5 Creative Toys to Help Kids with Adaptive Needs 'Express Themselves' This Holiday Season
Lisa Radcliffe, founder and CEO of PunkinFutz, picks her top five must-haves for children with adaptive needs
Lisa Radcliffe still remembers the a-ha moment that inspired PunkinFutz, the company she founded that designs and sells toys specially made for children with adaptive needs.
The Brooklyn-based mom of two children with disabilities was chatting with her son Buster’s doctor about his clunky, “frightening-looking” orthotics — inserts for “adults and children with malalignment originating from feet,” per the Mayo Clinic — when she wondered aloud why the gear couldn’t look more like something a superhero would wear.
“The orthopedist turned to me and said, ‘Wow, that’s a really good idea, somebody should do that,’” Radcliffe, also the CEO of PunkinFutz, tells PEOPLE.
That somebody turned out to be Radcliffe, who says her initial goal to make “cool-looking” orthotics soon expanded as she realized there was a market for other similar medical devices that needed kid-friendly upgrades, like wheelchair bags.
Three years after launching PunkinFutz, the company now directly employs nine workers, all of whom have varying disabilities, as Radcliffe says she believes the community is best served by “people who really have first-hand knowledge” of how the company’s products are used.
“Every single product that we do we do because there was something missing in the marketplace,” she says, “and we took that and tried to make it all about self-expression for the child, all about creativity for that child and expressing themselves or enjoying the way every kid wants to.”
As the holiday shopping season begins, Radcliffe gives PEOPLE her top five PunkinFutz picks.
PunkinPitch Compression Vest & Sensory Toy
This deep compression vest for calming, focus and self-regulation bills itself as the “only fully breathable” vest on the market, and is ideal for children with sensory processing, ASD, ADHD and anxiety challenges. To make it even more appealing to kids, it comes with Velcro balls that’ll stick to the vest like in a game of paintball, and help hone kids’ gross and fine motor skills. (Ages 3+, $80)
PunkinPals Emoji Patches
Just like emojis add some sass to text messages, these patches add a burst of color and fun to kids’ everyday lives — and to their compression vests. Kids can choose from either the Crabster or Zuggey packs, both of which come with six patches that’ll help children both verbal and non-verbal express their emotions, according to the company. (Ages 3+, $25)
PunkinPies Wheelchair Bags
Shaped like a slice of pumpkin pie, these stylish bags keep the personal belongings of kids in wheelchairs close by. PunkinPies come in two different styles — one for manual wheelchairs, another for motorized wheelchairs — and work well with walkers, scooters, strollers and bicycles, making them ideal for sibling pairs. (Ages 3+, $35)
PomPoms Big & Little Sensory Toy
These colorful bursts of fun provide multiple options for therapeutic and sensory play, including catch and release, visual tracking, calming and quiet focus. They’re made with a soft elastic center, and are portable enough to be taken anywhere, whether it’s in a pocket or in a child’s hair, the company says. (Ages 3+, $12)
Marble Maze Hand-Strengthening Fidget
This dual-sided toy provides two options for sensory play. On one, kids can try to move a marble through a drawn-on maze, while the other is made of soft, scratchy material perfect for fidgeting. The fidgets are a great option for building fine motor skills, hand strength and finger articulation, PunkinFutz says. (Ages 3+, $22.50)