20 Best Toys for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

One of the most frequent questions I get from parents and family members of my clients is “What toys should I buy?” And in some instances, I enter a home and see very few toys because parents have not had success with introducing toys and play to their child with autism. Providing toys and opportunity to play is important because children learn very valuable and fundamental skills through play. These skills often go unlearned by kids with autism because play does not always come naturally to them.

Sensory toys (toys that activate or stimulate the senses) are great for kids with autism because they easily capture interest and often encourage growth in critical areas (such as motor skills). Below is 20 of my go-to sensory toys and activities that I use with clients. These toys and activities will promote both enjoyment and skill acquisition through play. Three features that are common among the toys here as well as any other great sensory toy are:

  • Versitile. They can be used in a variety of ways.
  • Interactive. There are opportunities to engage with others during play.
  • Sensory-based. The main purpose is to engage at least one sensory system (i.e. seeing, hearing, etc.)

I have had success using the toys below with most clients, even kids with very limited interest or who would not play with anything other than a few of their favorite objects. But your child may or may not automatically play with these toys when placed in their rooms or play areas. If your child does not independently explore new toys, you can take steps to teach them to play with a variety of toys you have in your home. See our article “Setting Limits with Favorite Things and Activities for Kids on the Autism Spectrum”.

These recommendations assume that children have various levels of cognitive, seeing, hearing, motor, and engagement ability. If you have a hard time picturing you child engaging in the toys listed below, contact us and we can help you discover toys and activities that fit your child’s specific abilities, needs, and interests.

Tactile Toys

Fingerpaint

Fingerpaint is a messy but wonderful activity. Many kids love the sticky, slimy, smearable medium. Kids get lots of tactile input from finger painting and they get to be creative by mixing colors and creating pictures. Many learning objectives can be incorporated into finger painting activities such as communicating wants and needs (telling someone when you need more paint, or a towel), imitating actions, color identification, sharing experiences, and many more. Some kids may find the feeling of fingerpaint intolerable. If your child resists using finger paint, this may be a good opportunity to work on increasing their tolerance to differing textures. Starts by painting with brushes, sponges, and other objects without asking them to touch the paint. After a few times, ask them to use their finger once or twice during the activity, and allow them to clean their hands after each time if they want. Slowly increase the amount of time or occurrences you ask them to use their fingers each time you do finger painting activities. This Crayola Finger Paint Set comes in a variety of colors and is washable.

Putty

Putty can be both fun and therapeutic. When I am working with clients, I like to use putty during break activities because kids often enjoy the activity, it provides fun opportunities to work learning objectives, and the tactile input promotes sensory and emotional regulation. Most putties that I find in the store are not good quality and don’t last long, even if you take care of it. I highly recommend ordering CanDo Theraputty. It comes in different firmnesses, which can be used for different activities, child strength levels, or desired outcomes, and it is gluten, latex, and casein free. Because of these reasons and the quality, most teachers and therapists use CanDo Theraputty. This set comes in 6 different firmnesses, 4 ounces each. Encourage your child to try out all the firmnesses and see which one they prefer as well as the effect play has on their mood. This is an activity that you will want to closely supervise and make sure the putty stays on the table. Even though this putty is non-toxic, it will adhere to material such as clothing and rugs.

Sensory Table

A sensory table is a table with basins that you can fill. Common materials used to fill the basins include beans, rice, sand, or water. You can also get creative and fill the bin with things like shaving cream or goo. Once you have your main filler in the table you can add other objects such as toy figurines, cups, bowls, spoons for play and activities. Revalae Kids makes amazing Sensory Box Kits that has everything you need to create your own world within your sensory table. Check out their Dinosaur and Ocean kits. Also check out MySmallPotatoes.com for creative ideas for creating sensory boxes and activities.

There are two sensory tables which I really enjoy working with. This 2-Sided Activity Table from Step2 has heavy duty plastic construction and includes a cover and an umbrella, making it great to keep outside. You can fill each side with 2 different materials (it doesn’t necessarily have to be water and sand). And the added play surfaces of the roads both in the box and on the cover add variation to play. I also like Jonti-Craft’s Sensory Table for its natural birch wood frame and the see-through acrylic tub which adds another dimension to play (and kids really like to look through the sides).

