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Toys and Children with Autism


When searching for the best toys for children with autism, it is important to keep in mind your child’s developmental stage, what toy most engages them and what may help them work on certain skills.

Toys are used for learning with all children, but children with autism especially benefit from them. Learning toys are especially important for early intervention programmes, where the right toys can have a considerable impact on the effectiveness of such programmes. Toys can be used to build relationships, develop social skills, encourage communication, develop gross motor and fine motor skills, used to teach pretend play, cause-and-effect and play skills, and many more. Some children with autism may have difficulties with sensory processing and playing with toys can also provide sensory input for them.


When searching for the best toys for children with autism, it is important to keep in mind your child’s developmental stage, what toy most engages them and what may help them work on certain skills. Here are some of our suggestions for some toys to look out for.


1. Sensory Toys

Sensory toys are great for children with autism to fidget with and can provide excellent sensory input in the form of sensation, visuals and even sounds. This would be especially helpful for children with sensory difficulties and some sensory toys can even provide calming effects on children with autism. Some fidget toys like the buckle toy can help with developing fine motor skills. Examples of sensory toys include fidget toys like pop-its, pop tubes, slime/putty, sensory socks, weighted soft toys, and hammocks.


2. Educational Toys

Educational toys can be extremely helpful for children with autism who are starting to learn skills like reading, spelling, math and science. Educational materials are presented in a fun way that can keep your child engaged and motivated while facilitating learning. Some examples of educational toys are letter puzzles, number blocks, flashcards, storybooks with tiny-talkers and puzzle eggs.


3. Board Games

For older children with autism who struggle with developing social skills, utilising board games can be a great way to encourage play in small groups where children can work together to learn social skills such as turn-taking, coping skills and being able to lose gracefully. You can make use of board games specific for teaching social skills or more generic simple board games as well!


4. Physical Activity Toys

Children with autism may face difficulties developing gross motor skills and having physical activity toys can help them develop such skills and hone their physical coordination while being super fun to play with and getting some physical energy out. Toys like trampolines, tunnels, balancing boards, foam pogo jumpers and space hoppers are great examples.


5. Pretend Play Toys

Pretend play is often delayed for children with autism and they tend to engage in fewer acts of pretend play, or their pretend play is limited due to their tendencies to engage in repetitive actions. Pretend play can be encouraged by using toys that can help facilitate this, such as toy kitchen sets, soft toys, doll houses, animal figurines, costumes and toy workbench. Parents or therapists can make use of these toys to demonstrate pretend play and help them learn how to pretend.


Conclusion

There are loads of different types of toys available and it can be difficult trying to find the best toys suitable for your child with autism. In order to ensure that your child will enjoy playing with a toy you have in mind for them, try bringing them to a physical toy store and keep a lookout for what they have a tendency to reach towards. Above all – have fun!


Written by: Hayley


References

Baranek, G. T., Boyd, B. A., Poe, M. D., David, F. J., & Watson, L. R. (2007). Hyperresponsive sensory patterns in young children with autism, developmental delay, and typical development. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 112(4), 233-245.


Bose, P. (2022). 15 Best Toys For Children With Autism To Play In 2022. Mom Junction.


​​Dawson, G., & Galpert, L. (1990). Mothers' use of imitative play for facilitating social responsiveness and toy play in young autistic children. Development and psychopathology, 2(2), 151-162.


Dsouza, A., Barretto, M., & Raman, V. (2010). Uncommon Sense: Interactive sensory toys that encourage social interaction among children with autism. In Workshop paper presented at IDC (Vol. 12).


Klopotova, E. E., & Krupnova, I. Y. (2020). Possibilities of using board games to develop communication skills in children with autism spectrum disorder. Bulletin of Psychological Practice in Education, 17(1), 41-50.


Lloyd, M., MacDonald, M., & Lord, C. (2013). Motor skills of toddlers with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 17(2), 133-146.


Rutherford, M. D., & Rogers, S. J. (2003). Cognitive underpinnings of pretend play in autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 33(3), 289-302.


The Hanen Centre (2016). Encouraging Pretend Play in Children with Social Communication Difficulties. The Hanen Centre.


Paul, S. (2016). 24 Toys for Autistic Children. Now Psych.



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