50 Best Sensory Toys for Toddlers and Kids with Autism.

kid with autism playing with sensory toys

Toys for Kids with Autism

This list of toys and gifts is great for:

  • Developmentally Delayed Toddlers
  • Developmentally Delayed Children
  • Autistic Boys and Girls of any age
  • Kids and Toddlers with Autism
  • Intellectually Delayed Children
  • Disabled Children

I used to dread this time of year. I went through 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 a special needs child? What sensory toys do you recommend for autistic kids?”

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!

autistic child lining up toys to play

Gifts for Children with Autism or Developmental Delays

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 Toddlers with Autism

With this puzzle, children with autism and other developmental delays can work on:

  • fine motor skills
  • cognitive matching skills
  • simple compliance task to be completed
lauri-toddler-tote-puzzles-pegs
Click to see it on Amazon.

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

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

Lacing Beads and Cards for Kids with Autism

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.

Special Needs Toys

“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:

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
  • language
  • cognitive skills
  • colors
  • shapes
  • real life items
  • matching and physically putting things together
  • used as a tabletop activity for more intense teaching
  • skill acquisition
  • compliance purposes (task completion upon request)

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

On Amazon you can find all kinds of Memory Games to suit your child’s interests.

Sensory Toys

Talk with your child’s OT about your child’s sensory needs. Some have sensory aversions, some seek sensory, many do both.

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
shape sorter fine motor problem solving
Click to see the shape sorters.

Books, Stickers, Sticker Books for:

  • fine motor
  • language
  • cognitive development

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
  • repetition

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:

  • categorize
  • sort
  • identify
  • fine motor skills

Matching Puzzles

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
  • matching
  • associations
  • sequencing
  • usually cheap!
  • independent task completion

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.

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.

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