Tunnels

Pop-up tunnels are good for both play and sensory regulation. Many children enjoy being rolled while lying inside the tunnel or hiding in the tunnel during chasing games. Tunnels can also easily incorporated into imaginary play scenarios (it can be a spaceship, or the passageway to another planet!) as well as into active activities such as obstacle courses. Also, I have found tunnels to be effective for helping children calm down when they are over-stimulated or upset. The enclosed space creates feelings of safety and has a calming effect. I have worked with a number of clients who learned to use the tent when they felt like they needed a calm space. I like this Tunnel from Pacific Play Tents because it is half mesh (for those who are not comfortable with enclosed spaces) and half opaque (Creates a calming space by softening the incoming light).

Fidgets

Fidgets are not only a great toy, but a very helpful tool for some kids. Fidgets are objects that promote movement and give tactile input. Fidgets are handheld and have parts that can be manipulated in some way (moved, clicked, pushed, pulled, rolled, etc.). Not only do kids like playing with fidgets, but the focused movement that fidgets provide helps regulate sensory needs. Using fidgets can increase focus, calmness, and the ability to concentrate. Give your child fidgets to use during stressful or stimulating situations to see if it helps them manage the situation. If your child has lots of energy and needs to move a lot in academic environments, try giving them fidgets to hold and observe if their focus improves.

A fidget that I always keep at hand is Tangles. They are made up of linkable, twistable parts so you can link a few together when discretion is needed or you can make use of as many as you have during play activities. These Pencil Toppers are another great way to incorporate fidgets into classroom settings.

Construction Toys

Wooden Puzzles

Wooden puzzles are great because they are durable, easy to manipulate (compared to cardboard puzzles), and can be used in multiple ways (The pieces can creatively be used to make percussive sounds, or can be stacked like blocks). Puzzles promote the use of visual, problem solving, and motor skills. They come in varied skill levels from 4 pieces and up. There are also non-interlocking puzzles which can be more suitable for children with emerging skills. I recommend magnetic “fishing” type puzzle games such as this one. The added fishing or catching element of the puzzle makes it more interesting and interactive. Also check out these peg puzzles12 piece puzzle set, and 48 piece puzzle (pictured).

Tips: Partially complete the puzzle before your child begins to make the task easier. You can also incorporate turn-taking into completing the puzzle to make it more interactive.

Wooden Blocks

There are plenty of block sets out there, and for good reason. Wooden blocks are a great toy for any child because they encourage imagination, creativity, and problem solving. Playing with blocks also incorporates visual skills, motor planning, and the possibility for partner play. I have found blocks to be appropriate for clients with a wide range of skill sets, interests, and ages. One of my go-to activities with children who do not have a lot of play skills or interest is “build a tower, and knock it down.” I have rarely met a kid that wasn’t interested in participating in this activity in some way (passing the blocks, building the tower, knocking it down).

I recommend this set because it is naturally made of wood and without paint. Guaranteed to be safe for children who may put things in their mouth. The blocks are large enough for young children to safely play and can also be exciting for older children to incorporate into their play. Buy multiple or larger sets for children who like to build large imaginary play scenarios.

Connector Block Sets

Another hit among many of my clients are sets of connecting blocks. Like stacking blocks, they allow children to exercise their problem solving, motor, and imagination skills, as well as a few extra benefits. Some connecting sets can make play easier because the blocks stick together between adding additional components. And other sets require advanced skills like planning, logic, and motor skills (such as k’nex). Because connecting sets tend to be made for older children, this is a great toy to replace younger toys with as your child grows up. Also, connecting sets are often great portable toys. Put a couple of handful into a container or bag and take with you on the go for times when your child needs to keep busy. Many connecting sets also have high tactile input which may help your child stay calm (but only if it is easy for them to manipulate the pieces). There is always the timeless classic Legos as well as many other types and brands. Some of my favorite include bristle blocks and magnatiles (pictured).

