Toys are teaching tools for all children, and especially for kids with an autism spectrum disorder. Learning toys are especially critical in early intervention programs where the right toys can make all the difference.
Parents can use toys in order to build relationships. ABA therapists use toys to teach cause and effect, pretend play and other skills. Speech therapists use toys to evoke communication, learn sequences and play skills. Occupational therapists use them to develop fine motor, gross motor or social skills.
For kids, sensory toys are just plain fun! The best toys and activities for children with autism spectrum disorder are the ones that motivate your kids to engage.
Kids on the autism spectrum are just that—kids. And they want to play! So what are the best toys for kids with autism to encourage that exploration through play? Their toys don’t have to be fancy or special ‘learning toys.’ They simply need to be toys that your child enjoys and that are developmentally appropriate.
In fact, the toys commonly found in playgroups, preschools, and playrooms of normally developed toddlers are the same kinds of toys that are beneficial to children with an autism spectrum disorder. Puzzles, blocks, balls, cars, and books are a great place to start for all kids. The best toys for kids with autism do have some common threads.
What to Look For in Toys For Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder
First and foremost, you should always keep in mind that toys for children with autism need to be fun!
- Embrace high-interest toys: Children with autism can become very interested in one thing, like trains or dinosaurs. Sometimes parents try to stop the intensity of their child’s interest, thinking it is a habit that needs to be broken. But interest is interest, and you should go with it. Simply you should think about ways to use that interest to expand play and learning.
- Looking for just-right sensory stimulation: Children with autism typically crave a particular sensory input. Some gravitate toward the tactile (perhaps touching certain textures is calming), while others prefer to stimulate their proprioceptive system, which is basically joints and muscles (spinning or jumping might regulate their mood). And many have various sensory needs. You may want to look for toys that have lots of sensory pieces that your child will enjoy.
- Avoiding overstimulating toys: Many children with autism spectrum disorder may become overstimulated by electronic toys with a lot of lights, sounds, and moving parts. Playing with those kinds of toys cannot only lead to meltdowns but children often also focus exclusively on the toy and do not pay any attention to other children or adults around them.
- Think beyond age-grading: Toy manufacturers’ age-grade their toys so parents can understand what is age-appropriate, both from a safety and developmental standpoint. But when it comes to toys for kids with autism, as long as they do not pose a safety hazard for your child, so what if the toy packaging reads 5+? Only you know what playthings are truly appropriate for your child’s developmental stage. Some children with autism have intellectual disabilities and some don’t, in fact, many have at or above intellectual ability. Bottom line: Trust your gut and pick toys that meet your child where they are developmental, keeping safety top of mind.
- Choosing no-wrong-way-to-play toys: Toys that can be played in a lot of different ways are among the best toys for kids with autism. They are especially good for children who have inconsistencies in their development.
- Limit available toys: It is often problematic to have many toys out and available at the same time. Containers with lids, cabinets or shelving to put toys away will help you teach your child to clean up and to limit distractions.
Best Toys for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Toys for kids with autism are often known as sensory toys for autism. And while there is no such thing as the perfect toy for kids with autism, some are better than others at firing up their imaginations and encouraging them to engage in collaborative, as opposed to parallel, play.
When buying toys for children with autism, let their interests guide you just as you would with neurotypical children. There is no such thing as the perfect toy for kids with autism, so lean into what actually interests them.
Your playroom can be stocked with the very best, but to make your collection of special needs toys truly impactful, get down on the ground and play with your child. Playing with toys with others is an important way that children on the autism spectrum can learn. And don’t forget that singing songs and playing with your child without toys is fun and important too!
Experts say you want toys that reflect what kids are interested in, just for starters. If your kid loves toy trains, embrace that caboose. Dolls? Hell yes. You want toys, like swings or ball pits, which get kids to move around and engage with their own physicality.
