As a parent of an autistic child, you are very aware that your child is hyper-sensitive and that a toy that other children might love could set your child into a tailspin. Although autistic children differ in the degree to which they are sensitive to lights, sounds, odors, tastes and touch, they all experience moments when their nervous system actually overloads or short-circuits, to put it in electrical terms, and suddenly they are out of control.
When you are shopping for toys for your autistic child, consider the types of stimuli that affect your child positively or negatively. The abrupt loud siren on a toy fire engine may easily terrify one child, while the flashing light might mesmerize another. You know your child best, so try to imagine how he or she might react to a particular toy when you are buying a birthday present or gifts for Christmas or Hanukkah.
With today’s cutting edge autism research, we now understand that our autistic children are responding normally to abnormal sensory processing by their nervous system and brain. If we saw, heard, and felt the world the way they do, we’d respond exactly the way they do. For them, at times, the laws of physics seem erratic and inconsistent. They may not always be able to tell exactly where their body ends and the objects around them begin. Lights can be too bright, sounds too loud. Too much going on at once becomes overwhelming. Other times they feel as though they are watching a video instead of living their life.
By reducing every day assaults on their senses, we can start enabling our autistic children to trust the world around them and start reaching out to us. The best way to do this is to give our autistic children toys that are actually tools that help them interact with their environment.
Recommended Toys and Games For Kids With Autism
The following are 13 fun toys and games that your kid will love to play with – while they are gaining new motor and social skills. Included are reasons why these particular toys meet specific needs in autistic children.
Many autistic children are sensitive to touch. They overreact to tight clothes or rough fabric textures, even to the point where their skin actually hurts. Yet, according to Temple Gradin, an autistic adult who wrote about her autism in Thinking in Pictures, My Life with Autism, there are times when autistic children need to be wrapped tightly to calm their over-active senses down. The following toys can be used proactively by children to calm themselves and help them feel grounded and secure:
1. Neck Wraps Or Weighted Vests
Designed for comfort, these weighted clothing provide a sense of security against the body that immediately calms the senses and allows the child to start focusing on things beyond discomfort that they were experiencing.
2. Weighted Lap Pads
Beneficial for children with sensory processing disorder or autism, the Weighted Lap Pad provide a sense of security for your child while also producing a calming effect. Also available are colorful covers that have fun patterns, textures and games printed on them.
Many autistic kids have a love-hate relationship with their sense of touch. While they resist rough textures in clothing, they love feeling odd textures with their fingers. Their reactions are often dependent more on whether they can choose to touch an unfamiliar texture or surface or if it touches them. The following are some wonderful variety of texture toys to satisfy the touch needs of autistic children.
3. The Tactile Tiger Hand Fidget / Sensory Brush
An excellent calming toy for any child who seeks sensory or tactile stimulation. Approved by the FDA, this toy can also double up as an oral motor device to help children with chewing or grinding habits as well.
4. Fidget and Stress Balls for Autism
A set of colorful gadgets to occupy your child’s hands and excess energy while in class or anytime he or she needs to sit still.
5. School Specialty Desk Buddy Multi-Sensory Bar Fidget
This ruler-styled toy has several textures, is durable and rugged enough to survive being chewed on. It helps to siphon off stress and enhance focus.
When autistic children are heading toward sensory overload, they start to fidget and need to occupy their hands and attention. Any toys that have unexpected surfaces and shapes allow them to release this build-up of stress as they handle them, restoring a sense of calm and enabling them to focus on what is going on around them. While they are puttering with these toys, they actually listen more intensely.
Developing balance is critical for enabling children to be aware of where their body is in relation to the rest of the world. For autistic children, this is especially critical. The following toys are designed to develop balance and relational perception.
6. Kid-O Bilibo
Children will love sitting and rocking in, hiding under, peeking through and carrying around this odd-shaped fun plastic toy. Great for open-ended play.
7. Dizzy Disc
This is a riding spin toy that lets children have the fun of spinning even on an incline, while reinforcing their vestibular sensory system.
8. Isokinetics Inc. Brand Exercise Disc / Balance Cushion
This unique seat cushion is often called a “wiggle seat.” This unstable surface requires children to “wiggle” as they sit, actually helping to calm them.
9. Moody Bands
Autistic children who cannot speak words or who have difficulty expressing how they feel will be delighted when they can use these wrist bands to let others know what mood they are in while teaching them to become aware of their own mood changes:
10. Kimochis Mixed Feelings Set
These mixed feelings box set will allow your child to express additional emotions. There are 4 different sets with each box containing 6 feelings per set.
11. Funny Faces Board Game
The whole family can have fun with this funny faces board game while building facial recognition skills. Children try to match their own expression to the face on the game board and the other players try to guess which face it is.
12. Multi Voice Changer
Encourage your young hesitant-speaker to use his or her voice. Children love hearing their own voice sound totally unlike them. This megaphone can be used to create 10 different voice combinations. It also has red LED flashing lights.
Autistic children are extremely visual learners. Toys that capitalize on shapes, size, patterns and colors, activate specific portions of the brain and help autistic children make critical links in both logic and cause and effect.
13. Quercetti Georello Kaleido Gears
One of the best visual toys ever created for children with autism. This gear and plate toy teaches relationships between objects while children experiment with the colorful, interlocking gears. A 55pc set.
This is just a sampling of the incredible repertoire of toys and games that have been fine-tuned to meet the needs of autistic children. Mixed in among the toys and games are also activity books that parents and teachers can use at home and in the classroom. Two exceptional ones are:
- 101 Games and Activities for Children With Autism, Asperger’s and Sensory Processing Disorders by Tara Delaney
- Motivate to Communicate!: 300 Games and Activities for Your Child With Autism by Simone Griffin and Dianne Sandler
Footnote: * Thinking in Pictures, My Life with Autism, by Temple Gradin. A must-read for parents and teachers of autistic children. This book lets you see the world through the eyes of someone who is autistic.