From race, to gender equality, to explaining how diseases and disorders affect other people, talking to our kids about serious topics is never easy--but toys and games can help. Play is an essential part of learning and understanding the world around us, and while most toys are created just for fun, sometimes they can aid in helping all kinds of kids with emotional and social development.
To support the millions of families affected by Autism, Activision, the company behind the mega popular Skylanders toys-to-life video game brand, partnered with Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization, on a new line of limited edition toys.
"The brand's been around for roughly five years since we created the toys-to-life space, and over those years we've received a lot of communications from parents all over the world about how the franchise has connected with their kids and families on the spectrum," says Josh Taub, Senior Vice President, Skylanders Product Management, Activision. "It's been kind of a natural groundswell around the franchise and it seemed like a good way for the franchise to reach back out in to the community and support the education to drive awareness."
The new series of Power Blue Skylanders SuperChargers toys are doused with blue and white to reflect Autism Speaks' official colors. Kids can collect all four figures, including Splat, Trigger Happy, Splatter Splasher, and Gold Rusher, all of which appear blue in the game as well. The toys are on store shelves now at participating retailers in the U.S. and Europe and will be available starting April 1 in Canada.
Charlene DeLoach, a digital influencer at CharleneChronicles.com and a Toy Insider parent panelist, interacts with children on the spectrum on a daily basis, and is currently drafting a book about the best toys for children on the spectrum.
"Video games like Skylanders can assist children on the spectrum with training of virtual spatial capacities--a deficiency some children on the spectrum face. It also can assist with the ability to apply logic, develop teamwork skills with other players, enhance social and emotional functioning, and build strategic thinking, all of which are typical challenges for children with Autism," says DeLoach.
Though Skylanders was created with fun in mind, the developmental benefits it offers kids with Autism are largely recognized, making the partnership with Autism Speaks a really natural and organic fit.
"My nephew who's on the spectrum was really in to Skylanders, and the more I hung out with him and I saw his friends, the more I understood that this really means something to these kids and adults who are responding to Skylanders," says Matt Asner, Director of Corporate Development, Autism Speaks.
In addition to creating the limited edition figures, Activision will launch employee education and employee-donation matching programs in connection with Autism Awareness Month. Plus, in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day, employees will have the opportunity to participate in the Autism Speaks Walk on April 2 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Activision will also make donations to additional non-profit organizations that are also making a difference in the autism community.
"This has been a unified action by the entire Skylanders team, and that includes the developers and the toymakers. Everyone really got behind this and it feels great to bring something like this to the community. I'm really proud of what we're doing and I look forward to this being a very strong success by bringing awareness to the charity," says Traub.
One of the unique things about Skylanders is the depth of its character development. With hundreds of characters across all of the games in the brand, each one has different features, personality traits, powers and more. The variation between the characters can help kids choose their favorites, as well as serve as a foundation for parents to discuss the celebration of differences in people with their kids.
"One of the things that I really got excited about with Skylanders was the fact that they're kind of like superheroes, and one of the things that I think we need to do in the Autism community more often is celebrate the individual talents and character traits that our kids and adults with Autism have. With Skylanders, we're able to do that without even thinking about it, so I think there's a natural kind of play that we're having there, in the fact that these are superheroes that these kids are playing with and really these kids are superheroes as well," says Asner.
Above all else, the partnership between Activision and Autism Speaks promotes awareness in a fun, exciting way. The two companies will work together to bathe both Skylanders and our actual world in a blue light of fun.
"Autism doesn't have to be heavy all the time. We can have fun, these kids can have fun, and adults with autism can have fun. The important element of fun in this campaign is all-essential," Asner explains.
"It is great to see toy brands start to understand the impact toys can have in the lives of an Autistic child. Plus, the more awareness companies can bring about Autism, the work of Autism Speaks, and the daily challenges families with children on the spectrum face, perhaps someday, we'll understand more about how Autism works, and have more toys in the market that address their needs," says DeLoach.
Laurie Schacht also known as The Toy Insider Mom, has been covering the toy industry for more than 20 years. The Toy Insider produces an annual holiday gift guide in Woman's Day magazine, and also serves as a trusted resource for parents all year round at TheToyInsider.com and through social media.