Best Toys for Autism
I used to dread holiday shopping and buying birthday gifts. A phase where I loathed walking through the baby/toddler department of a store, looking for toys for my son who is neither a baby nor a toddler. But I got over it.
Now, having this blog for almost 10 years, parents often ask me, “What are the best toys for an autistic child? What sensory toys do you recommend for autistic kids? What if they are non-speaking?”
Step 1: Always ask them first! Pointing to a picture, enjoying a particular tv show…all of these things can give you clues if the child is non-speaking.
This list was put together by one of my son’s team members, a former special education teacher. Over the years, OTs and others have seen the list and said, “ooh, you have to add…” and now it’s a very big list!
Best Toys for Autistic Children
This list is geared towards toddlers and younger children with developmental delays or older children who are functioning on a lower level than their peers. I would suggest not reading too much into age ranges or what gender a toy says.
At the end of the day, who cares if an 8-year-old boy plays with dolls? There is so much to be learned in the process. Your kids are hard at work building and acquiring skills as they learn about the world.
Now that I have 3 children of my own, I have a real appreciation for the thought, energy and hard earned dollars that go into buying toys. With this perspective, I have made a point of talking to all of the families I work with about holiday shopping.
Best Puzzles for Autistic Toddlers
With this puzzle, children with autism and other developmental delays can work on:
- fine motor skills
- matching skills
- simple task to complete
Foam puzzles are great for:
- fine motor skills because of the little bit of extra effort that foam affords you
- give you something to talk about because some of the animals are identifiable (a few are hard to make out) which gives you more possibilities in the way of purpose and function
|1||PAW Patrol: The Movie, 25-Piece Jigsaw Oval Foam Squishy Puzzle Chase Skye Marshall Rubble, for Kids...||773 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||25 Piece Mickey Mouse Foam Puzzle||180 Reviews||$12.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Alphabet & Numbers Foam Puzzle by DDI by Gov||839 Reviews||$9.37||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Cocomelon, 25-Piece Jigsaw Foam Squishy Puzzle ABC Best Friends JJ & Animals Musical Show, for Kids...||443 Reviews||$9.94||Buy on Amazon|
Pop Beads for Sensory and Fine Motor
Pop beads are a great toy for:
- fine motor skills
- putting together and taking apart
- can incorporate skills that involve colors and shapes
- reasonably priced, durable and usually in a decent container
|1||Just My Style Make & Believe Unicorn Pop Beads, 500+ Snap-Together, DIY, Bead Kit for Girls, Jewelry...||370 Reviews||$12.73||Buy on Amazon|
|2||LEARNING ADVANTAGE Transportation Linking Blocks - Set of 36 - Ages 18m+ - Pop Beads for Toddlers -...||397 Reviews||$19.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||FUNZBO 500+ Snap Pop Beads for Kids Jewelry Making - Kids Crafts for Kids Ages 4-8, 6-8, Arts and...||14,266 Reviews||$19.98||Buy on Amazon|
|4||B. toys – Pop Arty! 500 Pcs- Jewlery Making Kit- Creative Pop Snap Bead Set for Kids –DIY Craft...||4,371 Reviews||$19.99||Buy on Amazon|
Beads and Cards are for fine motor skills and sequencing.
Beads for stringing/lacing are also great for fine motor needs. When selecting your beads for lacing, I would suggest that you think “function” and “multi-purpose”. When you select your beads for stringing, pick ones that can be used in different ways. You can use beads for:
- sorting by color, shape, item, etc.
- some beads have pictures on them or beads that are small objects
- the child can request or identify beads by attribute, item, etc.
|1||4 Pack Wooden Lacing Toy,Educational Threading Activity Puzzles,Learning Fine Motor Skill Travel...||23 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||9 Pieces Kids Lacing Cards, Double Sided Sewing Cards in 9 Wild Animals with 9 Colorful Laces,...||88 Reviews||$9.50||Buy on Amazon|
|3||BMTOYS Montessori Educational Threading Toys Wooden Stringing Farm Animals Fruits Lacing Beads...||2,406 Reviews||$14.95||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Melissa & Doug Lace and Trace Activity Set: Pets - 5 Wooden Panels and 5 Matching Laces - Lacing...||7,039 Reviews||$9.74||Buy on Amazon|
Toys for Non Speaking Kids
“Real Life Toys” are toys that mimic every day life.
Using real-life versions of toys is a great way to:
- promote communication
- identification skills
- pretend play skills or life skills
Also, adding items to toys/activities you may already have such as kitchen items or baby doll items can make them educational.