Gears

A special type of connecting set that both my clients and I like to play with is Gears. If you don’t know what this toy entails, imagine creating a simplified version of the machinery of an old watch. When playing with this set, you first put together your building area which are flat, interconnecting squares with pegs. Then you place gears pieces on the pegs so that they interconnect in any configuration you can imagine. Once you are done, you put a spinning crank on one of the gears. When you spin the handle, you get to see your masterpiece move together beautifully together. This activity is good for building problem solving skills, motor planning, and is good for kids who seek visual stimulation. The combination of colors and motion is mesmerizing! This Learning Resources set has a large number of pieces for making large combinations and comes with an activity guide as well as a storage box.

Gross Motor Toys

Climbing Frame

I have met many clients who love to be in high places. And the adults in their lives tend to spend a lot of time and energy in preventing them from climbing. My philosophy in situations such as these is, “If you can’t stop them, provide them with a safe and appropriate time and place.” If your child enjoys climbing in the playground, or inappropriately on household furniture, installing a climbing frame (along with crash pads below it for safety) may be a good idea. You can redirect your child to use the climbing frame whenever they have the urge to climb and be assured that they will be safe. You can incorporate schedules and other techniques if your child has trouble limiting their climbing activity.

This climbing net is good for people up to 150 pounds and meets ASTM safety requirements. I like this frame because it can easily be installed in a small space or be added to another play structure. It requires an additional beam for mounting the top of the net. If you are not experienced in construction, I suggest getting professional help to install this equipment. And don’t forget to place crash pads beneath the frame for safety.

Parachutes

Parachute play is a great activity for outside play. It is a moderately physical activity and the vibrant colors of parachutes provides lots of visual stimulation. Because the parachute takes more than one person to operate, it provides a wonderful opportunity for cooperative play with friends and family members. Some classic activities include placing a ball on the parachute and trying to bounce it using the parachute, or having participants take turns running under the parachute and grabbing grabbing hold to the other side. This parachute by Pacific Play Tents is a great choice. And check out this list of various parachute games to incorporate into your activities.

Sitting Scooters

Some kids lack the motor skills to maneuver toys that are a typical part of childhood such as bikes and scooters. This Scooter with Handles provides a way for kids with developing motor skills to play with toys with wheels. Kids can sit on it or lay on their tummy or back. They can be pushed, pulled, or use their hands and feet to propel theirself. This is a great activity to involve siblings or friends where they can take turns sitting on the scooter and pushing or pulling each other.

Body Socks

Body socks are like stretchy sleeping bags. They are sacks that you put your body in with one hole to stick your neck head out. They give children deep pressure which helps them feel calm and secure. It is a great tool to help children explore and develop balance and control over their body movements. Abilitations makes BodySox which comes in different sizes for ages  3-5 (pictured), 6-9, and 10-12.

Multi-Sensory Toys

Sound Books

I find Sound Books to be helpful with engaging children in reading activities. The interactive nature of Sound Books help increase attention and gives kids a structured way to engage with the story. When first introducing Sound Books to your child, I recommend modeling how to use the sound buttons along with reading. To do this keep control over the book and read the story out loud. Push the buttons as required by the story. Modeling will help your child learn how to use the sound buttons along with the story. I keep the following books in my library.

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?

Good Night Construction Site

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (pictured)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

ABC & 123 Learning Songs

Marble Run Set

A Marble Run Set is a collection of varied hollow tubes that you can link together to build a tower, then drop marbles into the top of the tower and watch them travel through the routes you created. Building the tower encourages motor and problem solving skills. The bright colors and the movement of the marbles are visually stimulating and the sounds of the marbles dropping adds an audio component to play. Be sure that your child has close adult supervision if they are under 5 years old or if they put inedible objects in their mouth.

I recommend this set by Marble Genius. The translucent structural pieces allow you to see the marbles during their descent through the tubes, 15 glass marbles are included, and the set comes with enough pieces to build elaborate towers.

