Choosing the Best Toys
The best toys for children with autism are ones that address the child's developmental needs. It's also important to choose playthings that will engage and interest the child, making playtime both fun and educational.
Ball Games for Social Skills
Countless toys can help develop social skills, a common area of challenge for children with autism. Choose activities that put an emphasis on give-and-take, which is important in reciprocal social interaction.
Ball games are a great for practicing age-appropriate social skills, including following set rules and handling the unexpected. Consider football, basketball, golf, bowling, and simple catch-and-throw games.
Board Games for Taking Turns
Taking turns is another common area of challenge for kids on the spectrum, and it's an essential skill for social interaction and communication. Some of the best turn-taking toys are board games. These can be as generic as chess and checkers, or they can be brand-name games like the following:
Toys to Try Out Other Roles
Pretend play helps children with autism learn how to navigate the world by creating imaginative scenarios that the kids act out, and it also provides a common interest with typical peers. Some of the best pretend play toys give kids the chance to take on a new role, which can help with perspective-taking. Try one of these fun ideas:
- Dress-up kits
- Doctor sets
- Veterinarian kits
- Tool sets
Pretend Toys for Imagination
Playing pretend can also involve making up imaginary scenarios and acting those out. Since pretend play is a common challenge area for kids with autism, you can facilitate this skill by using one of these toys:
- Toy kitchens to practice daily pretend routines
- Dolls to practice pretend social interaction
- Dollhouses, toy barns, and car ramps to play out scenarios
Animal Toys to Expand Sound Repertoires
Kids with autism usually have some type of communication difficulty, which can range from challenges with practical and social use of language to being completely non-verbal. For younger kids or those who are non-verbal, the best toys involve expanding their repertoire of sounds.
Try out animal toys like farm play sets, stuffed animals, dinosaurs, and other fun options and encourage kids to make the appropriate sound for those animals.
Sound Toys for Talking in Turns
For higher functioning kids, taking turns in conversation can be a major challenge. One way to work on improving this skill is to play with toys that draw attention to who is speaking. Kids can pass these toys back and forth to help illustrate who is in control of the conversation at any given time.
Try out some of these examples:
- Voice recorders
- Voice-distorting toys
Mouth Toys for Oral Motor Skills
Another aspect of communication is articulation, which can be hard for some kids with autism. If children have difficulties with their oral motor skills, try out some fun toys like the following:
- Musical wind instruments
Improved Hand Strength with Dough and Clay
Fine motor activities for kids with autism are abundant. Some of the best toys work on hand strength, which is important for self care, handwriting, and many other tasks. Try purchased or handmade dough or modeling clay for hours of fun and improved hand strength.
Art Toys for Detailed Fine Motor Skills
Art is great for personal expression, and it also provides a way for children with autism to practice their detailed fine motor skills. Consider art toys like the following:
- Paints and paintbrushes
- Glue, glitter, and fun art embellishments
- Markers, crayons, colored pencils, and other writing utensils
- Colored papers
Indoor Toys for Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills are another common challenge area for many children with autism; however, it can be difficult to find toys for gross motor skills that are suitable for indoor use. Try some of these ideas:
- Electronic play mats
- Bop It!
- Toy shopping carts or strollers
- Play tents and tunnels
- Hoppy ball
Toys for Sensory Integration
Many of the toys that address fine motor and gross motor needs can also address sensory needs as well. Some of the best options include the following:
- Sand and water table
- Indoor swings and hanging rings
- Drums, rattles and other musical instruments
- Bean bag toss
Propreoceptive Toys for Soothing
Children with sensory issues often become overstimulated in the classroom or home environment. For many, propreoceptive toys, or those that focus on body awareness, can be very soothing. Try one of these ideas:
- Ball pits
- Small trampolines
- Bean bins that allow a child to climb inside
- Bounce houses
Building Toys for Hands-On Fun
Many children on the autism spectrum love to play with hands-on toys. These toys are enjoyable, and they can also provide a springboard for interaction. Try some of these:
- Building blocks
- Legos and Duplos
- Tinker toys
- Magnetic building toys
Dolls for Self-Care Skills
Self-care skills, such as getting dressed, brushing hair, brushing teeth, and eating with a fork, can be a major challenge for some children with autism. Dolls are a fun and effective way to target these skills, since kids can practice caring for the doll as they would themselves.
More Toy Ideas
You don't have to opt for therapeutic toys to find great activities for your child. Some of the best toys and gifts for children with autism are available in regular toy stores. Simply choose items you know your child will enjoy, and these toys will become a great springboard for social interaction and communication work.