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Embedding Sensory Preference Into Toys to Enhance Toy Play in Toddlers With Disabilities

DiCarlo, Cynthia F. PhD; Schepis, Maureen M. PhD; Flynn, Linda PhD

doi: 10.1097/IYC.0b013e3181abe1a1

Playing with toys as a means of environmental engagement has long been considered important in early child development (D. J. Messer, D. Rachford, M. E. McCarthy, & L. J. Yarrow, 1987; M. Wolery, M. G. Werts, & M. Holcombe, 1994). However, children with highly significant disabilities often engage in toy play less frequently than their peers without disabilities (P. M. Blasco, D. B. Bailey, & M. A. Burchinal, 1993; C. F. DiCarlo, D. H. Reid, & S. B. Stricklin, 2003; M. B. Langley, 1985) and frequently need specialized support to promote toy play (J. J. Ivory & J. A. McCollum, 1999; M. B. Langley, 1985; S. Sandall, 2003). In this study, preference assessment technology was used to identify preferred sensory attributes of very young children. Once identified, those attributes were embedded into a toy previously identified as nonpreferred. The initial paired-item presentation consisted of a rotation of 4 toys from the natural environment using a child-directed approach, which consisted of choice, prompting, and praise for completion of functional toy play. An additional condition added the child's preferred sensory attribute to a nonpreferred toy using the above-mentioned procedures. Results indicated that the addition of a preferred sensory attribute increased selection of that toy with 2 of 3 children and resulted in increased independent functional toy play for all 3 children.

School of Human Ecology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge (Dr DiCarlo) and University of New Orleans (Dr Flynn), Louisiana; and Center for Early Communication and Learning, J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center, Morganton, North Carolina (Dr Schepis).

Corresponding Author: Cynthia F. DiCarlo, PhD, School of Human Ecology, Louisiana State University, 338 Human Ecology Bldg, Baton Rouge, LA. 70803 (

©2009Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.