Adaptive Toy Play Dates
When: 2:30-4 p.m. Jan. 11, Feb. 8 and March 8
Where: Murrayville Library, 4796 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville
More info: www.hallcountylibrary.org or 770-532-3311
The SNAP program always accepts monetary donations or used adaptive toys.
New toys for Christmas can be a financial burden for any family. But for parents of special-needs children, finding toys to fit their child’s condition can be difficult and often unaffordable.
Thanks to a program at the Murrayville branch of the Hall County Library System, challenged kids can check out toys adapted to fit their needs for free.
“Having a child with special needs is very expensive between doctors and therapies and any kind of equipment or special diets,” said Margaret-Ann Hopper, whose 4-year-old son Ayden has Down Syndrome. “To use these toys (at the library) is very helpful to relieve some of the costs, because they are very expensive.”
Adaptive toys are an essential part of the education and development for special-needs children but can be very costly, said Lisa MacKinney, director of the Hall County Library System. For example, a toy that might cost $7 at a retail store might cost $70 or more with special-needs adaptations, she said.
So the Hall County Library System decided to lend a hand.
“These families have so many stressors that it’s nice to have one thing that they don’t have to put down their debit card for,” MacKinney said.
That’s where the Special Needs Adaptive Playthings program comes in. Established in 2006, the program started with a $5,000 grant from Jackson Electric Membership Corporation’s “Operation Roundup” charitable foundation. Then the library partnered with Challenged Child and Friends, a nonprofit that provides educational services and support to children with disabilities, to purchase nearly 50 adaptive toys.
The playthings are housed at the Murrayville branch. It became the designated special-needs library after the East Hall branch closed.
Brian Hood, branch manager at the Murrayville library, explained the toys are changed in various ways to account for limited motor skills, auditory or visual handicaps or sensory issues. For example, some have buttons that can be pressed with the forearm or face rather than fingers. Others have sound or light adjustments, such as a volleyball that rings when it’s thrown.
MacKinney and Hood demonstrated a velcro vest and ball set.The ball sticks to the front of the vest on the child’s chest, so children with limited motor skills or paraplegic children can play catch.
MacKinney said these adaptive toys can cost up to $200 each, meaning many special-needs families can only afford one or two for their child, if any. But the SNAP program lets children play with several toys or test new ones. This playtime allows parents to see which ones work best for their children’s specific needs before purchasing, she said.
Hopper has done this several times with her son. Ayden, who will turn 5 in January, picks out new toys to check out from the library while she sorts through a catalogue to find toys fitting his development.
While the toys are targeted toward special-needs children, anyone can play with them or check them out. Hood said sometimes special-needs adults come to use the toys as well.
The toys Ayden gravitates toward has music and lights, his mom said.
“This last time we got toys, I was excited because he was actually able to figure them out and use them appropriately,” Hopper said. “It builds a little bit of confidence that he has the capability to do some things independently.”
Hopper said with the SNAP program and preschool at Challenged Child and Northeast Georgia Speech Center, Ayden is thriving especially since he survived Leukemia this past year. She said he loves going to the library, and the staff at the Murrayville branch know him by name.
“We love the library and we’re very thankful for this program,” Hopper said. “It’s really nice to know that we’re being supported by the community and that the library wants to meet the needs of families like ours.”
The program is particularly special to Hood, who grew up with a severely challenged cousin. He is now dedicated to helping as many children as possible.
“It’s such a great service to be able to help a child that’s challenged,” Hood said. “It’s special when you can bring a smile to that child’s face.”
Part of his dedication resulted in forming monthly adaptive toy play dates. Special-needs children come to the Murrayville branch and play with the toys with others kids like themselves.
In addition, the Murrayville library houses other accessible services such as magnifiers and electronic readers, which MacKinney said is useful not only for special-needs people but for the area’s large senior population.
“It’s just another service that we want to provide to help every child and every citizen succeed and enjoy their life,” MacKinney said. “What better way to enrich our community than to let a child who has so many challenges get a little extra development and a little extra skill set and have fun doing it? What could be better than that?”
The Hoppers are just one of many families who have reaped the benefits of SNAP. MacKinney still gets emotional when she remembers a story from when the program first launched.
An old man came to her desk in tears and said, “This program is going to change my family’s life.”
“This program is really special to me because I get to see the impact of how people were like, ‘this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,’” MacKinney said. “Even though you know libraries change lives, it’s not every day you get to see the emotional impact of the change it makes.”