Playing is a child's occupation. It is what they do ALL day long. It is how they grow, learn and develop. That is why selecting great toys for kids to play with is very important. When selecting a toy for children who are autistic, just like a typical child, here are some things I take into consideration:
- Is this toy something in which my child is interested?
- Will my child be able to play with this new toy or is it so challenging that it becomes frustrating and will just sit on the shelf?
- Does my child need someone else with whom to engage or can he/she play independently?
- Is the toy developmentally appropriate?
Here are a few ideas of toys that I have used over and over again, both in the clinic as well as with my own children. These toys tend to keep kids’ attention while simultaneously meeting sensory needs. Take a look:
These are some of my favorite toys for kids who are autistic. They can be inexpensive and easy to create! Sensory bins tend to keep children's attention and they can be forever changing. You can play games with sensory bins or just let your child explore. Here are some examples of things you can put into a sensory bin (or any combination of items):
Play doh Slime
Water beads Water
Noodles (raw) Cooked spaghetti
Marshmallows Shaving cream
Pom poms Paint
Dirt Ice cubes
This is a safe place to encourage your child to explore and play. Hide objects in the bins and let your child find them. Have him/her pick things up using tongs. Play with eyes open vs. eyes closed. You can talk about the activity as well to facilitate social interactions (ex. how does that feel? Do you like the texture? Does this remind you of anything?) Get creative and have fun!
Cocoon swing, hammock swing, tire swing, platform swing, moon swing, bolster swing..I LOVE swings! There are SO many different types of swings but there are many considerations when selecting the most appropriate one. Here are some things to think about:
- Will this swing go outside or inside
- Does my child benefit from calming input (ex. slow & linear) or alerting (fast & unpredictable)
- Can my child mount/dismount independently
- Can this swing grow with and support my child for the time to come
- What material is the swing made from? Can my child tolerate it’s texture?
Use one of these fun balls indoors or outdoors. Sit, lie on your belly and/or roll over it-you can do so much with these balls! They provide strong proprioceptive (calming and organizing) input while also working on core strength and balance... they are super entertaining!
Weighted Stuffed Animal (Blanket or Vest)
A weighted stuffed animal, weighted vest, lap pad or even a weighted blanket are wonderful toys especially for children who are autistic or have SPD. This can be a great way to acquire calming proprioceptive input. It is easily portable and can be used to assist with bedtime and sleeping.
Being socially engaged is typically challenging for children who are autistic. This game forces reciprocal interactions and communication. It forces a child to be observant, notice intricate details as well as focus on their auditory senses by listening carefully and following directions. Guess who is going to have fun with this game; your children!
There are many fun options with puzzles which parents or caregivers can individualize to best fit the child. Do you want an interlocking or non-interlocking puzzle? A puzzle with sound (ex. farm animals), a magnetic puzzle or an educational one (ex. working on letters, numbers, shapes)? Puzzles can have a variety of textures or perhaps a 3D configuration. Great learning and skill development happen when engaged in puzzle play.
This game targets lots of areas that we as OT’s admire. It works on visual perceptual/oculomotor skills-the child has to scan the mat to identify the color which must be found. Visual discrimination; he or she must be able to differentiate the colors and select the correct one. Right vs. left discrimination; the left arm/leg versus the right. Lastly, strength; the child must move his/her body against gravity to assume the correct position and eventually sustain the position. Twister targets the vestibular and proprioceptive systems which we OTs LOVE! Twist and enjoy!
I LOVE this game. Being an OT gives me the opportunity to manipulate it. I take the wooden pieces and write on them with a pencil. Depending on the child and his/her needs this is how it can be individualized:
- Gross motor activities (ex. do 10 sit ups, 10 jumping jacks)
- Fine motor activities (ex. write your name, write the letters of the alphabet backwards, write your numbers 0-10)
- Emotional (ex. tell me 3 feelings, how would you feel if… what makes you angry/sad/surprised).
- Communication skills (ex. turn to the person to your left and say something kind)
While playing the game in this unique way (which addresses visual perceptual and fine motor skills) one derives the most benefits.
PLUS ONE MORE BONUS TOY:
These boards are wonderful for many reasons! All the tasks (ex. tie, button, buckle, lace) are age appropriate for 5-8 year old children. The acquired skills from the sensory boards will promote independence in activities of daily living. By this age, we are beginning to enable our children to complete tasks independently; button shirts, tie shoes, zip backpacks. The boards stimulate other skills; hand strength (ex. squeezing to release the buckles), in-hand manipulation (ex. lacing), grading of force (ex. how hard to push until the snap is connected). Check out our sensory busy board here!
Playing can be very challenging for children who are autistic. Social interactions can be intimidating, communicating can be difficult and understanding other people's perspectives is typically overlooked. Coping skills and frustration tolerance can be acquired with all of these toys. Be well informed when selecting developmentally appropriate activities. Most importantly, when playing with an aforementioned toy for kids with autism, make it creative. Try to meet your child's level of development and engage him/her. In this way, your child will learn, play and develop!