So you’re looking to find some great autism toys, right? I mean, not just any toy. You’ve already been through a bunch, and you’re looking for the right autism toys for your child. Well, know that you’re not alone! You’re one of the countless other parents learning to thrive despite the challenges that come with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Before you get back to your search, there are a few foundational things you need to know. I covered these things in a previous post titled “How to find the best sensory toys for autism.” Because the content is so relevant, I need to emphasize the main points here in this discussion.
Finding autism toys isn’t so much about the latest craze. You need to have a good understanding of your child and what, in particular, the toy offers your child.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Knowing what type of reinforcement the toy offers your child this is the key to finding the right autism toys. And this is true regardless of your child’s age. So whether you have a toddler or an autistic teenager, the same principle applies.
Understanding your Child’s Sensory Needs
So what do I mean by “understanding your child’s sensory needs?” Well, you already know how uniquely wired your child is. And a lot of that wiring has to do with the sensory needs your child naturally has. Let me explain.
Your child’s sensory inclinations revolve around the different sensory experiences. These are touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. Those are the broad categories through which your child experiences the world. And your child will naturally have a stronger inclination for a particular category type.
Otherwise known as tactile sensory experiences, touch-related activities include rubbing, picking, and scratching. You know your child has a strong inclination for physical contact if he or she becomes preoccupied with the following:
- Picking on items (strings or clothing)
- Rubbing on certain textures
- Handling or squeezing particular items
- Patting or slapping
This category describes sensory input experienced with the mouth. For some children, this involves the mouthing of certain textures combined with the experience of taste. Here are a few ways your child may display an oral-sensory inclination:
- Mouthing (putting in the mouth) solid, non-food items
- Chewing on non-food objects
- Sucking on non-food objects
Some children have a strong inclination for visual sensory input. In other words, they are drawn to and can spend exorbitant amounts of time looking at specific items. Here are some examples of what a visual-sensory inclination might look like:
- Preoccupation with shiny objects (metallic, glittery)
- Obsession with lights or colorful items
- Fixation with watching movement (string-like objects, solid objects)
Some children have an extreme affinity or aversion to smells. For them, the olfactory sense is a unique way through which they experience the world. Have you noticed any of the following in your child?
- Frequent smelling of certain items
- High sensitivity or aversion to certain smells
- Calmness when certain smells are present
The final category involves how individuals process auditory input. Some children have a strong attraction to particular sounds. Here are some ways that you may recognize this affinity:
- Repeatedly listening to certain sounds, parts of songs
- Repeated humming or vocalizations
- Repeatedly hitting an object to produce a particular sound
Purpose of Autism Toys
One of the primary purposes of autism toys is to provide appropriate sensory input. So let’s say your child has oral-sensory issues where she chews on pencils. In this case, a suitable replacement might be to use a chew necklace.
The goal is that she still gets the oral-sensory input she does from chewing. But the chew tube allows her to get the sensory input appropriately.
Let’s say you have a son that repeatedly hums due to the auditory input he receives from the behavior. But when he hums, he gets extremely loud and disruptive to others.
An equivalent sensory experience might be to allow him to use headphones as soon as he starts to hum. This way, he gets the auditory input he needs. So one of the purposes of autism toys is to provide an appropriate sensory experience.
Identifying your Child’s Inclinations
Now that you have an idea of how behaviors look in each category, which would you say most describes your child? Are his or her preferences more visual? Auditory? Oral-sensory? Or would it be a combination of a few?
Understand that your child may have more that one area of inclination. In general, it’s always good to have several autism toys available as options for your child. There are a few reasons for this.
First, it’s unhealthy for your child to have an obsession with just one toy item.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s okay to have a preference for an item. However, if your child can’t cope with any other alternatives, then Houston, we’ve got a problem! If he or she can’t deal with when preferred items are unavailable, your child likely has a significant issue with coping.
Second, one of the goals of parenting is to prepare your child for independence and integration. Coping is one of the critical skills necessary for independence and social integration. Parenting involves lovingly and skillfully walking your child through how to cope.
Knowing which Autism Toys to look for
So now that you know your child’s inclinations, the challenge then becomes the kind of autism toys you need to look for. Because of the many types of autism toys, it’s helpful to think of them in terms of function. In other words, what kind of sensory input does the toy provide? Keep in mind that that sensory input needs to directly correlate to the sensory needs of your child. If it doesn’t correspond, the toy won’t be effective.
Top 10 Autism Toys
Here are the top 10 Autism Toys:
1. Quility Premium Kids Weighted Blanket
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Looking for a great way to calm and settle your fidgety child? A weighted blanket might just be the answer! Available in several different shapes, weights, and sizes, a weighted blanket is sure to meet to tactile sensory needs of your little one.
2. Compression Weighted Vest
Is your child a squirmer? Does he or she have difficulty sitting still or paying attention during instructional times? Does your child have a high need for physical contact? If so, this may be a great option to relieve the stress that comes with not getting those sensory needs met. Its portability allows your child to take the vest into multiple environments, and it’s pouches allow you to adjust its weight for the optimal amount of sensory stimulation.
3 Platform Swing
Time to pack the kids up and get them outdoors! This swing makes going outside even that much more exciting. This durable waterproof swing offers your autistic child all the motion-sensory stimulation he or she needs. Swings are always a great option for sensory reinforcement!
4 Sand and Water Activity Table
Finally, your child can have his or her personal space to get creative and explore! This table can handle both sand and water for a multi-sensory experience. Concerned about it being messy? No worries. This versatile table can be used indoors or outdoors. Not to mention, its wheels make it easy to relocate if needed. This is definitely a must-have item.
