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-verbal?”
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-verbal.
So I asked my son’s BCBA. I asked what she felt are some of the best toys for kids with special needs such as autism, intellectual disabilities or developmental delays. She just started spouting off suggestions. Thankfully she was willing to turn it into a blog post!
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
- cognitive 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||25 Piece Mickey Mouse Foam Puzzle||36 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Marvel, 25-Piece Jigsaw Foam Squishy Puzzle Go Spidey! Disney Junior Spidey and his Amazing Friends...||44 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Spin Master Games PAW Patrol: The Movie, 25-Piece Jigsaw Oval Foam Squishy Puzzle Chase Skye...||34 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Spin Master Games Cocomelon, 25-Piece Jigsaw Foam Squishy Puzzle ABC Best Friends JJ & Animals...||44 Reviews||$10.00||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||Oumoda Pop Beads Girls Toys 580 PCS DIY Jewelry Making Kit- Kids Snap Beads Jewelry DIY Set Making...||767 Reviews||$10.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||B. Toys - (500-Pcs) Pop Snap Bead Jewelry - DIY Jewelry Kit for Kids||3,559 Reviews||$19.96||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Just My Style Make & Believe Unicorn Pop Beads, 500+ Snap-Together Beads, DIY Jewelry Bead Kit for...||18,552 Reviews||$14.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||B. Toys – 150 Pcs – Pop Snap Bead Jewelry Set for Kids – Pop Arty! – DIY Craft Jewelry...||1,089 Reviews||$7.95||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
- will help prompt communication skills and language acquisition
- the child can request or identify beads by attribute, item, etc.
|1||Learning Resources Beads and Patterns Card Set, Lacing Beads, 130 Pieces Ages 3+||372 Reviews||$32.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Kids First Math: Lacing Beads Math Kit w/ Activity Cards | Develop Skills in Counting, Sorting,...||3 Reviews||$34.95||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Montessori Educational Threading Toys Wooden Stringing Farm Animals Fruits Lacing Beads Preschool...||2,056 Reviews||$16.95||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Melissa & Doug Alphabet Wooden Lacing Cards With Double-Sided Panels and Matching Laces||786 Reviews||$27.99||Buy on Amazon|
Toys for Non Verbal Kids
“Real Life Toys” are toys that mimic every day life and help develop language and cognitive skills.
Using real-life versions of toys is a great way to:
- promote language development
- cognitive ID skills
- pretend play 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||Play Kitchen Toy Set for Kids: Theefun 46Pcs Pretend Cooking Playset with Plastic Pressure Pot, Pan,...||302 Reviews||$26.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||70 PCS Cutting Play Food Toy for Kids Kitchen, Pretend Fruit &Vegetables Accessories with Shopping...||4,198 Reviews||$22.95||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Yalujumb Kitchen Appliances Toy,Kids Kitchen Pretend Play Set with Coffee Maker Machine,Blender,...||49 Reviews||$32.95||Buy on Amazon|
|4||ELitao Cookie Play Food Set, Play Food for Kids Kitchen - Toy Food Accessories - Toy Foods with Play...||1,257 Reviews||$14.99||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 language 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
|1||TOMY Pop Up Pirate Game - Provides Plenty of Swashbucklin' Fun on Family Game Night||45,634 Reviews||$14.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||PlayMonster Yeti in My Spaghetti||11,922 Reviews||$8.79||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Game Zone Honey Bee Tree Game – Please Don’t Wake the Bees – 2 to 4 Players, Ages 3 and Up||1,584 Reviews||$17.97||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Banana Blast - Pull The Bananas Until The Monkey Jumps Game by Goliath||4,319 Reviews||$11.82||Buy on Amazon|
Sensory Toys for Autism
|1||nutty toys Pop Tube Sensory Toys (Large) Fine Motor Skills & Learning for Toddlers, Top ADHD Fidget...||11,508 Reviews||$5.97||Buy on Amazon|
|2||BunMo Sensory Toys - Calming Textured Silly Stretchy Strings and Sensory Toys for Autistic Children....||2,445 Reviews||$13.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Creativity for Kids Sensory Bin: Outer Space - Preschool and Toddler Sensory Toys, Fine Motor Skills...||3,953 Reviews||$19.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Genuvi 4 PCS Pop Fidget Ball Popper Its Toys, 3D Anti-Pressure Squeeze Pop Ball It Fidget Toy BPA...||1,804 Reviews||$7.19||Buy on Amazon|
|5||Freebear Busy Board, Toddler Travel Toys, Quiet Book with DIY Page, Autism Sensory Toys for Basic...||9 Reviews||$19.99||Buy on Amazon|
|6||Sensory Toys Set 50 Pack, Stress Relief Fidget Hand Toys for Adults and Kids, Sensory Fidget and...||9,209 Reviews||$16.95||Buy on Amazon|
Great For: kids with autism or vision impairments.
