101 of The Best toys for Kids with Autism

by Alescia Ford MS OTR/L, ATP March 09, 2019 3 Comments

toys for kids with autism blog post

Fact Checked & Updated by Shea Brogren, MOT, OTR/L

There’s a lot to consider when selecting the best autism toys for your toddler, preschool, or school-aged child, classroom, or therapy clients.These toys are suitable for children with autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder, or other special needs.

Children with autism can have limited language, social, and/or sensorimotor skills needed to purposely engage with toys in ways than neurotypical children do.  

Many children on the autism spectrum are drawn to items in the environment that have a sensory component. This is no different when it comes to toys. A sensory toy or item is one that stimulates a specific sense in one or more ways. For example, flashing lights, a repetitive song, a certain texture to feel on the toy, may draw a child to that toy.

This can be helpful for a child with an autism spectrum disorder, as their sensory systems often crave certain input or sensory stimulation in order to feel organized or calm. Additionally, for some children with special needs, preferred characters, colors, or themes will make the toy a must-have favorite!

You may be wondering, what is the best toy or gift for a child with autism spectrum disorder? The answer is simple, yet complex. Each and every child is different, so consider your child’s strengths, interests, and abilities when determining which of these recommendations is best suited for him.

For ease of understanding the “why” behind some of these autism toys, we’ve grouped them into categories based on sensory input and skill development (social, cognitive, language, motor). This will also allow you to make your decisions based upon the specific skills your individual child may need additional practice with.

  1. Top 10 toys for vestibular input
  2. Top 10 toys for tactile input
  3. Top 10 toys for visual stimulation
  4. Top 10 toys for proprioception
  5. Top 10 toys for oral sensory input
  6. Top 10 toys for auditory sensory input
  7. Top 10 toys for fine motor development
  8. Top 10 toys for gross motor development
  9. Top 10 toy for pretend play
  10. Top 10 toys for sensory rooms
  11. Top 10 tech-based toys

Top 10 Toys for Vestibular Input

These toys allow for gross motor activities that target whole-body movement and provide vestibular sensory input. Many of these activities combine proprioceptive and vestibular input that can have an organizing effect on the child. When choosing your vestibular toy, consider your child’s sensory profile and how they respond to different types of movement.

Remember that the effects of rotary vestibular input (spinning) can be observed for up to 6-8 hours following just 15 minutes of spinning, so be sure to limit this activity and incorporate some deep pressure following spinning! For more information on vestibular processing, check out our article here.

harkla sensory swing
    1. Trampoline
    2. Hippity hop
    3. Exercise ball
    4. Scooterboard
    5. Dizzy Disc
    6. Sensory swing - Harkla’s Pod Swing or compression swing
    7. Teeter Popper
    8. Bilibo
    9. Doorway gym
    10. Spin Disc/Gym Spin

Top 10 Toys for Tactile Input

A tactile toy is sometimes referred to as a fidget. Fidgets are objects that aid with focus and attention by allowing the brain to filter extraneous sensory information. By keeping the hands engaged in simple, repetitive motor movements, the user is able to “tune out” what would otherwise be distracting -- lights, sounds, smells, movement, close proximity to other people.  Sometimes, these distractions become too overwhelming.

For children with autism, these tactile fidget tools often become “stim toys” that help them with self-regulation. Keep it simple and low cost for these small sensory toys. For more information, check out our article on Stim Toys and Fidgets.

Some of our top tactile tools are fidgets, others use the sense of touch to support gross and fine motor skills.

koosh ball
  1. Thinking putty
  2. Kinetic sand
  3. Boinks
  4. Koosh
  5. Pop Toob
  6. Tangle
  7. Squeeze balls
  8. Sensory Bags
  9. Water beads
  10. Wikki stix

    Top 10 Toys for Visual Input

    Some children with autism like to watch things spin, move, light up, and flash. These toys appeal to strong visual interests and make them instantly appealing! Here are some of our favorites:

    marble run toy
    1. Light up blocks
    2. Lava lamp
    3. Marble run
    4. Rain Stick
    5. Scarves for shaking
    6. Water timers
    7. Spin Again Toy
    8. Light-up Bubble Gun
    9. Light show/room display
    10. Lite Bright

