Toys for Autistic Children and Teens

In This Guide

You can shop from any of the following categories by clicking on the name below. We have toys and gifts based on the following developmental ages

In this guide we will cover the following kinds of toys:

Buying a toy, gift, or Christmas present for a child or teen 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 helpful guide to help you choose the best gifts for kids, teens, and adults on the autism spectrum.

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

When choosing gifts it is important to respect an individuals interests and their age. Often individuals on the spectrum have strong interests in a certain topic. If this is the case books, DVDs, or other gift items that relate to their interests are always a hit. However, this can be difficult depending on the interest or this may not be an option.
When looking for a gift keep these two questions in mind:

    • Will they enjoy it?
    • Is it socially appropriate?

While some individuals may be developmentally delayed and enjoy toys for younger children, it is best when you find gifts that provide the same enjoyable qualities found in a young child's toy, but is developmentally appropriate.

Consider Buying a Calming Gift

Kids and teens with autism often find it difficult to cope with unexpected events, communication challenges, and common sensory experiences. Their sensory threshold can be lower than the general population and daily experiences can be very tiring. Calming and sensory based gifts are often 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 Cosmic Cloud Lamp slowly changes colors as clouds and glitter swirl around.
  • The Moon Light that slowly changes colors as you watch it.

Weighted items also make good calming gifts. These items can be more expensive but can also be an extremely helpful gift that can last for several years. 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 vibrating items like our vibrating pillow. We offer a pressure activated pillow that vibrates when you squeeze it, that will save battery life.

Sensory Gifts Everyone Will Enjoy

Many autistic children, teenagers, and adults enjoy sensory toys and products. They can be pleasant distractions when traveling to visit family or simply for use at home.

Sensory items can also be very calming. For example, swings, weighted blankets, or cocoon type beanbag chairs all provide soothing input to the body that can help individuals unwind. Many toys for young children provide sensory input that is enjoyable. For example, fun sensory toys may vibrate, have interesting textures, play music, or light up.

Remember, to be sensitive with sensory items, since 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 and feature 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 , Poppin Peepers and the Stress-less Gel Ball.

Build Some School Skills

Have some fine motor fun!

Fine motor skills are so important. We need them to hold a pencil correctly, use a spoon, and get dressed. These skills develop by exercising the small muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists. Why not make "exercising" fun with fine motor toys, play-doh or Theraputty. Putty and slime are popular now with kids. If the child is not sensitive putty is great for building hand strength and sensory integration. The Squish-a-rific Color Change Putty encourage a lot of hand strength by changing colors as you squeeze it.

Gifts that encourage preschoolers to develop handwriting, fine motor, and school readiness skills will prepare them for a great school start. Blocks, toys that work on patterns, sequencing, or matching and sorting not only develop fine motor skills, they also prepare preschoolers for the concepts of reading.


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.