Plus balls get kids to be more social when they throw them back and forth with another child. Dollhouses or play kitchens are fantastic at getting kids to play together and take part in pretend play. Books with sounds or textures are great for engaging kids’ senses; as for sensory toys, they do the same. Most of all, choose toys that don’t have to be played within a specific way, so kids can use them however they want in developmentally-appropriate ways.
Most kids on the spectrum enjoy sensory toys. Is your child with autism visually-oriented? If so think about interesting visual toys. Motion lamps, liquid timers, and tops are often pleasing and make great special needs toys. Does your child seek to touch lots of things? If so think about toys that are tactile. Good tactile toys for children with autism must be durable and interesting to touch. Some popular choices include massaging pillows, fidgets, and fabric items with lots of textures like the sensory pillow or textured squares.
Children who interact very little with other people can benefit from cause and effect toys. These toys teach us that our actions can cause something in the environment to change. They also work well for introducing the idea of turn-taking and can create opportunities for positive interactions with children with autism and their family.
It may be appropriate to give toys that are at a younger developmental age. Some children may be in grade school, but have developmental skills at a preschool level. A child who is beginning to notice their peers will do better with simple turn-taking board games. Some games have the bonus of introducing more than just turn-taking. In this case, children are also introduced to the concept of emotions. Does your child have difficulty holding a pencil or buttoning a shirt? Simple fine motor toys that are fun can also help them develop these essential skills.
Children learn through play. Play is essential for teaching social skills and language. There is a wide selection of social skills games available that are fun to play and can help develop this vital skill.
Fat Brain Toys Dimpl Baby Toys & Gifts for Ages 1 to 2, Multi
This is great. Excellent at keeping kids entertained and even older children seem to love it. Anyone who picks it up loves it. It is interesting and relaxing! It is colorful and attracts their attention.
Some of the very best special needs toys are really just awesome toys, no matter who is playing with them. Take the Dimpl from Fat Brain Toys. The concept is simple: five colorful silicone bubbles for toddlers to push, pop, poke and grab. Here, toddlers with autism and normally developed toddlers alike learn cause and effect (push this and it makes a noise), engage their fine motor skills and explore sensory stimulation. All kinds of wins!
Kidoozie Foam Pogo Jumper – Fun and Safe Play – Encourages an Active Lifestyle – Makes Squeaky Sounds, 250 Pound Capacity
It is a fun and exciting toy for teaching children basic yet necessary physical skills like hand-to-eye coordination and dexterity. It also encourages an active and healthy lifestyle through play by strengthening core muscles. It’s a cheap toy for all the fun they get out of it. Sturdy product and you have to concentrate on keeping your feet on the base.
A lot of children with autism have an over- or under-sensitive vestibular system, which is part of the sensory system involving balance and coordinating movement. It’s not uncommon for children with autism to either seek movement, like bouncing or rocking or avoid it, when they are looking to regulate how they feel. If you have got a seeker, consider adding kid-friendly pogo sticks to your pile of toys for kids with autism. This one has the added cause-and-effect bonus of creating funny noise each time the child lands.
KidKraft Classic Kitchenette
This kitchen set is adorable. It is easy to build and looks great. Very sturdy and plenty of storage. Pretend cooking, serving and turn-taking are fun for all kids. And since playing in this pint-size kitchen mimics everyday life and everyday social interactions, it is a helpful practice for children with special needs. A child has a safe way to practice social skills and pro-social behavior, where the idea of failure is not as overwhelming. Plus, toys like a play kitchen encourage language and identification skills too.
Educational Insights Teachable Touchables Texture Squares
Young learners build tactile awareness and vocabulary skills as they interact with 20 textured squares in a variety of hands-on activities. Each pillow or patch is perfect for small hands. There are tons of different textures to explore and it is fun to take them in and out of the bag and get something different every time.
Unlike slick, hard plastic toys, this bag of textures is jam-packed with sensory stimuli that are perfect toys for autistic toddlers. There are 20 different pillows and patches featuring tactile differences, like scratchy, silky and soft textures. An activity guide is included to help moms and dads brainstorm different play scenarios.