5 Sensory Laser Projector
Bring the outdoors indoors with a visual-sensory projector! With a few different settings, these projectors allow you to transform any room into a totally amazing sensory experience. And you can enjoy all of this with a simple click of a button.
6 Inflatable Peapod
Do you have a child with sensory processing issues? Well, this inflatable peapod might just be the remedy! With this item, your child can immerse into a total full-body experience. This is a great way for your child to either play, relax or escape the overload for some much-needed time alone.
7. Adjustable Learning Stool
Does your child have difficulty sitting still and being attentive during class? Is he or she a tendency to move or rock a lot? If so, this seat is a great option to gain sensory reinforcement. This durable, adjustable seat gives your child the flexibility to self-regulate based on his or her needs. Your child will have the freedom to move without restriction, thus reducing a distraction to his or her learning.
8. Hanging Hammock Pod
Does your child fold his or her legs a lot? Do they sit with their knees up and feet in the chair? Do they like to cradle? These are all indications that your child has a high need for close spaces. This indoor swing is a great option to gain that sense of swaddling. Combined with the rocking motion, this cuddle swing is a great option for sensory input.
9. Sensory Floor Mat
Add a different twist to your sensory exploration with this liquid encased floor mat. This mat creates a whole new visual experience for autistic children. With each motor movement step, the colors create a dynamic visual for your child to enjoy.
10. Scented Kinetic Sand
As if kinetic sand weren’t enough of a tactile sensory experience, these scented varieties take things to the next level! Targeting multiple sensory domains, this is a win-win for both child and parent. The adhesive quality gives your child great motor stimulation and also makes clean-up much easier.
Honorable Mention Autism Toys
Here are a few other sensory items that are great options to choose from.
Sensory Fidget Bundle
Talk about getting a bang for your buck! This package gives you several different options to address a variety of sensory needs. Regardless of whether your child is a squeezer, a picker or has visual-sensory needs, this kit has several options to choose from.
Weighted Stuffed Animal Blanket
Yet another adorable way for your child to get his or her sensory needs met! This fluffy stuffed animal design is a sure way to keep your child excited about a new blanket. Suitable for children will a variety of disorders, this blanket is sure to be a favorite with your young one!
Brain Game Autism Toys
Osmo Genius Starter Kit for iPad
The Osmo is one of the latest ways to engage your child in a wide range of educational activities. This item has a host of fun-filled interactive activities that engages and develops your child’s mind. From problem-solving activities to vocabulary and creative drawing, the Osmo has it all!
Skillmatics Brain Games
Get ready to take fun and learning to a whole new level! This toy is portable and great to take anywhere. With its activity sheets, you’re able to engage your child in a number of learning activities. Not to mention, these sheets are erasable, so with just one wipe, you’re able to reuse the sheets in a snap!
Math Flash Cards
Who said learning wasn’t fun? With this set of flashcards, you’re able to teach your child addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Your options here are limitless, as these cards can be used with students anywhere from Kindergarten to 6th grade.
Skillmatic Space Explorers
What greater way to learn about the universe than with Space Explorers! With its erasable activity sheets, your young one will be able to learn about the constellations, moon phases, gravity, the planets, asteroids, and the list goes on!
Finding Other Autism Toys
Searching for more options? Well in the event that you haven’t found the autism toy you’re looking for, there are more options! I’ve found the following websites to be extremely helpful in providing a variety of autism toys to meet your child’s needs. Here’s a list of several other websites where you’ll find a host of autism toys that meet all of the sensory needs we discussed. Simply click on the links to go directly to these websites.
- Fat Brain Toys
- School Specialty
- Discount School Supply
- eSpecial Needs
- Melissa & Doug
- Fun and Function
- Lakeshore Learning
- Special Needs Essentials
After a few clicks, you’ll soon discover that you have a ton of items to choose from! Whether it’s autism toys for preschoolers or for 5-year-olds, you’re sure to find something. Whether the purpose is educational or simply as a gift for Christmas, you’ll have lots of options. Even if you’re shopping for someone older such as an autistic teenager, you’re sure to find something suitable. So take your time and search thoroughly.
I do understand that some of you would rather see these items in person to get a better feel for how they operate. And if you’re one of these hands-on parents, you’d likely asking, “Where can I find stores near me that sell autism toys?”
You’ll need to do an internet search to see if there are any specialty stores close to where you are. However, these specialty stores are harder to find. Of course, you may find a few autism toys at a major retailer like Walmart or Target. But it’s rare to find a wide variety of these autism-specific items at major retailers. It has surprised me to find a few items at places such as Burlington Coat Factory and Ross.
Autism toys come in all shapes and sizes. But the main thing you want to keep in mind is how the toy functions. The toy needs to provide the specific kind of sensory input your child needs. And when you’re able to match the right type of toys with your child’s needs, you’ll see a significant difference in your child’s behavior! Why? Well, it’s because the toy addresses his or her specific needs.
Now a few suggestions. As much as it will be tempting to settle, don’t get comfortable with one toy. And don’t just stick with one type of toy. Get several. As much as you can, expand your child’s autism toy repertoire. In the long run, it will benefit you and your child. Happy searching, and let us know what you find!
A.D. Daisley holds a Masters Degree from the University of Central Florida and has been working in the field as a Behavior Analyst since 2005. He has provided services to children and adults with varying diagnoses such as autism, mental retardation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His scope of experience also includes coordinating therapy to individuals and families in conjunction with other supports including School Teachers, Adult Day Training Facility Staff (ADT’s) and Speech/Occupational therapists. He is the Director and Behavior Analyst at Alternative Outcomes since 2007. A.D is also the Director of Creátre, a non-profit organization that uses the arts for the purpose of skill training, outreach and to display community leadership.