Pop Tubes

Pop tubes are simple yet popular items with the children I work with. They are noisy, provide tactile input, and come in lots of fun colors. They can be played with in a wide variety of ways. Your child can turn them into snakes, trains, telephones and more, or just enjoy the sensations of pulling them apart. I find that some children have a hard time pushing the tubes back to their condensed shape. In this case, when first introducing Pop Tubes, I recommend condensing the tube for your child and after they are familiar with the activity, teaching them how to do it themself. But be patient, this motor action can be quite difficult for some kids. Also be sure to get a large set of Pop Tubes because they aren’t meant to last a long time. Try this set from POOF-Slinky.

Musical Instruments

Musical instruments are beneficial and fun toys in general and they are also useful for sensory play. Other than the obvious auditory input they offer, kids also get tactile input, fine and gross motor movement, and a chance to practice coordination. Playing musical instruments is also a fun activity to practice skills such as imitation and following instructions. Encourage your kid to play along to music as well as create music on their own. Try this Melissa and Doug musical instrument set which has a good variety of types of instruments and has quality construction. I love using music from Putamayo Presents which makes albums with world music for children. I find this music to be exciting for children and it also exposes them to new forms of music from around the world.

Bubbles

Bubbles are one of my most treasured toys to use in therapy. When I first meet a younger client, one of my first activities will be bubbles. Most kids love bubbles and I find it to be a very interactive and bonding activity. If your child has trouble blowing the bubbles themself, it is a great opportunity for them to engage with others to ask for more bubbles. If they are able to blow the bubbles, everyone can take turns blowing bubbles for each other. Bubbles can sometimes be calming and sometimes be stimulating. Watch how your child reacts to bubble activities so that you know how to strategically use bubbles. If bubbles are stimulating, use them when your child needs an energy boost. If they are calming, use them when your child is upset or overstimulated. I like the Gazillion brand and I recommend to get a set of small bubble bottles (keep them in different places around the house) and a large refill bottle because bubbles go fast!

Social Toys

Connect 4

Connect 4 is a simple and versitile game that you can play with in a a number of different ways. Even if children do not yet understand the rules of “4 in a row” they often enjoy the action of dropping the pieces into the slots and filling up the columns. This more simplified version of the game is also great for teaching social game skills like turn-taking (I drop a piece in, then you drop a piece in). I like this set from Amglobal because the base of the game gives it stability and  catches the pieces easily when the game is over.

Puppets

Puppets provide lots of tactile sensory input when wearing them and also captivating visual and auditory stimuli from watching them interact. Puppets are perfect toys to introduce pretend play to your child. You can start by putting the puppet on yourself while playing and interacting with your child through the puppet. That way there is only one facet of the interaction that is imaginary (making the situation easier to understand). Once your child gets used to interacting with a puppet. Try puppet-to-puppet interaction or having your child use the puppet.

Choose puppet characters that your child likes or is familiar with. Melissa & Doug makes themed sets including Fantasy (pictured), OccupationsAnimals, and more.

Fingerpaint

 

Fingerpaint is a messy but wonderful activity. Many kids love the sticky, slimy, smearable medium. Kids get lots of tactile input from finger painting and they get to be creative by mixing colors and creating pictures. Many learning objectives can be incorporated into finger painting activities such as communicating wants and needs (telling someone when you need more paint, or a towel), imitating actions, color identification, sharing experiences, and many more. Some kids may find the feeling of fingerpaint intolerable. If your child resists using finger paint, this may be a good opportunity to work on increasing their tolerance to differing textures. Starts by painting with brushes, sponges, and other objects without asking them to touch the paint. After a few times, ask them to use their finger once or twice during the activity, and allow them to clean their hands after each time if they want. Slowly increase the amount of time or occurrences you ask them to use their fingers each time you do finger painting activities. This Crayola Finger Paint Set comes in a variety of colors and is washable.

Contact Us

If you need help finding toys that support your child needs and keeps their interest, we can help! Contact us for a consultation and to get personalized recommendations for your child’s success.

Follow and like us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *