Inclusion is about offering the same opportunities to everyone. As a specialty retailer, most of you are offering in-store events to the community multiple times per month. What are the chances you have a child with special needs join in on the happenings? Well, statistics tell us that 1 out of every 6 kids (15% of the child population) participating in your in-store events has a developmental disability. Probabilities are high that you are providing activities for both kids that are typically developing as well as kids with disabilities like autism, Down syndrome or cerebral palsy.

Your specialty store may just be the “go-to” place for fun activities and events in the community. How do YOU ensure you include everyone?

First of all, kids are more alike than they are different. Inclusion can come naturally if you are open to it—no additional training required. Blogger, Ellen Seidman, of Love that Max says it best, “Commit to inclusion not because it is the law, but because it makes your program better—for every kid.”

How can you create amazing, inclusive in-store events? Let’s start with some ideas to keep in mind as you plan your next event for kids of all abilities:

  • Inclusion can come naturally if you are open to it. Your store and staff should be welcoming to all kids and their families that walk through the door. Everything else will follow suit.
  • Share your events with the special needs community. Why not? As stated before, kids are more alike than they are different. Caregivers will always be the expert and advocate for the child with special needs.
  • Partner up! No training is required to include kids with special needs in your activities, but if you want some expertise, partner up with a local therapy group, special education program or disability organization.
  • Let go of perfection. Create a plan for your event, but know that it is important to go with the flow. Being flexible with how the kids are engaging and interacting will make all the difference. Take note of the successes for future events!

If you want to go above and beyond to include kids with special needs in your events, here are some tips to ponder:

  • Choices. Play should be intrinsically motivating. If you can offer multiple activities at one time, this caters to the types of play each kid most enjoys.
  • Chill out zone. Create a quiet spot with pillows and books for times when kids need a moment to get themselves together.
  • Visual supports. Visual supports can be as simple as a schedule on the wall, pictorial instructions at the activity tables or even implementing social stories on your website for caregivers to prepare their child with special needs before the event.
  • Materials. When preparing supplies, provide different options. For example, glue sticks, glue bottles and even bowls of glue with paint brushes could all be options for kids to explore. Kids that can’t squeeze a bottle may be able to use the bowl and brush more easily and not have to ask for help.

The journey to offering inclusive events and activities in your store benefits all children (with and without special needs) while strengthening the community. Here’s to creating inclusive opportunities in your specialty store!

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Ahren Hoffman, CTRS, CPE is the Director of Education & Training at ASTRA. Ahren has been a member of the toy industry since 2007 developing content for toys and play products, contributing to publications and actively taking part in the lecture circuit presenting to organizations and professionals in the field of child development as well as members of the toy industry. Ahren oversees the development and enhancement of education and training materials for ASTRA members to keep a pulse on topics shaping the toy industry. Contact Ahren at