|1||ArtCreativity Light Up Magic Ball Toy Wand for Kids - Flashing LED Wand for Boys and Girls -...||4,588 Reviews||$12.72||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Rhode Island Novelty Light-up Magic Ball Wand, One Piece||773 Reviews||$8.29||Buy on Amazon|
|3||10 Pieces Fiber Optic Light Wand Stick Glow Flashing Wands Fiber Optic Wands LED Flashing Sticks LED...||51 Reviews||$13.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||SCIONE Kids Party Favors Sensory Toys 6 Pack Glow Sticks LED Light Up Pop Fidget Tubes Toddlers Toys...||220 Reviews||$12.99||Buy on Amazon|
|5||82PCs LED Light Up Toy Bulk Party Favors, Glow in The Dark Party Supplies for Boy Girl with 50...||188 Reviews||$20.95||Buy on Amazon|
|6||Bakatatoyz 8 Pack Light up Floating Dinosaur Bath Toy Set, Flashing Color Changing Light in Water,...||245 Reviews||$14.98||Buy on Amazon|
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.
- 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
LeapFrog Leaping Letters, click to see on Amazon.
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 language 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 language skills
|1||Magic Mixies Magical Misting Cauldron with Interactive 8 inch Blue Plush Toy and 50+ Sounds and...||7,715 Reviews||$58.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Hyper Pet Doggie Tail Interactive Plush Dog Toys (Wiggles, Vibrates, and Barks – Dog Toys for...||25,032 Reviews||$16.95||Buy on Amazon|
|3||allsNice Infant Toy/Musical Toys for Toddlers 1-3/Electronic Interactive Toys with Music LED Lights...||4 Reviews||$16.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Present Pets, Princess Puppy Interactive Plush Toy with Over 100 Sounds and Actions (Style May...||5,252 Reviews||$22.24||Buy on Amazon|
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?
|1||Bad Weather||41 Reviews||Buy on Amazon|
|2||LEGO Flower Bouquet 10280 Building Kit; A Unique Flower Bouquet and Creative Project for Adults, New...||7,087 Reviews||$49.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||The Lego Movie||21,443 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||LEGO Bonsai Tree 10281 Building Kit, a Building Project to Focus The Mind with a Beautiful Display...||8,425 Reviews||$40.33||Buy on Amazon|
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 language development by talking to your child about
|1||Fisher-Price Medical Kit, 7-Piece Pretend Play Set , White||10,764 Reviews||$16.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||MCFANCE Toy Doctor Kits 48Pcs Pretend Play Doctor Kit Toys Stethoscope Medical Kit Imagination Play...||4,554 Reviews||$21.22||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Best Choice Products Play Doctor Kit for Kids, Pretend Medical Station Set for Boys & Girls with...||933 Reviews||$49.99||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Melissa & Doug Get Well Doctor’s Kit Play Set – 25 Toy Pieces||5,241 Reviews||$27.99||Buy on Amazon|
- 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
Shape Sorters for:
- fine motor
- problem solving skills
- identify or choose the pieces
|1||Fisher-Price Baby's First Blocks||23,586 Reviews||$7.89||Buy on Amazon|
|2||Melissa & Doug Shape Sorting Cube - Classic Wooden Toy With 12 Shapes||19,951 Reviews||$10.33||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Melissa & Doug Match and Roll Shape Sorter - Classic Wooden Toy||2,102 Reviews||$13.89||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Green Toys Shape Sorter, Green/Blue||2,239 Reviews||$14.15||Buy on Amazon|
- fine motor
- cognitive development
|1||Fashion Angels 1000+ Ridiculously Cute Stickers for Kids - Fun Craft Stickers for Scrapbooks,...||23,909 Reviews||$4.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||First 100 Stickers: Animals: Over 500 Stickers||3,845 Reviews||$5.89||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Melissa & Doug Puffy Sticker Activity Books Set: Dress-Up, Princess, Mermaid - 208 Reusable Stickers||6,035 Reviews||$12.64||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Paint by Sticker Kids: Mermaids & Magic!: Create 10 Pictures One Sticker at a Time! Includes Glitter...||1,400 Reviews||$5.99||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
Books that are repetitive will help you work on your child’s verbal 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!
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
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:
- language and cognitive skills
- usually cheap!
- independent task completion
|1||48 Food Matching Puzzles with Error-Correction Mechanism Pre-Primer in 2 Pieces, Perfect for...||606 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|2||The Learning Journey: My First Match It - Head and Tails - 15 Piece Self-Correcting Animal Matching...||3,680 Reviews||$9.99||Buy on Amazon|
|3||Melissa & Doug Self-Correcting Wooden Number Puzzles With Storage Box (40 pcs)||3,581 Reviews||$10.39||Buy on Amazon|
|4||Trend Enterprises "What Goes Together?" Fun-to-Know Puzzle Multicolor, 3 x 6 in||97 Reviews||$10.99||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 than $167!)
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 language skills. Any of these toys can be found at Amazon, Kmart, or Sears.
- Bead maze
- Infant activity table
- Activity cube
- Easel and chalk
- Sidewalk Chalk
- Tent (with or without ballpit 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 McNelis, M.Ed, BCBA
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.