We ask Dr Amanda Gummer how the SEN sector can help shape play and enhance retailers' offerings.
The team at the Good Toy Guide has been answering our questions for a number of years, now.
So recent months have seen us hand the microphone to the audience and put your questions to the industry’s resident doctor.
However, with a growing focus on SEN toys, we couldn’t miss the chance to ask The Good Toy Guide’s and Fundamentally Children’s Dr. Amanda Gummer about the impact of the category on child’s play and its growing place at retail.
How can SEN toys aid play and how important are they at High Street retail?
Play is a great leveler. A child in a wheelchair, playing a board game around the table with his friends is, for that time, just another child playing with their mates, chatting, laughing and developing key social skills. They are not made to feel different or special, just included in the game the same way as anyone else.
Of course, not all children will be able to access all games or activities, but there are a huge number of children with additional needs (neurological or physical) and making toys that promote inclusive play is not just good for the children who can engage with it, it’s good for business.
In 2009, approximately 20 per cent of the school population was identified as having special educational needs. For children below the age of seven, the most common type of need was speech, language and communication difficulties.
Small tweaks to the design of a toy or game can have a big impact on the accessibility of the game. Simple things such as making the instructions visual can help a child with dyslexia understand how to play. Including different versions of a game to enable children of different abilities to engage with it.
The increasing personalisation that is possible with tech toys and apps provides a massive resource for parents of children with additional needs. There are many good apps that appeal to children on the autistic spectrum, as well as some that promote concentration skills and communication. We have seen examples of children who struggle with learning in a conventional classroom pick up a skill like reading with enthusiasm when it is presented via an app.
Retailers are also becoming more aware of the need for and the value of tailoring their offering to children with different needs. Toys R Us has already held an autism event, where stores dimmed their lights a little and kept the store calmer to help children with Asperger’s or autism enjoy the shopping experience. It’s great to see shops supporting children and families with special needs and recognising that one size does not fit all.
For retailers looking to go the extra mile, they could become a resource for parents by training their staff on child development and special needs. This would help parents make informed choices about toys that help their children play and develop customer loyalty in the process.