- What are the autism spectrum disorder symptoms and causes?
- Early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder: How to detect
- Asperger’s vs. autism vs. ASD: What is the difference?
- My child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder: What should I do?
- High functioning autism: What is it?
- Autism Spectrum Disorder treatment: What are the options?
- Autistic child: Managing the ups and downs
- Early behavioral intervention, brain plasticity, prevent ASD
- ASD child not coping at school: What should I do?
- Asperger’s child is addicted to video games: What can I do?
- Sensory toys for autism: 42 stimulating toys and games
When you’ve met one autistic child, you’ve met one autistic child.
When it comes to selecting toys for autistic kids, this phrase is especially true. Each child not only has specific needs, but also their own preferences and personality. All of these factors should be taken into consideration when choosing a toy or game.
What are sensory toys?
Sensory toys are toys that engage the senses, with the majority of sensory toys focusing on what is visual (seeing) or tactile (touch). Sensory experiences are vital for all children because they stimulate the brain and promote learning and brain development. Sensory play and the resulting stimulation of your child’s senses is an important part of cognitive development and is closely related to acquiring the many skills that each child needs to become a fully functional adult. Being able to process stimuli and respond appropriately affects all areas of learning, from writing to reading, and cutting to climbing.
Sensory toys for autism
Autism is commonly accompanied by sensory issues. Hypersensitive children are overly responsive to stimulus (also called sensory overload) and can be easily overwhelmed by noise, light, smell, touch, or movement. Hyposensitive children are under-responsive to stimuli and may have low response to pain and struggle with responsiveness to body signals that affect balance and coordination.
Sensory toys for kids promote cognitive development and they also provide the sensory feedback that many autistic kids need. When a child is busy looking for the sensations they like, they are distracted and unable to focus on other important tasks like listening, following instructions, focusing on a task, sleeping, eating, or socializing. They may also engage in unsafe behavior in an attempt to get the sensory stimulation they need. Using sensory toys for kids with autism is a way of providing the sensory stimulation needed in a safe way.
When looking for a sensory toy, think about the child the toy is for, and what sensations they both seek and avoid. If your kid loves to touch things, cuddle, and feel different textures, then consider a toy that is tactile. Tactile toys for autistic kids should ideally be durable and provide various tactile experiences.
If your child is averse to different textures or tactile stimuli, then it is a good idea to avoid toys that may be overstimulating in this area.
Likewise, if your child is visually oriented, loves bright colors or bright lights, then it is a great idea to consider toys that provide interesting visuals and are pleasing to the eye.
Kids that love movement (swinging, climbing, jumping) need toys that provide motor stimulation and for those that love loud music or noises, a toy that gives auditory stimulation is ideal.
It’s really important to remember to never force a child to use a particular sensory toy. Even if it seems to be the perfect toy, there may be something about it that makes them uncomfortable. For one child, putty may be the perfect tactile toy, while another child may prefer moon sand. This doesn’t mean that children shouldn’t be slowly encouraged to try things that are out of their comfort zone, but you should take the lead from your child on this one.
There are so many benefits of sensory toys for autistic children. Sensory toys help with relaxation, focus, and calming. Sensory toys also help develop social learning skills and aid in the development of gross and fine motor skills.
Choosing toys for autistic toddlers and children
Things to take into account when selecting a toy for autistic children include
- The child’s unique needs: What does the child like? What is the child interested in? What sensory stimulation does the child need?
- Stage of development: Sometimes, autistic kids may be at an earlier or different developmental stage than their same age peers. It is important to make sure that the toys you choose are suited to the child and where they are at developmentally.
- Learning through play: All children learn through play, and games that focus on development of language and social skill can be of great benefit to autistic kids.
- Safety: Toys, especially special needs toys, must be safe, fun, and appropriate.
- Educational value: Does the toy stimulate emotional, physical, and cognitive growth? Does the toy foster imagination and development?
Sensory toys buying guide
Toys for autistic toddlers
Toys for autistic kids
Gifts for Autistic Children
Chew toys for kids (Chewables)
Best toys for kids with nonverbal autism
All children need the opportunity to express themselves. These toys and activities are perfect for non-verbal autistic kids.
Great games for autistic kids
When considering games, here are some things to remember:
- Is the game very busy? A board that is visually overstimulating can be confusing.
- Games that are won by chance (e.g., by throwing dice or using a spinner) can be frustrating as there is no control over the process.
- Card games that have too many rules can be confusing and autistic kids may struggle to follow the rules. If the game is very abstract, adapted may need to be made to make the game more concrete.
- What is the developmental level of the child? If a game is too difficult, kids will not get any enjoyment.
The following games are suitable for autistic kids:
Sensory Detective: For this game, use items you have at home (small toys, beads, dried beans, rice, or wheat) and place them in a deep bucket. Make sure the toys are buried properly among the beads, beans, rice, or wheat. The child needs to close their eyes and retrieve the toys in the order you ask for them.
Hopscotch: All you need for a great game of hopscotch is a flat piece of tarmac or paving, chalk, and small objects like stones. Hopscotch is great for improving coordination, muscle tone, and for social interaction.
Scavenger hunts: With a few chocolate bars (or other treats), balloons, inexpensive toys, box of crayons you can create a scavenger hunt that is age-appropriate. Children can be directed to find items in a specific order and then return them to a sorting point to be categorized.
From the toys and games listed, it is easy to see that autism toys are really just toys that provide great sensory feedback. Toys are often created with a specific goal in mind, such as being visually stimulating or offering plenty of different textures. There are many toys on the market that look suitable, but may not be of the high quality and durability required for the unique needs of autistic kids. Where possible, ask for suggestions of trusted brands used by other parents of autistic kids.