or whatever.

Through an optional gamification feature, you can allow your kids to unlock special rewards on the watch like Story Time, Ice Cream Sundae, and "Surprise Kiss," depending on the progress they're making.

The Octopus Watch is currently available for pre-order on IndieGoGo, with shipment expected in May, 2017. Pricing is $69.

2. Pete the Repeat Parrot

In the land of gadgets, Pete the Repeat Parrot is an oldie but always a goodie. You might have gotten to know Pete when you were a kid. Fortunately, the talking bird is still around today. First produced by Gemmy Industries back in 1991, the plush-covered mechanical bird is now made by a range of manufacturers. There are important reasons why Pete has turned into a classic.

A real parrot might not always repeat the words you say, no matter how hard your family tries. Pete, on the other hand, comes through all (or at least most of) the time.

Your kids will be delighted to hear Pete repeat every utterance of all people in the room (including the sounds of their own laughter). As you might recall, this well feathered bird moves his beak and flaps his wings engagingly when interacting with humans.

Aside from being lots of fun for the while family, Pete can work as an effective speech therapy tool, too. The toy can also encourage vocalization among children on the autism spectrum.

Plus, there's no denying that this bird is just plain adorable.

3. Adapted NYC Dancing Taxi

Kids seem magnetically attracted to toy cars. But children don't need to have good motor skills to be able to play with this adapted version of the NYC Dancing Taxi.

A company named Adaptive Tech Solutions has added a switch to this cute but powerful little taxi, which plays dance music while its wheels light up. The car moves, and moves, and moves! The vehicle includes bump-and-go-action, too, so it turns around on its own when it hits a wall or some other object.

When the car finally stops, your kid can get it going again simply by pressing the switch.

The action-packed toy costs about $50. The company recommends that you use an extension cord, too, so that your child can really let this baby loose.

4. Dance & Move BeatBowWow

This captivating dancing dog isn't aimed directly at special needs kids. Manufactured by educational toy specialist Fisher-Price, it's great for teaching skills like identifying colors and counting to any child at the right developmental level.

Yet because the gadget offers tons of movement, colorful lights, and awesome sounds, BeatBowWow holds special appeal for children with various types of disabilities.

Kids just need to press big buttons on the puppy's paws to see him bob his head back and forth, wag his tail, and wiggle his ears to the beat of the lively music. Numbers and colors printed on the pooch's cloth tail and legs help to reinforce lessons the children are learning.

Children can sing along and get up and dance, jiving to song lyrics and phrases like "1-2-3, follow me!" and "When you see blue, shake your head!"

5. Time Tracker Visual Timer & Clock

Do you want your kids to start learning better time management right away? If so, check out the Time Tracker Visual Timer & Clock. This parent-programmable gadget uses three colored lights and six sound effects to alert kids about time remaining for completing tasks.

Child playing with the Time Tracker Visual Timer & Clock

Let's say your elementary schoolers return home from school at about 3 p.m., with three hours to go before dinner. If you know you'll be at work, or you'll be busy in the kitchen, you might program the timer to remind the kids about know how much time they need to spend doing their homework or straightening their rooms before grabbing some play time. But that's just one example. Your family can use the timer gadget in practically endless other ways.

The lights and sound effects correspond to the amount of time remaining for each type of task. The light starts out at green, moves on to yellow, and ends at red.

The gizmo comes with a large, easy-to-read LCD display offering 180-degree viewing. Other features include a flip-out stand for tabletop use and a magnet on the back. Priced at around $40, the gadget requires either four AA batteries or an AC adapter (sold separately).

6. Leka Robot

If you have kids with autism, Down's syndrome, or multiple disabilities, you might want to invest in a cool new robot from Leka. Outfitted with fully integrated sensors and motors, Leka's product is eons more interactive than an ordinary toy robot. It's also highly customizable to meet the specific needs of your child.

Also previewed at CES, the motion-sensitive robot from Leka is aimed at using lights, sound, and vibration to deliver fun but educational games suited to the child's motor skills and social, cognitive, and emotional needs.

Kids adore playing with the robot because it's so predictable, stable, and infinitely patient, according to Ladislas de Toldi, Leka chief executive and founder.

The glowable, spherically shaped robot is currently available on pre-order at IndieGoGo. Leka is now working with experts on finalizing apps for the gadget which parents and other caretakers will be able to use with kids, de Toldi said, in an interview with TechWalla.

To foster autonomy, kids will be able to play some of the downloadable games by themselves. Other games will be multi-player, to help build social interaction skills and family togetherness.

The robot will also be able to guide children through daily living activities through on-screen pictograms and vocal instructions. Early apps have included Hide & Go Seek, Picture Bingo, and Time-Timer, for example.

Within each app, caregivers will be able to personalize the level of difficulty to suit the individual child. Leka is also working on a monitoring platform to help parents, teachers, and therapists analyze and share info about a child's progress.

Leka has now met its IndieGoGo funding goals, and the robot is slated for availability in the second half of 2017. Pricing for apps will be subscription-based, de Toldi said.

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