Shopping for children, no matter what, can be a time-consuming and stressful process. Kids are fussy about colors, textures, and function, especially at a young age. And if you’re trying to purchase for a child on the autism spectrum, the list of particularities becomes even more specific, as many toys on the market are over-stimulating, too loud, or too difficult to use. You want to buy a toy they’ll love: something that will make them giggle and smile, but also something that’s safe for them to use, and encourages their emotional, mental, and physical development. It can be trying to look for products that balance all of these aspects, especially when it requires so much research and careful deliberation between hundreds of products.
We’ve narrowed down some options, in hopes of saving you a little time. The toys below are all meant to challenge children on the spectrum, while still being enjoyable, functional, and safe for play. Every child’s needs and passions are different, so pay attention to which toys your child already owns and loves, and engage with them as to why those pieces are their favorites. We’ve provided a varied list of options below that we think you can match to the winning toys your family already owns and loves.
Our Top 3 Picks
- Tangle Therapy Relax
- Boost Focus & Creativity
- Hoberman Mini Sphere Rainbow
- Amusing & Educational
- Smooth Fidget Toy
- Calming Colors & Textures
Criteria Used to Evaluate The Best Sensory Toys for Autistic Children
Durability because of continued use of toy
Because of the needed repetitive motions and use of toys for autistic children, the toys they play with must be able to handle rough treatment. Durability is one of the most important factors when searching for toys for these children. Stress and anxiety causes them to finger, rub, and hold their toys more often than other children, so the materials used in construction of the toys must be the number one concern along with the safety of the toy.
Recommended age level of child
It is important to match the proper age level of the child with the toy he/she will be using. Smaller children may misuse toys or be harmed by removable or moving parts. Also younger children may not derive pleasure from toys that they cannot yet use or understand. Most of the toys reviewed here can be used from the age of 3 years old and up. Even adults have used and enjoyed these toys to relieve stress at work and while relaxing at home.
Size of the toy (can be carried by younger children, put into pockets easily)
Toy size is important because it may indicate how often the child will play with the toy. Toys that can be easily carried or tucked away in pockets will, of course, be used more often and in more places than larger items. Lightweight toys are more popular, especially with younger children because they can easily carry them and travel with them.
Entertainment ability of toy (how long would autistic child play with it, does it actually work for the child)
Probably the most important aspect of these toys for autistic children is whether they actually entertain the child like it is supposed to and how effective is it in developing the skills they need. All of these reviewed toys entertain and build skills at different levels. It really depends on the age of the child as to which toys are appropriate for them.
The younger children in the 3-4 year-old range would welcome the toys that are easily handled and simple to operate or fidget. Older children have the coordination to manipulate the more physical toys to relieve their stress and anxiety. Toys properly matched with the age of the child should entertain for hours and help build the skills desired.
What determined the top autism sensory toys on our list
We are not child psychologists nor are we autism experts. We nevertheless, know exactly how parents feel when they first learn that their child is autistic. We have encountered many of them and we share in their angst and frustrations and have made these as our learning points in coming up with this list of amazing sensory processing disorder toys.
First, we had to look at the toy’s developmental appropriateness. We know that different autistic children at different stages of development will require slightly different sensory stimulation. For example, an autistic infant will often have problems responding to social stimuli. On the other hand, an autistic toddler will have problems with taking turns. Knowing these subtle differences in autistic children helped us determine whether a particular toy fits a developmental purpose. Otherwise, we might as well scrap the item and move on to the next in our long list of gifts for an autistic child. So, the very first thing we had to look for is the toy’s appropriateness to the age and development of the child.
Secondly, we needed to make sure that these products are made of only the safest and highest quality material and underwent a manufacturing process that adheres to strict quality control standards. Products that were subjected to voluntary testing, evaluation, and certification were deemed to be more credible than products that required mandatory testing. We believe that a company that voluntarily puts its products to be tested and evaluated is very confident about the quality workmanship of its products. This is also an excellent sign of a company’s overall reputation.
Third, we knew we had to listen to what parents of autistic children have to say about these sensory toys for autism. We must be able to back up our decision to include one particular toy but not another by combining our near-objective product evaluation with the experiences of moms and dads everywhere regarding their children’s use of these products.
