Toys for Autistic Children and Teens

In This Guide

You can shop by developmental ages

We will cover the following kinds of toys:

Buying a toy or gift for someone on the autism spectrum can be challenging. During the holidays we receive many calls asking our product specialists for gift advice. Based on these questions our product specialists have put together this guide to help you choose the best gifts for kids, teens, and adults on the autism spectrum.

Often individuals on the spectrum have strong interests in a certain topic. If this is the case books or gift items that relate to their interests are always a hit. However, this can be difficult depending on the interest. If your loved one has a very specific interest start shopping early for their gift.

Consider Buying a Calming Gift

Kids and teens on the spectrum often deal with the challenges of unexpected events, miscommunication, and overwhelming sensory experiences. Their sensory threshold can be lower than the general population and daily experiences can be painful or very tiring. Calming gifts are often well received and are very enjoyable. Some calming gift ideas include vibrating items, soothing visual items such as spiral timers, rhythmic moving motion lamps. A soothing gift is not only enjoyable but can also make life easier for the whole family.

Slow, repetitive motion items are visually engaging and calming. Our most popular visual items include:

  • The Jellyfish Lamp slowly changes colors as two large jellyfish slowly swim through the water.
  • The Tornado Lamp slowly changes colors as water swirls around.
  • The Moon Light that slowly changes colors as you watch it.

Weighted items also make good calming gifts. These items provide deep pressure that causes your body to move from a "fight or flight" mode to a restful state. Some of these things can be more expensive but they will last for years if they are well made. Check out our weighted blankets, and weighted vests. We also offer adorable weighted animals that make great calming and soothing travel companions. Your child will love our cute weighted turtle.

Many autistic children and teens enjoy gentle massage items like our vibrating pillow. This pressure activated pillow vibrates when you squeeze it, saving battery life. When looking at massage items look for things that vibrate and are easily controlled by the individual. Our advisory board has found that deep tissue or shiatsu massage does not work well.

Sensory Gifts Everyone Will Enjoy

Many autistic children, teenagers, and adults enjoy sensory toys and products. They can help people to self regulate (calm down, focus, or relax), provide a pleasant activity or smaller items can be pleasant distractions when traveling to visit friends or family.

Some examples of popular sensory items include swings, weighted blankets, or cocoon type beanbag chairs, or toys with interesting textures, that play music, or light up.

Remember, to be sensitive with sensory items, many people on the spectrum have sensory integration challenges. Be careful not to pick a toy that can be overwhelming. It may be better to get something that provides one type of sensory stimulation- such as play putty (something to touch), a musical item, or light up item.

Examples of Sensory Gifts:

Is the person visually oriented? If so, great gifts to think about are interesting visual toys like the Moon Light, or spiral timer. Our most popular visual toy is the Jellyfish Lamp.

Does the person seek to touch lots of things? If so think about toys and gifts that are tactile with textures that are interesting to touch. Some popular tactile gifts include the fidget set, Super Sensory Kit, and the Bubble Poppers.

Visually interesting gifts are always a big hit.

Items that spin, light up or flash are often very well received. Spinning toys can be a very enjoyable Christmas or birthday gift. Often parents are concerned about giving their children spinning toys because they don't want to encourage self stimulation behavior. However, in some instances they can be helpful. For example, having a spinning toy that the child really enjoys in your purse can be helpful when you need to get some last-minute grocery shopping done. Or letting the child play with the spinning toy may allow the whole family to go out to dinner.

Remember, sometimes less can be more with sensory items. A toy with too much stimulation can cause over-stimulation and stress.

Cause and Effect Toys

Cause and effect toys teach kids that they have the ability to influence their environment. (They can do something to get a reaction.) For example, if I squeeze the toy it will make a sound, or if I press a button a light will come on. They provide immediate positive feedback. Because they are fun and feature simple repetitive actions, they can turn into a simple turn taking activity.

They also make great gifts for kids who are difficult to engage with socially. They can open the door for social interaction. By taking turns with the toy, family members are able to enter into an enjoyable shared experience. Mutual interaction, joint attention, and turn taking are foundations for social development.

Some developmentally appropriate cause and effect items for older individuals include:

Fidget Toys and Stress Balls

Fidget toys and stress balls are popular right now. They make great portable focus helpers that can help manage stress and anxiety. We like fidgets that are durable and quiet. Quiet fidgets work well in the classroom, in a car, or at a restaurant. Some of our favorite fidgets include the Fidget XT, Tangle , Twist E Beads and the Stress-less Gel Ball.

Keep in mind an autistic person's developmental ability rather than their age.

As you consider if a gift will be enjoyable you must also consider if it is developmentally and socially appropriate. Always keep in mind the developmental ability of your loved one. Not all games and toys will be developmentally appropriate and some can be dangerouse depending on both intellectual and behavioral challenges. If you have questions about a certain gift make sure to ask the caregiver or consult with a therapsists who is familiar with your loved one.

While some individuals may be developmentally delayed and enjoy toys for younger children, it's best to give gifts that provide the same enjoyable qualities found in a young child's toy that are also age appropriate. As you think about your gift ask yourself why will my loved one enjoy this? Many developmentally delayed individuals enjoy things that light up, spin, make noise, or have a fun cause and effect feature. Fortunately, there are many novelty toys designed for teens that also have these kinds of features.


Gifts that Help Social Skills

A hallmark of autism is delayed or impaired social skills. The good news is that people of all ages can learn essential social skills with practice.

Social skills are complex and there are many games that cover a wide variety of scenarios to help kids master them. Some of our favorites include the Hidden Rules Game or What Should I Do Now?.

As we mature our social skills become more complex. Some fun games for teens include Social Skills Bingo or Express It.

For preschoolers and toddlers building social skills and language development are often goals for both parents and therapists. Toys, books, and games that explore feelings, empathy and emotions are essential for helping develop social emotions. Sharing games and simple puppet play can be helpful.

Learning to recognize emotions and empathize with others is also a vital social skill. Games that can help with this include the Empathy Game, How do You Feel, or the interactive How Am I Feeling Blocks.

A child with language delays who is beginning to notice their peers will do better with simple turn taking board games. Some simple turn taking games that can also help with language development include the Sentence Building Game and the Smart Kids Social Skills Game Set.