originally written for and published on Harkla.co
There’s a lot to consider when selecting toys for children with autism.
Children with autism can have limited language, social, and/or sensorimotor skills needed to purposely engage with toys in ways that neurotypical children do. Many of their specific interests have a sensory component that directs 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 toy a must-have favorite! 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 toys, we’ve grouped them into categories based on sensory input and skill development (social, cognitive, language, motor).
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.
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 articles on Stim Toys and also on Fidgets.
Some of our top tactile tools are fidgets, others use the sense of touch to support gross and fine motor skills.
Top 10 Toys for Visual Stimulation:
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:
Light up blocks
Scarves for shaking
Spin Again Toy