Four experiments investigated contact and manipulative activity with play materials in severely handicapped children functioning at the 1--2-year-old stage of normal development. Experiment 1 found that many mentally handicapped children were as quick to contact and manipulate a novel object as were comparable normal children and that auditory (or visual) feedback seemed to be effective in sustaining attentive activity with an object. A small minority of the handicapped children, however, were very slow to contact either familiar conventional toy or a novel object. Experiments 2 and 3 found that adding stimulus features such as lights, sounds or bright colours to an object had no consistent effect on the latencies of these 'slow responders' to contact the object. Experiment 4 found that the amount and kinds of manipulative play of mentally handicapped children differed from the normal children only in that they interacted less with an attendant adult and displayed less frequent representational use of toys in pretend play. The play of both normal and handicapped children was relatively unaffected by whether only a few (four) or many (15) toys were provided.