- With kitchen items and baby dolls, there are a lot of functional imitation skills you can work on (with real-life objects, doing real life things), on top of the pretend play skills you are developing and the ID skills you are building with these toys.
- There is a lot of vocabulary that is functional and important to be used with these toys.
- You are now exposing and talking about everyday items and the actions that go with these toys with your child.
- Add some more food or a tea set to that kitchen.
- Consider getting your child’s baby doll a stroller, crib or highchair.
When you are adding food to that kitchen, keep an eye out for items such as the following:
|1||Shimirth 37PCS Pretend Play Kitchen Accessories, Kids Kitchen Playset Stainless Steel Play Pots and...||771 Reviews||$22.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Little Tikes First Oven Realistic Pretend Play Appliance for Kids, Play Kitchen with 11 Accessories...||4,883 Reviews||$39.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||70 PCS Cutting Play Food Toy for Kids Kitchen, Pretend Fruit &Vegetables Accessories with Shopping...||6,160 Reviews||$18.38||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Funpynani 130Pcs Kitchen Playset, Toddler Pretend Cooking Play Pots, Pans, Utensils Cookware, Daily...||265 Reviews||$23.19||Buy on Amazon|
Each of these can be found on Amazon at decent prices. They are great for pretend play in the kitchen, but they will allow practice with:
- fine motor skills
- cognitive skills
- real life items
- matching and physically putting things together
- used as a tabletop activity for more intense teaching
- skill acquisition
Games for Taking Turns and Socialization
When it comes to games, you should pick a focus. Do you want your child to:
- be involved with their siblings in some way
- learn/practice turn taking
- improve cognitive skills
If you ask yourself what you want out of a game, it may help you make a better choice when selecting games. Games like Honey Bee Tree and Crocodile Dentist are great for turn taking and require minimal skills to participate.
The Memory Game is good for:
- cognitive and communication skills
- can be used outside the context of a game
- have your child match pictures as a tabletop activity
- to be done independently, or if your child is not currently able to match a picture to picture, you can use the Memory cards to work on this important matching skill
Great For: kids with autism or vision impairments.
This Fisher Price pig is a favorite for a number of clients of mine. The great thing about this pig is he is entertaining on his own. For a child who has minimal to no play skills, this is the kind of toy that is great to start with.
- Interactive toy piggy bank with 40+ songs, sounds and learning phrases for infants and toddlers ages 6-36 months
- 2 Smart Stages levels teach numbers and counting, colors, and Spanish words
- Drop the coins into piggy’s back or press the nose for fun songs, sounds and phrases
- Includes 10 colorful coins with numbers or animals on each side for put-and-take play
- Item arrives in frustration-free, easy-to-open packaging that’s 100% recyclable.
- fine motor purpose by putting the coins in
- color identification
- math skills, “put two coins in”
Leap Frog Leaping Letters works on:
- identify letters
- identify sounds
- very early learner is just working on putting something into something else
- gives instant feedback for “putting in” with sound
- Tad and his letter factory friends sing their letter names and sounds and show children how to spell three-letter words
- Light-up instrument buttons accompany the letter band by saying their names and playing their sounds and music
- Tad leads the letter band by playing his guitar and singing the ABC song in addition to playing a fun phonics challenge
- Explore a wide selection of interactive activities through five learning modes that include letters & phonics, spelling, game, music and jukebox
Leap Frog My Discover House– This toy provides all of those fun sounds and lights that are always attractive on toys; that your child will probably love. This toy provides
- many communication opportunities
- fine motor opportunities because of how relatable the toy is to the natural environment
- For the beginning learner who has minimal to no play skills-touching the different buttons, such as ringing the doorknob and turning the light on, and teaching those cause and effect relationships that provide tons of entertainment.
- This same cause and effect relationship with lights and sounds will likely reinforce independent play
- talk about what you are playing with, where you can find those things around your own house
- continue building communication skills
- Interactive playhouse with fun lights, music, sounds, and activities inside and out for immersive, 360-degree learning play
- 3 Smart Stages learning levels with 200 plus songs, sounds and phrases that teach colors, shapes, numbers, the alphabet and more; 4 language options: English, Spanish, Mandarin or French
- Explore inside: interactive “hub,” home office area with light-up thermostat, office light and clicker-clock, plus kitchen area with shape-sorter fridge and “cooking” pretend play
- Fun “outdoor” play: crawl-through door, porch light with on/off switch, open and close mailbox, light-up house numbers, drop-through rain gutter and balls, and shape-sorter recycling bin
- Includes 14 play pieces. Helps strengthen gross motor skills and encourages imaginative play for babies and toddlers ages 6 months to 3 years old
Note: Showing the Fisher Price version because the Leap one is discontinued. Look for it at yard sales and consignment sales.
