The 10 Best Fidget and Stim Toys To Improve Focus in Children with Autism

by Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP

The 10 Best Fidget and Stim Toys To Improve Focus in Children with Autism

Autism & “Stimming”

People with autism typically have a level of sensory integration dysfunction that causes them to misinterpret, be overwhelmed by, or under-register sensory information from their bodies and surroundings.  This sensory dysfunction often drives some stereotypical behaviors that are characteristic of a diagnosis of autism. For more information on sensory processing and autism, be sure to read Harkla’s article HERE.

In some cases, people with autism engage in self-stimulation, or “stimming” behaviors in an effort to combat sensory overstimulation, tune-out the extraneous sensory information, and decrease their arousal level. In other cases, the self-stimulation is to provide more sensory information in order to increase their arousal level because their bodies are not appropriately registering the information and they need more input! These self-stim behaviors are repetitive in nature, can be whole-body movements or movements of objects, and serve a sensory purpose.

Common stim behaviors are: hand flapping, humming, rocking, flicking or snapping fingers, staring/gazing at objects, lining up objects, pacing, bouncing, tiptoe walking, twirling (self), hair twirling or pulling, verbally repeating words or phrases, picking/rubbing/scratching skin. The list of self-stimulatory behaviors is much longer than those we’ve listed, but when you look at the sensory functions of some of these stims, it’s easier to recognize their purpose and perhaps find a replacement that meets these sensory needs in a different way.

 

Stimming for Sensory

When looking at why people with autism prefer certain stims at different times, it’s important to look at the purpose the movements serve from a sensory perspective. We use our sensory systems to help regulate, focus, interact, and function in our daily lives. When considering specific stimming behaviors in terms of one’s auditory, visual, tactile, vestibular, gustatory (taste), and olfactory (smell) senses, it is easier to identify the why behind the behavior and to find a replacement if you are looking for one.

 

Stim Toys & Fidget Toys

If you read our guide, Everything You Need to Know About Fidget Toys for ADHD and Anxiety, you learned about some fabulous fidget toys that support focus and engagement. Fidget toys can be stim toys, and vice versa! The benefits of both are positive, no matter what the toys are called.  That being said, we will refer to the products in this article as “stim toys” because they are often chosen to redirect or replace “stim” behaviors.

For people with autism, the recommendations for complexity and function of stim toys may be slightly different depending on the user’s motor skills, preferred stim behaviors, and reasons for implementing a stim toy. Some parents, behaviorists, therapists, or educators may base their selection of a stim toy in order to provide a more appropriate replacement behavior that is less distracting or less stigmatizing. In some cases, the stim toy redirects what may turn into self-injurious stim behavior. 

Whatever your reason for researching stim toys or fidget toys for autism, keep the preferences and sensory profile of the user in mind so you can appropriately match the options to their needs. Remember, we all have multiple tools in our self-regulation toolbox, so explore multiple options!

 

Top 10 Stim Toys Ideas for Autism 


1. Something to fiddle with: shake it, flick it, fidget with it!

Boinks

Koosh Ball

Wood Fidget Puzzle


 

 

 

 

 

 

  

2. Something to shake:

Pop Toob  

Scarves


 3. Something that lights-up:

Color Changing Eggs

Light up Bubble Gun

 

 

 

 

4. Something that’s musical (added bonus for some if they light up!):

Light Up Maracas or Tamborine

Rain Stick - also offers visual input

Wiggly Giggly Ball




5. Something to squeeze:

Spiky, gooey, squishy sensory balls - throw, squeeze, stretch

Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty

 

6. Something to watch:

Water “timers” like this are great for predictable visual input

Rain Stick

Marble Runs

7. Something to spin:

Mini Spinny or Spin Again

Spinning Top

 

 

 

 

8. Something to mouth:

Chewy necklaces/dog tags like this Chewelry one or Chewbeads

Spiky slap bracelet

 

9. Something to buzz:

Massager

Vibrating Snake

10. Something to line up:

Cars

Blocks

Anything!

 

Takeaways About Toys

Every child and person with autism is different. They have specific sensory interests as well as clearly defined personal interests. The sensory considerations for stim toys are most important when looking at the stim behaviors you want to replace or redirect, not so much the recommendations for products we’ve listed! These are intended to jumpstart your stim toy shopping by identifying how one toy might be differently used than another. 

Let us know what stim toys are preferred in your home! We’d love to add your ideas to our lists too!





Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP
Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP

Author

Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Practitioner with over 15 years of pediatric experience. She specializes in educationally-relevant interventions with a focus on sensory integration and assistive technology supports to learning. Alescia strives to help children by fostering a love of learning and supports families with her parent-friendly, informative blog posts. Alescia founded Adapt & Learn, LLC on the mission that children of all abilities can play, learn, adapt, and develop with the right therapeutic, family, and educational supports. You can get more information on Alescia and her practice at www.adaptandlearn.com


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