This post is a long time coming, and one that I’ve been meaning to share for a while! Our favorite learning and sensory toys for autism. Our sweet boy has Autism, and from his countless hours of therapy sessions (and many wonderful therapists) we have learned SO much and also come across so many different awesome toys that he has LOVED! If you have a kid on the spectrum, as well, chances are finding toys they love to play with has been a bit of a struggle. Hopefully you find this post helpful in discovering some new toys that they will not only enjoy playing with, but also will help them developmentally!
What’s also so great about all of these toys is that they’re not just great for kids with Autism. Typically developing kids LOVE these toys too! Sophie is always fighting Sam over his “therapy” toys!
BRANDS WE LOVE
TOYS FOR AUTISM WE LOVE
WHAT WE DO: Put 3-5 pieces together and hand them over. For a higher level, we’ll make 2 separate little structures and have him point to choose one. Then, he pulls them all apart and puts the single pieces back into the container. For another level up, we have him sort the colors into separate piles on the floor.
WHAT WE DO: This is a much more simple toy that we use to try and encourage independent play. We’ll put it out near where he’s hanging out and have it available for him to go over and play with.
WHAT WE DO: Sophie really likes this one too so we practice turn-taking with this toy. They each have a few pieces and alternate putting them on. We also work on “which one is bigger” using this one by holding up two pieces and having him choose the larger or smaller one, based on what we ask.
WHAT WE DO: As I mentioned, we LOVE the “Fun Factory” piece that kids need to load with Play-Doh and then press down. Sam isn’t the biggest fan of filling it up, but if we do that part for him, he’s still using a lot of strength to push down the piece. He also likes the fun shapes that result from it. We let him pull them off and dangle them (read: stimming) for a few seconds as a reward.
WHAT WE DO: Not much different than standard reading best practices – labeling items, having him point to specific animals/pictures in the book, reading less words and moving quicker to keep his interest. Touch-and-feel books keep Sam’s attention independently more than just about anything.
WHAT WE DO: We let Sam play with this as hands-on as he wants. Sensory exploration is important and we don’t want to restrict him much with it. We’ll encourage scooping and squeezing with this stuff.
WHAT WE DO: not much here other than having it out and about and ready to use. Sometimes, when he’s feeling very “climby” we’ll move it next to the couch so he can crash/jump/fall into it.
WHAT WE DO: We’ll have Sam sort colored balls into piles. We’ll work on overhand throwing with the balls, and teaching that we throw balls, but not other toys. When he throws other things, we grab one of these and show him, “look, we throw balls only” then throw one. Letting Sam play and lay in the balls gives him deep pressure from the balls in a way that’s hard to achieve in other ways.
WHAT WE DO: With the Magna-Tiles, we practice taking turns while building things with Sophie, or with one of us. We also sort by colors and practice choosing with a point by holding up two pieces and having him point to the one he wants.
WHAT WE DO: We don’t do a whole lot with these. We approach this toy with a different strategy. Sam prefers to stim with these. We use them as a reward, or more often, as a highly preferred toy to get us through something we need to do. Example: we’ll bring these to the grocery store, or a restaurant to break out if he starts to get antsy. We’re big on finding a few items that are almost guaranteed to be interesting enough to get us through any given situation.
WHAT WE DO: My first tip is to store the puzzle pieces in a separate little bag (more on that later). We use these to encourage independent play. We love to see Sam complete an entire puzzle all on his own. Sometimes, we work with him to identify colors, animals, vehicles or whatever the theme of the puzzle pieces is. We also work on cleaning up with these and have Sam put the puzzle pieces back in the bag when we’re done.
WHAT WE DO: this toy is perfect for color sorting! For color matching, to make sure we capture his interest right away, we push in one of each color in a different (spaced out) spot on the board. Then, we sit him down and give him one piece at a time. He looks at the piece, then the pegs on the board and stacks the color on the matching piece! For a higher level, we now hold up two pieces (say one red and one green) and ask him to take the green one. This is also just a fun toy to learn about stacking and falling down too!
WHAT WE DO: Since Sam likes to dangle objects in front of his face (again, stimming), we use this as a reward in this activity. When he successfully strings a bead onto the lace, he gets to dangle the string with the new bead for a few seconds. Then we repeat until the string is loaded! Higher level activities here can be shape or number identification, or counting the beads as you go.
WHAT WE DO: Again, it’s not us in this case, it’s Amber, his Speech Therapist. She uses them almost solely to practice his PECS. Sam loves to watch them go after she winds them up, so she gets him to request “more” or “go” with this iPad. She also uses them for animal identification and to strengthen his cleaning up skills.
WHAT WE DO: Not much here! We break them out when we’re in a dire situation and hope for the best! The major strategy behind this type of toy is to not allow access to them unless you’re in an “emergency” type of situation. A situation where you NEED something to occupy your little one- even just for a short time.
TOYS WE AVOID OR LIMIT:
Kids on the spectrum can tend to become “fixated” easily on certain things. While this can be great if you need them to occupy themselves for a few minutes, if you’re at a restaurant or car/plane ride (all bets are off then and it’s all about survival mode!), or for a “break” between tasks, we definitely limit these as they can become non-functional very quickly:
Ipad. This is different, of course, if the ipad is used as an AAC device aka your child’s means of communication. We refer to Sam’s ipad as “Sam’s Words” because it’s what he uses to “talk” to us. But ipads for fun with apps or videos can be great again for survival mode times or for a break, but having our kids interact with the world and people around them (something that doesn’t come as easily to them) is so extremely important, and ipads and tablets easily and quickly take that away. Use sparingly!
Electronic Toys. Anything with buttons and batteries, songs that play over and over and sounds. All kids love these, but again, our kids on the spectrum can get very fixated and almost “robotic” with these toys. In the end, they aren’t really learning anything valuable from them, either.
Highly Preferred Toys or Toys Available at Therapy. As I mentioned previously in this post, we limit exposure to these toys to make them more effective when it counts.
We love to keep things as simple as possible, involve movement as much as possible, and rely on activities and toys that encourage socialization. I hope you found this post helpful! If you have any toys you love, be sure to leave them in the comments below so we can all discover even more good stuff for our little ones!
One of favorite OT suggested toys for deep pressure is a “bean box” – $8 for the big black storage tub at Costco and $20 for 50 lbs of pinto beans from Smart and Final. She can sit in there, pour the beans, dig her hands into them, use a spoon to stir in a bowl etc. my big kid likes it too, as do visiting kids! Best $30 toy I’ve bought!
Yes, we love sensory bins! You can use rice, beans, kinetic sand (mentioned in the post), etc and even put different little toys inside so they can dig for those items. So much fun, and like you said, perfect for deep pressure!