How to Choose the Best Sensory and Autism Toys for your child.

plastic rainbow colored slinky sensory toy
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Sensory Toys

My son can literally find sensory stimulation from a sheet of paper. And, two kinds of stimulation–sound and tactile. I’m serious! This has been a lifesaver when we’re out in public (for too long!) and I don’t have a toy for him. Chances are I can grab a freebie magazine at the entrance to a store or restaurant and he will enjoy flicking the paper.

It buys me time in a crunch situation.

But no, for the long haul, I do not give him sheets of paper to play with. He has quite an assortment of sensory toys. However, it’s been lots of trial and error, and understanding my child, to get to the right assortment.

plastic rainbow colored slinky sensory toy
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So before you waste any more money, here are some tips for choosing the right Sensory Toy. Because we all know that a bad purchase means that a perfectly good toy ends up at Goodwill or a donation bin some place.

Determine the Goal of the Toy

What is your goal for the child? Just pure enjoyment and sensory satisfaction? Or to try to develop skills using the child’s already developed preferences? Maybe your goal is to try to overcome sensory aversions.

You can choose what you want the desired outcome to be, to help determine what to buy. I don’t make my son do work before every play session, but focusing on what he needs has been very helpful. He can focus better on self-feeding after a trampoline session. After playing with a favorite character for a few minutes, he has much better joint attention. And, he can deal with noise and crowds much better if he is distracted by a highly-preferred sensory toy.

Types of Sensory Stimulation

Sensory toys are not just for autism. Every one of us has sensory needs. It’s why people listen to headsets while commuting on public transportation. Or why some go for a run after a day of sitting at a desk.

When it comes to sensory needs, we all have preferences and aversions. My sensory preference for clothing is yoga pants and sweats, and my aversion would be a tight, fancy dress with heels.

Our kids are no different, though their sensory needs may be more pronounced.

Look at the types of Sensory Stimulation below.

  • Visual
  • Sound
  • Cause and Effect
  • Tactile
  • Smell
  • Vestibular Input/Movement

For cause and effect, it will overlap the others. My son loves to push buttons or pull levers that will cause a sound. Other kids like visuals. And, think of a squirt gun. They may enjoy the cause and effect in tactile mode as well!

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We all know what our kids like and don’t like. Sometimes we don’t think about the nuts and bolts of it all unless we’re prompted. But think about what you see your child or grandchild playing with the most. You can always ask a teacher or their OT for assistance.

Know your child.

If my goal for my son is to develop hand strength and fine motor skills, I would choose a Sesame Street toy that requires him to manipulate it with his fine motor skills. I might even choose a sand-filled squishy ball so that he has to exercise his hand.

If he has a sensory aversion to a particular fabric or material, I would likely buy a toy that makes a sound that he likes. But, that requires him to touch something he avoids to get the sound. He does not like things that are bumpy, so maybe I could find a toy with a big, bumpy or ridged button. If that makes sense.

They will feed their craving.

It has been my experience with kids who have extreme sensory needs, that they are going to satisfy that need. No.Matter.What.

When my son was younger, he liked to jump on his bed. So we’d deny him access during the day. He’d jump on his brother’s bed. Or the couch. Maybe even our bed! It didn’t matter what we did, he craved that gross motor movement and vestibular input. All it took was an indoor trampoline and that ride-on zebra thing from Fisher Price, and the bed jumping went away.

Now we use the sensory toys and activities that he likes as rewards for work. You may hesitate at purchasing a trampoline or jungle gym, but it’s a better alternative than a bookcase or the outside railing of a set of stairs.

As the years have gone on, our extended family has gotten better at knowing Kevin’s preferences, and gift giving. I don’t care if a toy is for his age or not.

It’s wonderful to see him light up at the sight of a Christmas gift and play with it all day, right in front of the gift giver!

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This post was originally published in 2014 but was updated to edit and fix links.

plastic rainbow colored slinky sensory toy
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