When is a toy more than a toy? When it can open a seemingly closed door, tap an imagination thought dry, or be used in play therapy for hope and healing.
We recently got a letter from the loving occupational therapist of a little boy at The Home for the Innocents. It was a letter that changed our lives forever.
Turns out a little boy in her care, a beautiful boy unable to walk or talk or stand on his own, brain damaged because of abuse he sustained, scared and vulnerable every day...for the first time in years made "happy sounds" after receiving Meowsic on his 7th birthday. He memorized the witty kitty songs, hummed along to them, and laughed again a laugh that lights up the halls. When this wonderful therapist bought him Woofer, magic ensued again and now he hoots and howls to "Pepper the Puppy."
All kids, regardless of their strengths or limitations, have a spirit of curiosity and creativity that we at B. marvel at and try to spark. Our toys have received a lot of kudos in our two and a half years on the market. None have touched us as deeply as being highly rated by Able Play™ for children with special needs. Fourteen of our toys have earned 5 stars by AblePlay's comprehensive rating system which focuses on the developmental areas of cognitive, sensory, communications and physical abilities of a child. To think that our toys not only foster fun, but also healing, growth and development, is a humbling honor. And a profound privilege.
All kids are more alike than different. All are special in different ways. Some kids are extra special. Or need extra help. Extra attention. Extra love. But through the eyes of our hearts, our kids—all kids—are just kids. Just?! "Just" the most important little people in our lives. I never could have imagined how close to home "special needs" would come. In the flash of an instant. A year and a half ago, my 9 year old niece suffered an unthinkable stroke in the middle of the night, while she slept. All of a sudden and admittedly with a newfound lens, I began to look at all toys (and all products) differently. It's been a year since Amy Wickstrom, play therapist, child counselor and founder of More Than A Toy interviewed me about product development. She and I clicked immediately because, like Amy, I firmly believe in the heart-opening power of play. I took that rare interview in Ana's honor. I always have a soft spot in my heart for someone in need. But honestly, B. never officially set out to make toys that helped kids with special needs—just to make toys that would encourage imaginative and emotional and HAPPY growth and exploration in all children. Turns out our efforts, in fact, help a LOT of children who need an extra boost in certain areas of development. Toys can be, as Amy says, "more than a toy." They can be a therapeutic path to healing, an enticement to trying, a practice of skills, a respite from pain, a few minutes of peace for parents, or years of joy for children.
Which brings me right back around to Anastasia. It’s one of those serendipitous paths in life that brought me to a point where toys I work on are highly rated for kids with special needs… just at the point when a child I dearly love has special needs. I will never ever again be able to design a toy and not remember this.
For my sister, and all of you who carry the extra load of a child who needs 'extra' care, I wish support and strength, programs and progress. My sister Karin did not know how strong she had to be until she had to BE that strong. I am in awe of her—and all of you—who, day in and day out, love with the strength of a mountain, hope with the depth of an ocean, and dream with the immensity of the sky.
Ana has remarkably re-learned to ride a bike since I took that interview. She is talking more and more. She is working on her fine pincer grasp with her affected hand. So, as my sister and I seek toys that foster that skill in an entertaining way (stickers, mosaics, beads, Legos), I dream of toys that are...for Ana, and for so many kids like her...more than a toy.
With love and admiration,
This very touching video by UAJessFam to a song by Martina McBride reminds us that there but for the grace of God go we.