We’re coming up to that time of year where parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are desperately searching for the next-big-thing...the must-have holiday toy of the year that will make your child’s year!!! Do you feel the pressure yet?
Gift-giving can be a challenge for any parent to find the perfect toy, let alone when the child you’re buying for has special needs, highly specific interests, or limited skills. For some parents, it’s not about buying that must-have toy of the year. It’s about finding a toy that your child with autism will actually use, enjoy, and benefit from.
Before you take the fun out of functional this holiday shopping season, we’ve searched for some great products that will stay out of the re-gift closet and keep your child engaged well past the holiday season!
Children with autism can have limited language, social, and/or sensorimotor skills needed to purposefully engage with toys in ways that neurotypical children do. Many of their specific interests have a sensory component that are directed by what gains their attention and keeps them engaged - whether it be flashing lights, repetitive music, or some kind of sensory feedback. For some children, preferred characters, colors, or themes will make the gifted toy a must-have favorite!
For information about autism and sensory processing, check out our article here.
Keeping in mind that not all occasions warrant an expensive gift, we’ve chosen favorites at each price point that we feel are durable enough to warrant the investment, or inexpensive enough to indulge the interest!
$ = under $25
$$ = $25-50
$$$ = $50-75
$$$$ = $75+
For children with low muscle tone or motor disabilities, Harkla Hug allows for supported positioning when watching favorite TV shows and makes a great addition to your child’s sensory space to relax with a book or music.
This fun inflatable sensory cocoon offers kids an alternative seating option that also meets sensory needs for compression and proprioception! Sit and relax, or inflate the bottom to gently rock back and forth.
If your gift recipient is lucky enough to have a fabulous playset, sturdy tree limb, or indoor swing setup, consider gifting a sensory swing to expand on their fun!
Harkla’s versatile indoor Sensory Swing offers a cozy swing at a great price point. It's made of durable canvas, is packable and easy to clean, too! The pod swing comes in two color choices: pink/blue or blue/green - and all of the hanging hardware is included in the kit.
For kids who are working on independence, need help with transitions, routines, or time-management, consider the Time Timer®. There are a variety of timers to choose from and all are useful for home, school, or anywhere your child might need support. According to Time Timer®, a study conducted by the Department of Exceptional Student Education at Florida Atlantic University found that children ages 2-4 years old showed a significant increase in self-regulation skills when the Time Timer® was used to facilitate their activity.
Sensory TheraPlay Box is a subscription service that was created by an occupational therapist to bring favorite sensory tools to kids each month.
Sign up for a month-to-month service or gift a 3-month delivery to unpack new sensory surprises that are designed for ages 4-8 years.
The box can contain everything from tactile fidgets, fine motor activity books, and sensory tools to scissor skill books, visual stim toys, and therapy-inspired toys!
We love the variety and thought behind each box shipped out -- there’s sure to be something your child will love!
A bodysock or bodysack (depending on vendor) is a lycra pillowcase or potato-sack that kids climb inside to actively push and pull or calmly snuggle up.
The resistance provided by the lycra fabric provides deep touch pressure which has a calming and organizing effect on the central nervous system.
Some kids like to use the body sock when watching TV or sitting at a table to do work and there are great Pinterest lists of fun bodysock activities for kids that encourage body awareness, sensory regulation, and play ideas.
These two favorites from Fat Brain Toys are sure to appeal to kids who like to watch things move and spin around!
Much like a traditional ring stacker toy, kids can arrange the colors in any pattern they want to watch them spin down the corkscrew pole one-by-one. Pull the pole out, watch them crash down, and do it again!
For SpinAgain you can choose from using the wobbly base or flip it for more stability depending on your child’s needs. The MiniSpinny is a smaller, more simplified version that is great for little hands or for an on-the-go stim toy option.
Harkla’s weighted lap pad makes the perfect sensory gift for kids to use at home, at school, or on-the-go.
The deep touch pressure input and super soft fabric offer sensory solutions appropriate for home sensory tool boxes. It has quickly become a favorite tool amongst teachers, parents and occupational therapists.
With the money-back guarantee, you can feel comfortable knowing that we stand behind our product!
This balance board rocker by Fat Brain Toys is a sensory favorite for it’s vestibular sensory input and the auditory feedback from the dozen or so tiny suction cups on the bottom of the board.
Rock it, roll it, sit or stand, kids can play on the Teeter Popper however their sensory systems wish! OTs and PTs love that kids are developing motor coordination and balance skills while playing in new ways.
If you haven’t heard of Crazy Aaron, you’ll be impressed by his amazing “putty world” filled with seemingly endless varieties of putty colors, theme-based putties, textures, and effects.
Chances are that Crazy Aaron has developed a putty that will enthrall even the most specific users - from heat-sensitive color-changing putty to UV-reactive putty, glow-in-the-dark, metallic, glitter, holiday-themed, and more… This makes for a great stocking stuffer for kids who love to explore new textures in tactile ways.
Buy the full sized tins for extra squeezy fun or gift a mini-tin set for more variety!
We LOVE these CozyPhones for so many reasons - the adorable animal-themed designs in super-soft fleece fabric appeal to sensory kids who may otherwise be resistant to wearing headphones.
Because the volume-limiting speakers are embedded into a headband, kids simply slip the headband on when ready to plug into their device or unplug from what’s going on around them. (Parents can pre-arrange the speakers to fit the child’s ears.)
For kids who need a cute way to muffle loud environments or cover cold ears in the winter (and are aversive to hats), the CozyPhones fabric is warm enough to offer some extra ear protection that parents will appreciate. You can choose between 8+ styles that are sure to suit kids’ interests and if you can’t choose...get the ‘value pack’ of two!
Best yet, these headphones are super affordable and easy to pack for road trips, community outings, and on-the-go “sensory tool boxes.”
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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