The other day, one of my friends asked me for advice about selecting plush animals for kids with visual impairments as they were preparing to buy a birthday gift for a family member. I was super excited to help out with this, because I have amassed quite the plush animal collection over the years, but never stopped to think about what makes a really great plush animal for blind and low vision kids. Here are my thoughts on selecting plush animals for kids with visual impairments, along with some input from my college-aged friends with varying degrees of blindness and low vision.
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What size animal should I choose?
I’m not recommending one specific size of stuffed animal, but I do recommend choosing an animal that can easily be picked up and moved around. Larger stuffed animals have more surface area for kids to touch, while smaller stuffed animals tend to have more interesting details and textures.
Look for embroidered details
Kids love to explore things by touch, and this is especially true for kids with blindness and low vision, since they get a lot of information about the world through touch. Instead of worrying about plastic eyes or parts falling out, try to stick with embroidered details that can be felt with small hands or fingers. This is especially perfect for kids that are Braille users!
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Examine different textures
My childhood teddy bear had an interesting sock-like texture that is a bit difficult to describe. I really liked the unique fabric and I was able to put it against my skin with no issues. Even today, I like to look for fabrics with a unique texture or weave, as I enjoy feeling different fabrics. Since blind and low vision kids are not as focused on how a stuffed animal looks usually, there’s more opportunity to explore different fabrics and textures.
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Make sure it doesn’t shed
Some stuffed animals have super fluffy fur that can easily shed or rub off onto fabric or clothing. There have been times I have been covered with little fuzzballs because a stuffed animal started shedding on me when I hugged it, or the texture of a stuffed animal would change drastically over time due to shedding. Run your hands over the stuffed animal and see if any fur comes loose or shows up on clothing.
Make sure that the limbs of the stuffed animal can be pulled or tugged on without ripping off, as many kids will apply pressure when tugging on their stuffed animal’s limbs or accidentally close a door on them. Detached limbs can also create a potential choking hazard for young children or real animals.
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Choose animals with high contrast colors
This story is not about a stuffed animal, but rather about my friend’s cat. The cat is the same color as the couch and surrounding carpet, so when they lie down on either surface, I have difficulty seeing them. This has led to me thinking the cat was missing, or accidentally sitting/stepping on them. We jokingly refer to the cat as the “poor contrast kitty” because it blends in so well with the background of their apartment.
If the option is available, look at stuffed animals with high contrast colors that would pop against backgrounds so that they can easily be located. For example, a stuffed brown bear pops against a room with light colored flooring, while a white or light colored bear might blend in for a child with poor contrast vision.
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Avoid having hard items or rods inside
A friend of mine who has been blind since they were a child was telling me about a stuffed animal a family member had bought them that had foam rods inside to support the shape of the toy. They thought that the structure inside the animal would be beneficial for my friend, since they are sensitive to texture, but it turned out to be the exact opposite since they found the rods to be super strange feeling. I also wasn’t a fan of the foam rods or hard textures, however if there are any parents of kids who do like having firm, structured stuffed animals, I’d love to hear from them as well.
Pay attention to the stuffing
Two of my friends who have been blind since birth were telling me how much they loved “noisy” stuffing inside stuffed animals, referring to the plastic pellets that would make noise inside as they would love around. A different friend with low vision was telling me about their favorite stuffed animals that had lots of stuffing inside and that didn’t lose their shape easily. Look for animals that will not fall apart when pressure is applied, as chances are it will accidentally be sat on, trapped under a pillow, or stepped on at some point.
I am a huge fan of stuffed animals, and have gladly helped friends with selecting plush animals for kids with visual impairments. It’s important to remember that every child is different, and there are some that might not have the same preferences as my friends for stuffed animals, or they might not even like stuffed animals at all. Let this post be a guide, and not a set of rules on how to select stuffed animals for blind kids and kids with low vision.
I wish you the best of luck in finding the perfect plush!