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How to Choose Toys for a Child With Autism

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 20, 2022

Children with autism have unique needs when it comes to what toys they may or may not enjoy playing with. Playtime is a great opportunity for children with autism to socialize, improve their motor skills, and learn new things. Toys for autism are easy to find if you know what you’re looking for!

Things to Consider When Choosing a Toy for a Child With Autism

When choosing toys for children with autism, a lot depends on the child you’re shopping for. They will likely have unique needs and preferences that you should keep in mind! Do they have special interests? Do they have anything in mind already? Are there health or safety issues to consider?

Don’t assume a child will want a toy because it’s popular or was made specifically with autism in mind. All children develop and mature at different speeds, and their interests vary. The best toy you can give is one that will excite them.

Tips for Choosing Toys for a Child With Autism

Autism toys come in all shapes and sizes. Keep the following tips in mind when choosing a toy:

  • Notice if the toy is a choking hazard. Look for toys that are one big piece or made of a few big pieces instead of many little pieces. Some kids with autism engage in pica, or eating things that are not food, and are at higher risk for choking.
  • Choose a toy that won’t break if it’s dropped. If the child tends to have temper tantrums, they may throw or smash their toys.
  • Consider if the child you’re buying toys for enjoys tearing paper as some kids with autism do. They might still enjoy books, so look for stiff plastic or board books.
  • Don’t overwhelm the child. Instead of giving them multiple smaller toys, make it easier for them to concentrate by giving them one or a few larger toys.
  • Think of an experience that the child might enjoy more than a toy. Memberships or tickets to the zoo, a museum, or somewhere similar can be a great gift for a child that struggles with toys or has certain interests.
  • Be patient when giving toys to the child. If they don’t seem interested in them immediately, you can try to figure out what the child doesn’t like or if you can better adapt the toy to their needs.
  • Encourage learning by giving toys that are multisensory, if the child will enjoy that. Be careful, though, to not give them something that’s frustrating or difficult to play with.
  • Consider specially designed therapeutic toys that encourage learning a specific skill. These learning toys for autism can help children progress in multiple areas of their everyday life.

Toys a Child With Autism Might Like or Dislike

Generally speaking, there are some toys that kids with autism like. Calming toys for autism and sensory autism products are a safe bet, especially because they’re designed with the nuances of autism in mind. The following toys can give you a good starting point when coming up with ideas for toys:

  • Technical things like calculators or computers
  • Toys that have buttons
  • Water toys
  • Toys that offer sensory experiences like foam or shaving cream
  • Bubbles
  • Toys that have a cause and effect like marbles or toy cars and a ramp
  • Flashlights
  • Swings, trampolines, jumpers, and spinning toys that encourage motor skill development
  • Toys that the child can play with alone instead of requiring socialization
  • Visually stimulating toys with screens or that light up
  • Toys that vibrate or massage
  • Building blocks
  • A movie that they like
  • Toys they can ride on
  • Puzzles
  • Tactile toys that are stretchy, squishy, or jelly
  • Clothes that they like

Common things to avoid when searching for toys for a child with autism include:

  • Clothes for children that are sensitive to certain fabrics or textures
  • Noisy or unpredictable toys for children that are sensitive to sounds or surprises
  • Games that need many people to play for children that like to be alone or get overwhelmed in social situations

Giving the Gift of Time

If you're really struggling to find a toy for the child to play with, figure out a way that you can spend time with them. You can do a science project, make a craft, or play a board game, depending on what they like to do.

Why Play Is Important for a Child With Autism

It’s common for kids with autism to struggle developing play skills. They might play with a select few toys, play in a repetitive manner, or not play with toys like other kids do. Playtime is extremely important for children with autism because it presents great learning opportunities! As you generate interest in games and toys, you’ll open the door to future opportunities for positive play experiences.

You can help the child engage in play with the following strategies:

  • Follow the child’s interests. If they constantly choose to play with toys that light up, continue buying visually stimulating toys.
  • Show the child how to play with new toys. Talk about what you’re doing while you’re doing it, define new words, and offer opportunities for the child to speak and interact with you.
  • Swap out their regular toys. The child might always choose to play with the same toy if given the choice. Rotate what's in their toy box to encourage different kinds of play.
  • Include toys or snacks that the child already likes in new play activities. If the child likes a certain kind of cracker, put them on the table in a dollhouse or play kitchen. Show the child how to feed crackers to a doll and give crackers to the child as a reward while they try new activities.

Support the Children With Autism in Your Life

You’re on the right track to showing love and support for the children with autism you know and love. Communicate with the child, parents, and anyone else who could offer insight into what kinds of toys the child would like to play with.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Autism Research Institute: “Choosing Toys for a Child with Autism.”

Children’s Specialized Hospital: “TIPS FOR SELECTING TOYS FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM.”

Marcus Autism Center: “Improving interest in toys and games.”

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