Abilitations Teacher’s Pet Weighted Lap Dog
It is created with soft, huggable and weighted materials. It is designed especially for handing to students who are having trouble sitting still or focusing during circle time, desk time, dinnertime, etc. Dot loves to be held but is just as content sitting on a lap to provide the just-right-amount of input needed to calm your wiggler or alert the student with low tone. Dot is also a great listener for emergent readers and provides a great ear for challenged speakers. It is an excellent resource for children that need to fidget or need help focusing.
A weighted stuffed animal is one of the best toys for kids on the autism spectrum because their just-right heft provides sensory input that works to relax and focus the child’s body and mind. Your kiddo can stroke the puppy (named Dot) for additional tactile input that further decreases stress. At 4 pounds, this pup might just be perfect for a companion for your little one.
PlayMonster Mirari Pop! Pop! Piano
The toy itself is very fun and quite challenging to pop all of the pieces into their corresponding color tunnels. If your child is playing with it as intended, it’s a very safe and amusing toy. The music and silly sounds are a delightful addition. This is a perfect toy to teach cause-and-effect to young ones. This isn’t a toy to be thrown around or dropped from a high chair so some supervision is required.
Your child can either press a piano key to hear notes or flip a switch to hear fun sound effects. But really, the most fun cause-and-effect aspect of this toy is that each time a piano key is struck, shooting stars emerge. Grown-ups can also remove the arch to let the stars land on the floor, which encourages toddlers to crawl after them.
Melissa & Doug Examine & Treat Pet Vet Play Set
It is a highly recommended toy because of its great ability for children to develop their imagination. It is super durable and of great quality. Storage bag holds everything other than the stuffies. The variety of items in the vet kit allowed for endless storyline variations.
If your kid loves animal, let them practice their social-emotional skills with this veterinary playset, complete with a doggie and kitty that need a little TLC to get back on all four paws. Beyond social/emotional skill-building, these sweet animals, in all of their soft tactile glory, may just morph into comfort companions for your child too. The set comes with 24 pieces, including a stethoscope, medicine bottles, thermometer and more.
Pacific Play Tents Hide-Me Tent and Tunnel Combination-Blue
It encourages physical play and stimulates children’s imaginations at any time of the day. Play tents and tunnels are great for developing children’s coordination, motor skills, and imagination, all while they are having fun! The tent is easy to assemble and move around. It’s sturdy and the colors are great. Nice invention for daytime fun and quick put away storage.
Some kids with autism and normally developed kids as well can become overstimulated by their environment and crave a secret hide-out, away from noise and chaos. This hide-me tent and connecting tunnel do just that.
Matty’s Toy Stop Pull ‘N Pop Multi-Color Tubes (Toobs) with Storage Bag – 24 Pack
It provides tactile stimulation, fine motor skills, and auditory feedback. Good for motor skills, it makes great sounds, intriguing texture, bright colors. It is just a very satisfying manipulative for many different children. It is even better when used for hours of fun! It is great for special needs, occupational therapy & physical therapy! Made of high-quality plastic.
These tubes are wonderful. They teach so many things- like pushing and pulling, big and small, colors and shapes. They are a great tool and play item! Stretch them, pop them, twirl them—no matter how your child plays with these tubes, they will get the one-two punch of auditory and tactile stimulation in one fabulous toy for kids with autism.
These 24 simple tubes can be bent, snapped together, pulled apart, twirled around and pushed together and make all sorts of cool sounds. All that finger movement bolsters motor skills too, and the bumpy texture offers a unique tactile experience.