Finding Educational Value in Traditional Toys
Legos/Blocks– Blocks and legos are just awesome, plain and simple. Kids are working on
- fine motor skills
- improving cognitive skills
- imitation-can your child build the same three-piece building you have made?
- Can your child imitate banging on the table with that long yellow lego versus the tiny red one? Can your child request those blocks you’ve kept on your side of the table?
- Request any of them by color
And as far a multi-purpose goes, feel free to add legos and blocks to the list of things you have them sort and categorize. So much cognitive appeal here with these classic toys!
Melissa and Doug also have a great selection of blocks.
Who doesn’t love a Doctor’s kit? Lots of pretend play skills to be had here. That baby doll is just waiting to get their shots and have their temperature and blood pressure taken.
It’s a toy that has always been around because it’s always been fun, and meanwhile, you are sneaking in communication development by talking to your child about:
- what we do at the doctor’s office
- why we go to the doctor and
- what we find at the Dr.
- talk about what hurts
Mr. Potato Head– you can reinforce
- identifying body parts
- requesting those body parts
- help pushing them in because it’s not so easy for little ones that have fine motor delays
- DIFFERENT KINDS OF POTATO FAMILIES: It's a Potato Head celebration of families The Create Your Potato Head Family toy includes lots of parts and pieces to customize potato families
- FAMILY MASHUP: With 45 accessories to mix and mash, your little one can imagine different Potato Head families with up to 2 parents and 1 baby
- INCLUDES 45 PARTS AND PIECES: With 2 large potato bodies and 1 small potato body, and 42 fun and modern accessories (like pink streaked hair) kids can create funny and wacky looks
- ADORABLE BABY SPROUT: It's a baby The baby potato toy includes a 3-inch potato body plus a plastic diaper accessory that looks like baked potato foil, and a butter and sour cream pacifier accessory
- LOVED FOR GENERATIONS: With its universal a-peel, the Create Your Potato Head Family toy makes a great baby shower gift, or birthday or holiday gift for toddlers, preschoolers, and kids ages 2 and up
Shape Sorters for:
- fine motor
- problem solving skills
- identify or choose the pieces
|1||Fisher-Price Stacking Toy Baby's First Blocks Set of 10 Shapes for Sorting Play for Infants Ages 6+...||34,473 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Fisher-Price Stacking Toy Baby’s First Blocks Set of 10 Shapes for Sorting Play Ages 6+ Months,...||2,263 Reviews||$10.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||TOHIBEE Montessori Toys for 1 Year Old, Sensory Toys Shape Sorter, Baby Blocks Colorful Textured...||11 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Shape Sorter Truck||581 Reviews||$23.44||Buy on Amazon|
- fine motor
- cognitive development
|1||Fashion Angels 1000+ Ridiculously Cute Stickers for Kids - Fun Craft Stickers for Scrapbooks,...||21,504 Reviews||$4.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Fairies, Pixies and Elves Sticker Book (Sticker Books)||135 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Horizon Group USA Bluey Sticker Playset, 2 Sticker Play Scenes, 35+ Reusable Puffy Bluey...||1,648 Reviews||$5.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Brain Games - Sticker by Number: Amazing Animals||2,393 Reviews||$7.99||Buy on Amazon|
Books with large, easily identifiable pictures is a great way for you:
- to read to your child
- let your child be involved
- having your child identify those items and actions
- helps build their receptive and expressive vocabulary
|1||See, Touch, Feel: A First Sensory Book||10,649 Reviews||$6.63||Buy on Amazon|
|2||First 100 Trucks: And Things that Go||3,821 Reviews||$5.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||First 100 Christmas Words||1,397 Reviews||$4.71||Buy on Amazon|
|4||See, Touch, Feel: ABC||1,109 Reviews||$7.49||Buy on Amazon|
Books that are repetitive will help you work on your child’s communication skills. Brown Bear books are a good option. Let your child fill in the “what do you see” parts, or any other part they might know.
Repetition is good!
|1||World of Eric Carle, Around the Farm 30-Button Animal Sound Book - Great for First Words - PI Kids||21,763 Reviews||$10.45||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?||53,510 Reviews||$1.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||"Slowly, Slowly, Slowly," said the Sloth||1,439 Reviews||$6.79||Buy on Amazon|
|4||The Very Hungry Caterpillar||73,057 Reviews||$5.90||Buy on Amazon|
Stickers are the ultimate stocking stuffer!
