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This Elmo toy tickles library's visitors

Published April 19, 2007


HUDSON - Librarian Karen Correa gently unwraps the toy, watching a big smiling face with large friendly eyes and an orange nose emerge from the box.

It's Elmo. But different. This version of the popular character is in a wheelchair.

And this Elmo is one of 30 new toys joining the adaptive toy collection at the Hudson Library on Saturday.

Correa unpacks and prepares the toys for children, parents, teachers, therapists - anyone interested in checking them out. The collection has been growing steadily for two years. Recent arrivals, in addition to Elmo, include Curious George Tickle and Giggle, Activity Ball Popper and Braille Uno cards.

Adaptive toys are unusual, some specifically designed for children, 12 months and up, who are developmentally delayed. Other toys are "adapted" for children with vision, speech or language impairments or physical limitations.

The new additions bring the collection's total to near 150. This number includes switches and easy-to-operate devices that cause toys to light up, make noise or vibrate - the kinds of things that children with specific learning needs find stimulating or enjoyable.

"The toys are very engaging, very motivational, some with recorded messages," says Joanie Miesner, a speech and language therapist who uses many of the toys in sessions with children at her business, Children's Speech Services in New Port Richey. "Imagine Mr. Potato (Head). You push in an eye and a recorded voice says 'eye,' " explains Miesner.

It's the special adaptations that set the toys apart - in practice and price. A Mr. Potato Head usually is priced about $10; an "adapted" toy, such as Miesner describes, lists at $139 through Enabling Devices, a New York business from which most of the toys in the collection come.

Miesner's involvement with the toys at the library goes far beyond her business. She's a member of Rotary Club of Keystone Sunrise and, with club member Jason Epler, chairs the committee overseeing the purchase of toys.

It was Miesner who first clued into having the specialized toys available locally. A client mentioned to her that the Palm Harbor Library in neighboring Pinellas County has such a collection.

That was two years ago. Miesner turned to the Rotary Club and proposed a collection of adaptive toys in the library. Rotary member Gail Fawcett co-chaired the project with Miesner in 2005. Each year, about $5,000 is donated from Rotary Keystone Sunrise to see that the collection is maintained and continues to grow.

One of the ongoing needs is replacement batteries for many of the items. Many community members have contributed batteries or funds for the collection. A plaque, created by Rick Risser, lists names of contributors and is displayed at the Hudson Library.

The toys can be signed out for 28 days or used in the library. Correa says the toys are well cared for.

"We only have to replace, remove or repair one or two a year," she says.

Correa says future plans include "putting together a bookmark that tells about the Adaptive Toys. That will help build public awareness of the collection. The goal is to add collections at other libraries."

[Last modified April 18, 2007, 23:20:45]

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