originally written for and pubished on Harkla.co
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!
What to Consider When Toy Shopping for a Child 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 gifted toy a must-have favorite! For more information on sensory processing and autism, 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!
Our Top 10 Gift List
$ = under $25
$$ = $25-50
$$$ = $50-75
$$$$ = $75+
Yogibo ($$$$) - This fun beanbag-alternative offers kids an alternative seating option that also meets sensory needs for compression and proprioception! Jump and crash, crawl on top, sit and relax, or lay down and squish -- the ways to use Yogibo in your home sensory diet are endless! For children with low muscle tone or motor disabilities, Yogibo allows for supported positioning when watching favorite TV shows and makes a great addition to your child’s sensory space to relax with a book or music. Choose your child’s favorite color fabric or add any of their other modular pieces for a customized sensory seating option that you won’t mind being part of your family room! We love this Hugibo guy too for some extra cuddly fun.
Sensory Swing ($$$) - 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 Pod Swing offers a cozy, durable swing at a great price point and because it’s made of soft cotton, it’s packable and washable! The pod swing comes in two color choices: pink/blue or blue/yellow - and all of the hanging hardware is included in the kit.
Octopus Watch ($$$) - For kids who are working on independence with familiar routines, a new wearable tech solution offers a fashionable way to work on skills. The Octopus Watch comes in bright colors and their adorable night-light and alarm clock docking station is a friendly addition to any nightstand. The Octopus watch can be programmed by an adult’s smartphone to prompt a child through basic routines. The watch can display up to 700 icons for events, reminders, and daily routines and teach early time management concepts. For more information on this fun smartwatch-alternative for kids, check out the Joy website here.
Sensory Box Subscription ($$-$$$) - Sensory TheraPLAY Box is a subscription service that was created by an occupational therapist to bring favorite sensory tools to kids each month. Sign up for a month-to-month service or gift a 3-month delivery to unpack new sensory surprises that are designed for ages 4-8 years. The box can contain everything from tactile fidgets, fine motor activity books, and sensory tools to scissor skill books, visual stim toys, and therapy-inspired toys! We love the variety and thought behind each box shipped out -- there’s sure to be something your child will love!
Bodysock ($$) - 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.
SpinAgain or MiniSpinny ($-$$) - These two favorites from Fat Brain Toys are sure to appeal to kids who like to watch things move and spin around! Much like a traditional ring stacker toy, kids can arrange the colors in any pattern they want to watch them spin down the corkscrew pole one-by-one. Pull the pole out, watch them crash down, and do it again! You can choose from using the wobbly base or flip it for more stability depending on your child’s needs. The MiniSpinny is a smaller, more simplified version that is great for little hands or for an on-the-go stim toy option.
Weighted lap pad ($$) - 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. We love the money-back guarantee so you can feel comfortable knowing that the company stands by their product!
Teeter Popper ($$) - 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.
Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty ($) - If you haven’t heard of Crazy Aaron, you’ll be impressed by his amazing “putty world” filled with seemingly endless varieties of putty colors, theme-based putties, textures, and effects. Chances are that Crazy Aaron has developed a putty that will enthrall even the most specific users - from heat-sensitive color-changing putty, to UV-reactive putty, glow-in-the-dark, metallic, glitter, holiday themed, and more… This makes for a great stocking stuffer for kids who love to explore new textures in tactile ways. Buy the full sized tins for extra squeezy fun or gift a mini-tin set for more variety!
CozyPhones Headband Headphones ($) - 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. 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! 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. Best yet, these headphones are super affordable and easy to pack for road trips, community outings, and on-the-go “sensory tool boxes.”