Stickers are an underrated item to be used for fine motor skills. Big stickers, little stickers, base it on your child’s needs and interests.
With sticker books, you can:
- fine motor skills
|1||24 Sheets(500+) 3D Puffy Stickers for Toddlers Kids, Bulk Preschool Sticker Sheets for Reward,...||88 Reviews||$5.49||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Reusable Sticker Book for Kids 2-4, Vehicles Truck Stickers Educational Learning Toys Travel...||113 Reviews||$5.95||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Fashion Angels 1000+ Ridiculously Cute Stickers for Kids - Fun Craft Stickers for Scrapbooks,...||21,504 Reviews||$4.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||SAVITA 3D Stickers for Kids & Toddlers 500+ Puffy Stickers Variety Pack for Scrapbooking Bullet...||16,413 Reviews||$7.99||Buy on Amazon|
There are many different Match It puzzles out there. They range from puzzles that are simple 2 part puzzles (such as the heads and tails) to the higher skilled puzzles (such as counting and matching words to their pictures). The skills addressed by matching puzzles:
- communication and cognitive skills
- usually cheap!
- independent task completion
|1||The Learning Journey: My First Match It - Head and Tails - 15 Piece Self-Correcting Animal Matching...||7,480 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||5X MEGASET Puzzles for Toddlers 3-5 - Matching Games for Kids Ages 2-4 by QUOKKA - Numbers Animals...||65 Reviews||$32.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||48 Food Matching Puzzles with Error-Correction Mechanism Pre-Primer in 2 Pieces, Perfect for...||945 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||The Learning Journey: Match It! Head to Tail - 20 Self-Correcting Animal-Themed Puzzle Sets -...||1,673 Reviews||$12.99||Buy on Amazon|
I work with older children who work on these as independent activities at a table while their parents attempt to cook dinner or squeeze in a phone call.
Yard Sale Finds
If you come across the game, Hullabaloo by Cranium grab it! It is so much fun and it tackles so many skills that have been discussed in this article.
It currently runs for $300+ on Amazon and I don’t think any game is worth that much, but if you stumble across it at a yard sale or resale event, don’t hesitate to buy it if all of the parts are there. (Blog owner’s note: I did see it on eBay for $16, which is better)
Toys for Gross Motor Skills
- Make sure your child has balls to throw, kick and catch.
- Something to ride on or climb outside are also good options. This one is easier to save money on as a trip to the playground covers a lot of the gross motor skills that your physical therapist is likely targeting.
- If you have a child who is a sensory seeker, you could try a trampoline or swing in your home. But talk to your OT and PT first, let them get back to you before you install something in your home or invest in something that takes up a lot of space.
More Autism and Sensory Toys
No information provided here after the excessive details up above – but these all hit gross motor, fine motor, cognitive and communication skills. Any of these toys can be found at Amazon, Target or Kohl’s.
- Bead maze
- Infant activity table
- Activity cube
- Easel and chalk
- Sidewalk Chalk
- Tent (with or without ball pit balls)-amazingly, these are under $40!
- Fisher Price Little People Toys
- Construction Toys
- Vehicles – all kinds
- Shopping cart
- Lawn mower
- Bead maze
- Infant activity table
- Activity cube
- Easel and chalk
- Sidewalk Chalk
- Kid sized table
- Kid friendly book shelf
- House keeping toys
- Dramatic Play costumes
- Toy phones
- Riding toys (in the house)
- Riding toys (outside)
- Climbing toys (inside or outside)
- Basketball net/soccer net (inside or out)
- Balls (various kinds)
- Sand/water table
- Shelves and clear bins to house toys out of your child’s reach to encourage requesting and as a way to rotate toys out if you need to.
The last thing I want to do is sound preachy, I promise, so I apologize if that is how I sound. It’s not easy to play with your children as much as you would like with all of the things parents already have to do.
If you aren’t sure where to start in teaching your child how to play with toys or if you aren’t sure if your child will like something, talk to your teachers.
Other than you, there’s no better reference about your child.
So, happy playing and happy shopping this holiday season! Bridget M., M.Ed
Disclaimer: I am not endorsing any of these brands or toys specifically. I just hope they inspire you to look at toys differently and that they help you pick out what is right for your children based on their interests, strengths and areas of need.
When you purchase items from Amazon from this site, I receive a small percentage at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting A Day in our Shoes.