When a baby is born with brain injury, it is important that they receive as much external stimulation as possible to help them develop their motor and sensory functions. Brain injury at birth can not only mean problems with moving, but also speaking, hearing and being able to see.
Often one of the first indications that something may be wrong with a seemingly healthy baby is a failure to react to auditory or visual stimuli, such as music, loud noises, lights or mobile toys which hang above their cot.
Babies all develop at their own rate – and babies are born with their own tastes and a sense of what they like and do not like, so if a baby fails to react to a certain stimulus it does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong.
However, at three months, six months, nine months and 12 months a progression in development should take place, from trying to sit up and reach for toys or react to their surrounding by laughing or even crying – to trying to stand, walk and talk. Babies who are left in cots and not given attention when young may falter in their development and remain silent and immobile. But a baby whose parents take the time to play with them, talk to them and provide them with stimuli such as toys and interaction with other children should begin to develop speech, walking and social skills within the first 12-18 months.
A baby’s surroundings are extremely important to them, regardless of whether they have a brain injury or not. Babies at first can do very little fro themselves and therefore textures can be very important to them – even the interior lining of the carry cot can be fascinating if they can feel a slightly rough texture or a pattern when they touch it with their fingertips.
This is why children’s toys are often literally all bells and whistles, as well as being bright colours and different fabrics and materials.
For babies unable to speak, see, hear or walk – or even move properly in their environment – toys are not only vital to add to their everyday experiences, but also to help them develop to the very best of their abilities and learn about their surroundings – which in the future they will need to do to stay safe and negotiate their home environment.
Many therapies for patients with acquired traumatic brain injury (TBI) involve repetition and almost game-like therapies which reprogram the brain to learn the skills and movements which might have been lost after the brain injury. Some adult patients may feel that carrying out therapies which appear to be a return to their early years is frustrating – but repetition is how the human brain takes in and stores information, memories and new skills.
For babies, any toy can be a new experience – and usually with tiny babies the first action is to place the toy or object in their mouth, as this is the primary sensory area for a tiny baby.
Babies also have very sensitive hearing and eyesight, so bright lights, loud noises – and even extremes of temperature – should be avoided, as the body’s temperature regulator in a baby is not as developed as a child or adult human body.
It is also important to remember that babies with brain injury may not react in the same way as other babies, who will cry, whimper, shake their fists or laugh in response to stimuli which scare them or which they perceive as fun.
Therapists treating a baby or small child with brain injury will devise a treatment plan involving toys which stimulate the areas of the brain which may not be as reactive as they should be – and will also advise families on the best toys for a brain injured child.
Children with deaf-blind disabilities would, for example, benefit from sensory experiences such as lights which they may be able to perceive if they have some basic sight which detects shapes or light; or tactile sensations they can enjoy, from the feel of a soft toy with different textures to a breeze blowing gently on their face or hand.
Children also love playing with their brothers and sisters, as well as their parents and other family members, so the act of playing with a child suffering from brain injury can help them assimilate new information and learn new skills, as well as enjoying their playtime and toys.
Here are some of the leading online suppliers of toys for children with special needs:
- The US website Fat Brain Toys is full of ideas for toys suitable for children with special needs – including autism, brain injury, dyslexia and blindness.
- Sometimes toys for children with special needs can be more expensive, but Kaleidoscope Toys offers toys for children with brain injury at much reduced prices.
- The website All4KidsUK also offers specially adapted toys for children with brain injury or special needs – and is a one-stop shop for advice on holidays for children with special needs, as well as services and products.
- The Sensory Toy Warehouse offers toys from around £1.50 which are designed to offer special needs and brain injured children a wide range of sensory experiences, from tactile toys to light and sound effects and toys to chew, squeeze and stroke.
- Other online toy shops offering toys for special needs and brain injured children are ToyShopUK and Special Needs Kids.
- Understanding child brain injury symptoms (cerebralpalsyresource.wordpress.com)
- Research into children’s brain injuries gets $1.6M boost (calgaryherald.com)