Heather Bennet, 36, has found a way to give kids with special needs access to adapted toys, without the high price tags. Even better, as a mother of a 4-year-old, I can vouch that they’re the coolest toys around these days—the ones for which our kids are tugging on our pant-legs and begging us. Cheerleading Minnie Mouse? Check. Dinosaur Train toys? Check. Bubble makers? You betcha! Doc McStuffins? That’s right! And Heather wants to help you find a way to make adapted toys like these accessible in your community too.
Named Katelyn’s Kloset after Heather’s 19-month-old daughter who has spina bifida, the concept is a lending library for adapted toys at Easter Seals Central and Southeast Ohio. You can purchase a membership to the toy library for $50 per year. With a membership, you could borrow two toys and two adaptive switches at a time for up to 30 days. If you want to avoid having your child go berserk in the toy closet, faced with numerous shelves of about 200 toys, you can reserve toys online and pick them up at the Easterseals Central and Southweast Ohio front desk.
“The idea came to me while Katelyn was an in-patient at our local hospital for 40 days and I had a lot of time to think,” says Heather. “Parents like my husband Edward and I have a lot of medical costs and adapted toys are expensive. I wanted to help other families like ours and level the playing field when it comes to toys.”
An industrial engineer who works for a major car company, Heather took a workshop on adapting toys when she saw that a single adapted toy could cost $200 or more. “That’s cost prohibitive, especially for a toy that a child could get bored with or outgrow very quickly,” she says.
So she learned how to add buttons and switches to all kinds of toys to make them accessible for kids of all abilities. Some adapted toys, like an action figure, can be controlled with the blink of a child’s eyes. Others, like Minnie Mouse, can be handled by pushing buttons with a foot.
“We can adapt toys for any level of fine motor skills, for children who have developmental delays to kids who are quadriplegic who can move only their head or eyes,” Heather explains. While children play, they learn cause and effect and may, in some cases, develop their fine motor skills.
Heather and a team of volunteer engineering students from Ohio State University will try to adapt almost any toy, given the chance. Easter Seals Central and Southeast Ohio accepts toy donations for this purpose. Easily adaptable toys include remote control toys, action figures with lights and sounds, plush singing toys and any battery-operated toy with one or two switches.
Heather is game to help other Easterseals locations in your community get adapted toy libraries up and running too. “I’d love to establish more toy libraries in other cities and beyond,” says Heather. “My daughter Katelyn is a blessing who has inspired us to help others.”
You can also learn more at the Katelyn's Krusade Facebook page.