YUE ACTION Liquid Motion Bubbler / Liquid Timer for Sensory Toys, Fidget Toy, Children Activity, Calm Relaxing Desk Toys, Anxiety Toys, Autism Toys, ADHD Fidget Toys, Assorted Colors, One Piece
It is a nice desk toy great to help you relax and looks pretty neat as well. Visual sensory-seekers love toys that offer the calming blub, blub, blub of colorful bubbles moving up and down. This type of visually stimulating toy offers tons of calming entertainment for everyone. There is a reason these things are often spotted on the desks of stressed-out executives! When the bubbles stop after two minutes, just flip the toy over and start again.
Melissa & Doug Make-Your-Own Monster Puppet Kit
Puppets inspire countless creative stories and are terrific for developing self-confidence, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, communication skills, parent-child bonding, and so much more. If you are looking for a fun way to liven up your preschool storytimes, this is a great choice. This makes your own monster gives you limitless possibilities for fun. It’s a very puppet-like puppet, so kids automatically feel comfortable with him.
There are literally hundreds of play possibilities with this silly monster, making it a standout toy for kids with autism. This 30-piece set comes with many interchangeable eyes, ears, mouths and more to help children start to identify facial expressions, a skill deficit that often goes hand-in-hand with an autism diagnosis. When kids stick on the mouth that looks like a happy mouth, it helps them recognize what happy mouths look like in real life. Plus, taking the Velcroed features on and off uses the same muscle group that’s needed to hold a pencil or button a button, bolstering fine-motor skills.
Thomas & Friends Fisher-Price My First, Railway Pals Destination Discovery Train Set
If you are looking for toys for toddlers on the autism spectrum, you should give a chance to this train set. Many children with autism adore trains: The wheels go round and round, they lend well to categorizing and train schedules make the concept of timeless abstract. But more complicated tracks can cause more frustration than fun. To up the enjoyment, take your play beyond simply chuga-chuging around the tracks. Talk to the train, tell stories about the train, and build an imaginary scene with the train. Use the trains as a stepping stone for more play.
DG Sports Pop-Up Kids’ Ball Pit
Large ball pits can be amazing toys for kids with an autism spectrum disorder. Why? Because of the fact that squishing down into this colorful pit allows the balls to essentially massage your kid’s body, offering a deep-pressure sensation that many children with autism gravitate to and find very relaxing. Playing in a ball pit is also a way for a child with autism to experience other sensory stimuli, such as visual, tactile and even auditory, in a fun and safe way.
Educational Insights Playfoam Go!
Children are free to express their creativity, with squishy, squashy Playfoam that never dries out! This play foam is great! The mess is containable and easy to manage, the colors mixed are beautiful and there’s more than enough to go around.
Kids with autism spectrum disorder often take a special shine to this nontoxic molding foam that can be squished, sculpted and rolled into virtually anything, allowing children oodles of tactile stimulation. Playfoam is among the best special needs sensory toys, but it also provides a great fine-motor and creativity boost too. Other major pluses are it is not sticky, it is easy to clean up and it never dries out.
Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set
Best multipurpose toy ever. It is great for small and older kids, great in the bath and o the floor. Hours of play, every single day. Great for imaginative play and really interesting to watch them all interact in different ways with these.
Many top-notch toys for kids with autism simply hand control over to the child. When children have volition over the toys, when they have the ability to turn it into multiple things, great fun and learning happen. Squigz, for instance, is a bunch of suction-y shapes that stick together (and to various surfaces) to create, well, anything. There is no wrong way to play. Plus, the push and pull are great for fine-motor building.
Melissa & Doug Wooden Bear Dress-Up Play Set
It promotes hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity, and emotional awareness. Everything is interchangeable. Takes three pieces to make a complete bear, the head (expression), body with arms and the legs/feet. This is an adorable little puzzle. It comes with a nice wooden storage box. It definitely worth it for a toddler.
Reading and understanding other people’s facial expressions can be tough for those with autism, so it is smart to get toys for children with autism that provide fun opportunities to work on this skill at home. This too-cute bear cub who comes with 18 interchangeable pieces, including different facial expressions, like surprised and sad. It is also an awesome toy for building hand-eye coordination and dexterity. It all comes in a lidded wooden storage box for on-the-go play.