      Top 10 Toys for Proprioception

      Proprioceptive activities provide input to the body’s muscles and joints. This sense has a calming, reorganizing effect that helps children to regulate their arousal levels. Children with autism can have difficulty with self-regulation and overstimulation, so proprioceptive toys provide for deep touch pressure and input that is much-needed!

      inflatable pea pod harkla
      1. Harkla Hug (inflatable pea pod chair)
      2. Bean bag
      3. Weighted lap pad
      4. Weighted blanket
      5. Weighted stuffed animal
      6. Vibrating massager
      7. Crash mat
      8. Body sock
      9. Vibrating pillow
      10. Pressure roller 

      Top 10 Toys for Oral Sensory Input

      Occupational Therapists know that integration of the mouth and the suck, swallow, breathe sequence is critical to promote regulation with children who have sensory processing dysfunction (which the majority of children with autism do). Chewing, sucking, and blowing are all motor movements that, especially when used safely in conjunction with other sensory activities, can play a key role in helping your child maintain focus, participation, and regulation.

      During times of transition or periods of uncertainty and anxiety, some children revert to sucking and chewing on clothing, hair, or fingers to self-soothe. Here are our favorite “toys” for oral sensory input:

      chew necklace
      1. Chewable Fidgets that can attach by lanyard or carabiner
      2. Chewable pencil toppers
      3. Bite Saber sensory chewelry
      4. Crazy Straws
      5. Jigglers - oral vibration
      6. Dinosaurs - oral motor toy
      7. Alligator Eye Pops - oral motor toy
      8. Puppy Slide whistle
      9. Soft Chewelry necklace-style
      10. Vibra Chew

        Top 10 Toys for Auditory Sensory Input

        Repetitive, rhythmic auditory feedback can attract some kids to a specific toy. It may drive you a little nuts having to listen to the same musical sounds playing, but your child will be engaged, their listening skills may improve, and that’s what is most important! We’ve included a link to a book about Kids, Music, & Autism for parents to read more about including auditory input and music for teaching and playing! Also, because not every child with autism tolerates auditory sensory input, we’ve included sensory-friendly headphones and noise reduction headphones in our top 10!

        rain maker toy
        1. Skoog music cube
        2. Mozart Munchkin Music Cube
        3. Crayola - my first touch art pad
        4. Egg shakers
        5. Rainmaker
        6. Sensory Songs for Tots (CD) or Sing, Sound, and Count with Me (CD)
        7. Sound puzzles
        8. Foldable music mat
        9. CozyPhones headband style headphones
        10. Noise reduction earmuffs

          Top 10 Toys for Fine Motor Development

          Fine motor skills can range from basic to more complex, given the age and development of the child. Some of the toys work on cognitive development and can be fun ways to work on imitation, design copying, building, and turn-taking.

          When looking at toys in terms of fine motor skills, consider how your child will manipulate the toys/pieces - using a whole hand, two hands together, or using a more refined grasp like that needed for writing. Add a bit of fun with wiggles or colors to challenge little fingers to move in new ways. It’s important to choose toys that are roughly at your child’s developmental or motor skill level so you provide a “just right challenge” that keeps him engaged while learning/playing.

          1. Squiggle Vibrating Pen
          2. Rock Crayons
          3. Finger Crayons
          4. PlusPlus - large ones
          5. Mini Squigz
          6. Double-sided easel
          7. Travel-sized games like Connect 4, Checkers (be mindful of small pieces though!)
          8. Sensory blocks
          9. Magnadoodle
          10. Patterns and Pegs Sets
          11. Legos

            Top 10 Toys for Gross Motor Skills

            Toys that challenge gross motor skills work on balance, coordination, hand-eye coordination, muscle strength, endurance, motor planning, and problem-solving! When kids move their bodies in new ways, their brains are learning through movement and sensory feedback. All of our favorite gross motor staples can grow with your child and be used to expand on language, social, cognitive, AND motor skills!