Autism is quite a very touchy subject. But we also know the predicament of parents who love their autistic children so much. That is why we have chosen to embark on this seemingly impossible mission to provide you with a selection of the most amazing toys for special needs.
Autism and our children’s future
Three of the most recognizable manifestations of autism are impaired social interaction skills, difficulty in communication, and repetitive behavior. Unfortunately, because of the rather inorganic nature of the condition, scientists are baffled as to what actually causes it or what the underlying mechanisms are. There are those who say it’s genetic while others point to environmental factors. What we do know is that autism affects more than 20 million people worldwide and all of them have been diagnosed as autistic during their early childhood years.
There are many who are concerned about what the future brings for children with autism. It should be understood that while autistic children will have problems in their social interaction, communication, and motor behavior, many have fantastic cognitive abilities. This is because there are many different kinds of autism. One of the most celebrated and most often cited forms of autism is high functioning autism or HFA. In many instances, this is often mistaken for Asperger’s Syndrome, another form of autism.
The fact of the matter is that, since children will only have developmental delays or problems in certain aspects of their neurodevelopmental growth, many tend to compensate for these deficits by doing well in other areas. For example, Dan Aykroyd of the Ghostbusters fame is known to have Asperger’s. Perhaps the most iconic example of autistic individuals doing exceptionally well in their chosen fields of endeavor is Prof. Temple Grandin, TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010. There are other very successful individuals who are experts in their field despite having autism or Asperger’s. This is just proof that autism is not really a disorder but rather a state of being different, of being unique.
It is therefore, important for us as parents of kids with autism to provide them with all the opportunities to develop their other skills and not just their communication and social interaction skills. We can provide them with toys that are specifically designed to help control the repetitive behaviors of autistic children as well as provide the correct tools to help improve their social interaction skills and language and communication. More importantly, we have to recognize that help is available to those of us who really need it.
The bottom line
Choosing the best toys for children with special needs can be difficult. However, with our top 10 amazing toys for autistic children, you can be sure that you’ll make the right decision whichever toy or gift item you choose.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What age group are these toys for?
A: Most of these toys are for the age group of 3 years old and above. Children younger than 3 would not be suited for these because they would not know how to use the toys properly. Children older than 5 or 6 would still love these toys because there are adults that love them too.
Q: Does the toy stand the repetitive motions of continued use?
A: All of the toys reviewed are built for the repetitive manipulation movements that an autistic child would require of a toy. The idea of needed fidgeting and constant handling of the toy seems to be why these items were created in the first place. Adults and children alike have the need to handle items constantly to relieve stress and anxiety, so these toys are perfect to do that.
Q: Are there any removable parts or does the toy come apart?
A: A few of these toys do come apart, but that aspect is part of what makes the toy multi-purpose having a puzzle-like element as well. Autistic children can repeatedly take apart and put together the pieces as well as use the toy as a stress reliever as it was intended. All of the toys reviewed were made with safety in mind and should not harm the child because of removable parts or sections that come apart.
Q: Can the toy be used in an apartment (the physical toys)?
A: All of the toys reviewed here can be used indoors or outdoors safely. None should cause any harm to furniture or floors if used indoors.
Q: Is it made of durable materials that will be safe?
A: All of the toys reviewed are made of quality, durable materials to provide the utmost safety. The recommended ages for most of them are from 3 years and older, so safety had to be one of the most important elements required in the development of the toys.
Q: Why are these toys helpful for the autistic child?
A: Because these toys allow the child to move parts repeatedly over and over and can stand the abuse of handling constantly, they relieve the anxiety and stress that often consumes an autistic child’s ability to concentrate. The two toys with the floating bubbles provide mesmerizing, slow movements that will captivate and delight even the most distracted child.
Q: Are these toys more expensive than regular toys because they suit children with special needs?
A: No. These toys are for children that do not have autism too. They just have the qualities that suit the needs of the autistic child. They are in the same price range as similar toys and are widely sold on the internet and in neighborhood stores.
Q: Do these toys have any special cleaning instructions?
A: No. Most of them are made of durable plastic or rubber, so they can be washed or wiped clean if they get dirty.
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