Manhattan Toy Gummy Velveteen Stegosaurus Dinosaur Stuffed Animal
It is a soft, soothing, calming toy for kids to carry around or snuggle with they get stressed. This dinosaur is like the toy version of a weighted blanket.
The world can be a far less scary place for a little one with a huggable, comforting companion at their side. Pretend play helps develop empathy and social skill development as children imagine the world through other eyes. Caring for their furry friend helps set the stage for later relationships with their not so furry friends.
Playskool Sit ‘n Spin Classic Spinning Activity Toy for Toddlers Ages Over 18 Months
This beautifully basic yet hella fun saucer helps stimulate a kid’s vestibular system. With spin tactic spinning action, this super fun activity toy for toddlers 18 months and up gets them whirling and twirling and helps them practice balance, coordination, and motor skills. It creates great eye/hand coordination for any child!
Magz-Bricks 40 Piece Magnetic Building Set, Magnetic Building Blocks
It is a fun magnetic building set consisting of magnetized blocks of the same shape and different colors. The blocks can be stacked and built up by magnetic interlocking. You can build unlimited shapes and designs by using different configurations.
It is a great open-ended construction toy to stimulate kids’ senses and encourage open-ended play. Kids get magnetized blocks that are the same shapes but different colors. They build and build and build. And they help develop their fine motor skills.
Children can easily manipulate the blocks in their hands. With no expectations for a final outcome, no specific problems to solve, no constricting rules to follow, and no pressure to produce a finished product, Magz-Bricks afford children one of the best implements available for winsome play with unlimited freedom to explore, design, invent, discover, and create.
Sassy Developmental Bumpy Ball | Easy to Grasp Bumps Help Develop Motor Skills
Multiple textures and materials engage baby’s developing tactile sensitivity and teach baby about variety. This sweet toy has multiple textures and materials to engage a child’s developing tactile sensitivity. Chunky sized bumps encourage reaching, grasping, and transferring from one hand to the other. Gentle rattle sounds create neural connections in babies’ brains from birth through 3 years. Bright colors and bold patterns are visually appropriate for the baby’s developing vision.
Hasbro Gaming Don’t Break the Ice Game
This is a strategy game where the goal is to knock out the blocks of ice. It moves play from parallel to collaborative, which is great because the intent is to get the child playing with other people. Don’t Break the Ice is the suspenseful game of strategy where the object is to knock out the blocks of ice.
Little Tikes 2 -in- 1 Snug ‘n Secure Grow With Me Swing
This molded-plastic swing, with a max weight limit of 50 pounds, is a fun way for kids to help improve their vestibular function while developing visual, spatial, perception and postural control abilities. Easy adjustment, easy in and out with straightforward adjustments. Sturdy construction, comfortable for toddler and the adjustable T bar works well, nice bright color.
Lavievert Indian Canvas Teepee Children Playhouse Kids Play Tent for Indoor or Outdoor Play
Kids can take a break and have some alone time in this tent, made from cotton canvas. These types of tents are really good for when children want some quiet alone time and they are on sensory overload and want to sit alone. It is a sectioned-off quiet space. And you can fill them with liquid timers, which have the vibe of a lava lamp. They are interesting and relaxing. Put those in the tent. And also include stress balls or sensory balls, where they have texture to them.
Kids are bound to enjoy security when playing inside. Their interpersonal skills and spirit of teamwork can also be enhanced through interacting and sharing with parents and next-door buddies. With curtains, offering kids personal space for little secrets and encouraging them to become independent and show respect for others.
The Original Toy Company Fold & Go Kids Trampoline
It can help children with ADHD and kids with autism expand their natural abundance of energy. When kids jump around on this trampoline, their joints will be stimulated, and that can help regulate inner balance. A small trampoline with a bar is a great choice for kids, as long as you monitor what they are doing to avoid any accidents. It is a winner because it is physically-engaging.