            1. Tunnel & Tent set
            2. Jump rope
            3. Hula hoop
            4. Tactile stepping stones
            5. Sensory balance beam
            6. Magic Moves Electric Wand
            7. Tricycle
            8. 2- or 3-wheeled scooter
            9. Abilitations Sensatrak
            10. Seesaw
            11. Therapy balls

              Top 10 Toys for Pretend Play

              Pretend play toys offer opportunities for social language development and exposure to daily life situations - from modeling going to the doctor, to reenacting a grocery shopping trip! Add the basics for pretend play toys, add a bit of creativity (and a little adult support possibly), and watch imagination take flight and skills develop. Act out the social stories to prepare your child for difficult transitions or community outings, or reinforce language skills when they recreate scripts from favorite TV shows! We’ve even linked you to a DVD that teaches kids pretend play skills through video modeling.

              1. Seedling’s “Design Your Own” Kits -  Superhero Mask, Cape, Spy Kit
              2. Teepee
              3. Themed Tent - school bus, police car, castle
              4. Doctor Kit
              5. Melissa & Doug “Order Up” Diner Play Set
              6. Cash register and money set
              7. Melissa & Doug Make your own Pizza set
              8. Roleplay dress-up sets (chef, fireman, veterinarian)
              9. Puppets! Animals or people
              10. Board games

                Top 10 Toys to Include in a Sensory Room

                A sensory room is a room or area and often a “safe place” for a child with an autism spectrum disorder or sensory processing disorder to retreat when needed. A sensory room typically will include items that the child finds calming, organizing, and may include sensory items that are needed for the child’s specific daily sensory diet.

                A sensory diet is a prescribed routine of activities for your child that will provide the amount of sensory stimulation they need to manage their day. This can include activities that “wake up” or alert the child’s sensory system or activities that calm the child’s sensory system and help them cope.

                An occupational therapist can create an individualized plan, with suggested sensory toys or equipment. Below are some sensory toys that are often included in a sensory room. Many of these items have been listed in the above categories, but are listed again, as they are items most commonly found in sensory rooms.

                harkla weighted blanket
                1. Bean bag chairs
                2. Night lights or sensory bubble tubes  
                3. Fidget toys
                4. Mini trampoline
                5. Weighted blanket or weighted lap pad
                6. Sensory swing
                7. Lycra tunnel
                8. Sand or sensory table
                9. Crash pad
                10. Light filters

                Want more information on sensory rooms? Read our blog post on them here

                Top 10 Tech-based Toys

                There’s always something new in tech that can support your child’s development. Again, keep in mind that you want to find the tech-based toy that fits your child’s skillset and doesn’t provide too much of a challenge that it is frustrating or off-putting! Technology can support language, problem-solving, engagement, and motor skills in motivating ways. Newest innovations are including robotics to teach social skills, routines, facial expressions, and language skill

                1. Osmo Numbers
                2. Osmo Words
                3. Tigly Shapes
                4. Tigly Letters
                5. Tigly Math
                6. Square Panda
                7. Fisher Price Code-a-pillar
                8. Fisher Price Smart Interactive Bear
                9. Milo the robot

                In case you’ve been counting along...that brings the list to 100. What’s the 101st toy on our list?

                1. YOU

                No toy can replace the invaluable skills your child will learn from YOU. So, take our 100 ideas for fun and engage with your child. Play in new ways, interact by doing what excites and motivates him. Crawl through the tunnels, play the part, take turns on the trampoline (ok, maybe not the mini tramps!).

                Encourage skill development by modeling and commenting on what you’re playing. You have the ability to become what attracts your child’s attention just as much as the toys - sing, move, tickle, squish, calm, teach, and laugh. Have fun!


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

                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.


                3 Responses

                Nicole
                Nicole

                January 22, 2021

                Hi Oli & Erica,

                Thank you so much for reading our blog. We’re glad that it’s been so helpful!

                Have a great day,
                Nicole
                Harkla Happiness Ninja

                Erica M. Short
                Erica M. Short

                January 22, 2021

                I’m giving your article a 5-star rating for interesting and informative content. I enjoy reading articles that are so very well-written.

                Oli Perrins
                Oli Perrins

                June 29, 2020

                Enlightening article and nice choices.

                www.talkinginpictures.co.uk

                Leave a comment

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