Use Photos to Customize Special Needs Tools and Toys

Digital photos + computer creativity = super solutions for your child

With the popularity of digital photography and the availability of software that helps users easily manipulate those images, parents of children with special needs have lots of fun opportunities to customize the tools and toys their kids need. Try these five ideas for starters.

Print Your Own Money

Photo by Terri Mauro

I think it was in one of my favorite parenting books, Transforming the Difficult Child, that I first saw the idea of making funny money with your child's picture in the middle to use as credits in a behavior management system. I designed my own "bills" in a computer design program, in various denominations of credits, and pulled a digital photo into the middle so that each of my kiddos could have personalized currency. But you could just as well print a digital photo at the right size (or snip down an existing snapshot), place it in the middle of a piece of play money, and use a copy machine to do your money-printing.

Make Your Own Children's Book

Image courtesy of

The blog has a great idea for a do-it-yourself children's book -- take photos of yourself performing your morning routine, affix sound effects from a .pdf file provided (like the "squees" at left), and place the images in a small photo album. Adapt this idea for your family's special needs by taking photos of your child's morning routine, or the steps needed to do a task, or the experience of going to the doctor, or whatever issue your child will most benefit from reading about repeatedly. Depending on your photo software, you may be able to add captions, sound effects, or other text right in the computer to print together with the photo.

Design Your Own Stickers

Photo by Terri Mauro
Sherri Osborn, the guide to Family Crafts, has some instructions for making customized stickers using your own photos and clip art, and printing them onto label paper. A sticker with your child's face on it might be a cool reward for a job well done. Stickers with your picture and a reminder might be useful to ensure that oft-forgotten tasks don't fall by the wayside, while stickers with a picture of the foods your child is allergic to might be a good thing to stick on a shirt during parties or activities. What uses can you think of for photo stickers?

Form Your Own Flash Cards

Photo by Terri Mauro

Sure, you can purchase flash cards with photos on them to help your child learn words or practice sounds, but you may find ones customized with images from your home and environment to be more fun and motivating. Print out a photo and glue it to the front of an index card, then write the target word on the back. If you're in need of flash cards that illustrate basic math concepts, your child may be enticed into practice by little pictures of familiar items illustrating different amounts. An Old Maid-style card game with pictures of friends and family members might be just the way to get some interactive play going.

Issue Your Own Badges

Photo by Terri Mauro
My son is crazy for those ID badges that seem to hang around everybody's neck these days. So I ordered some blank white plastic cards and an I.D. card hole punch from an office-supply place, and at his direction I take pictures of friends and family members, print them at the right size, and tape them onto the badge. Cheap lanyards, which I've found available at sports stores and party stores, complete the look. It makes for some nice pretend play -- and if you're going to be away for a while, hanging a picture of yourself around your child's neck might also be a nice way of staying connected.

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