There’s no question that being the parent of a child on the autism spectrum is challenging, but few people appreciate how truly difficult it can be for special needs families to just live in the moment. Every single day is filled with important things like occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, meetings with learning support staff, IEP evaluations and modifications, extracurricular activities to help build social skills, sensory diet activities, and finding ways to cope with meltdowns, sensory challenges, and picky eating habits. The house still needs to be cleaned, the laundry still needs to be washed, folded, and put away, the groceries still need to be purchased, and your family still needs to eat 3 meals (plus snacks!) each day, and even though you feel like collapsing onto the couch the moment you get a few extra moments to yourself, there’s always a little voice in the back of your mind telling you to do MORE to help with your child’s development.
And that’s why I put together this list of developmental toys for autistic children!
You see, as much as we want to do all the things, the truth is that we are only human. There are only so many hours in the day, and let’s get real here: we all need downtime. We live in a day and age where we are encouraged to overschedule ourselves and our kids, and when you throw developmental challenges like autism, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, and the like into the mix, this pressure seems to increase. Instead of giving ourselves grace, we add more onto our plates in an attempt to ‘normalize’ our situation.
We want to fix our kids, and we want to do it fast!
But our kids need time to unwind just as much as we do, and a great way to give everyone a little space to relax after a busy day or week without succumbing to those familiar feelings of guilt is to stock your child’s toy box with some of my favorite developmental toys for autistic children. They offer an excellent way for your child to have fun both independently and with others while still learning important tasks and skills.
Whether you’re looking for the perfect gifts for autistic kids, need suggestions on the best educational toys for kids with autism to use in the classroom or in a therapy setting, or just want to know what the best toys for autistic kids are, we’re sharing 17 of our favorite developmental toys for autistic children to get you started!
1. Social Skills Board Games: If you enjoy playing board games, make sure to add this set of 6 games to your list! Each game requires players to discuss the solutions to socially challenging situations, offering a fun and positive way to teach kids important social skills.
2. Melissa %26 Doug Magnetic Towing Game: This is one of my favorite toys for toddlers with autism as it helps develop fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. Your child can play with this independently, or you can play together while discussing numbers and reinforcing the idea of taking turns!
3. Gone Shopping Board Game: If you want to find ways for the entire family to have fun together, Gone Shopping is another great board game to invest in. It’s designed to develop memory and language skills in kids, and also provides a fun way for parents and therapists to get kids excited about trying new foods. It can also serve as a great conversation starter and tool to help kids who feel anxious about grocery stores!
4. Water Beads Ocean Explorers Tactile Sensory Kit : Sensory bins are one of the best toys for autistic kids (in my opinion, anyway), and this sensory tub filled with water beads and sea animal creatures does not disappoint. You can play together by discussing the different animals, textures, and colors, and your child will enjoy hours of independent play with this set as well. Water beads make an excellent stress relief toy for anxious kids!
5. AMOSTING Building Blocks: These disc-shaped building blocks are one of my favorites as they’re a STEM-based activity designed to promote creativity and hand-eye coordination while also teaching the concept of engineering. This is a great independent activity for kids to help calm anxiety and promote focus and concentration, and it makes a great activity to do as a family as well.
6. Wikki Stix Basic Shapes: If you’re looking for educational toys for kids with autism, Wikki Stix are a great option. They offer a non-toxic, mess-free way to teach kids shapes, letters, and numbers, and can be manipulated into all kinds of 3D figures!
7. Hot Dots Jr. Pete the Cat I Love Preschool! Set: Hot Dots offers a ton of different sets, but this one is a greater starter pack if you’re looking for toys for toddlers with autism. With over 200 fun and interactive lessons in reading, math, science, and social studies, this kit will provides hours of independent fun while also giving you opportunities to help your child learn!
8. Empathy Activity Kit: If you’re looking for thoughtful gifts for autistic kids, this is a great one as it offers fun and interactive opportunities for parents to teach their kids about the feelings of others while also developing fine motor skills and encouraging creativity. The kit comes with a coloring book, materials to create a beautiful empathy placard, felt flowers, and a feeling & faces craft game. I highly recommend it!
9. Fish Ring Toss %26 Basketball Aqua Arcade: OMG, do you remember these retro water toss games? I do, and I found them so relaxing when I was a kid. I could sit and play them for hours, and I think they offer the PERFECT way for kids with ASD, SPD, ADHD, and anxiety to unwind after a long day. Put one in your purse to keep your child calm while you’re out and about!
10. Learning Resources Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set: If you’re looking for educational toys for kids with autism that will help strengthen fine motor skills and the hand muscles needed for letter writing, this tool set is a great buy. It includes Gator Grabber Tweezers™, Handy Scoopers™, Twisty Droppers™, and Squeezy Tweezers™, offering cool and fun ways to encourage little ones to learn how to pick up various objects, and to get them excited about squirting and sifting water.
11. Find it Games: This is another one of my favorite independent autism toys for kids. It helps develop motor and visual recognition skills while simultaneously helping kids calm down and focus, making it a great item to add to your child’s calm down kit!
12. Conversation Starter Game: This is a great educational game for older kids on the autism spectrum. The open-ended questions provide excellent conversation starter ideas as well as journal prompts and discussion topics for therapy sessions, and it also provides a unique way to help build a child’s self-esteem!
13. Melissa %26 Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards: Don’t underestimate this classic toy! It’s great for developing spatial awareness, color recognition, hand-eye coordination, and problem solving, and it’s a great independent activity to help calm anxious children and help them focus!
14. Jumbo Nuts and Bolts Set: Nuts and bolts are a great idea if you’re looking for developmental toys for autistic children. From developing fine motor dexterity and bilateral coordination skills to helping with motor planning and giving kids a productive fidget to help them relax and focus, this colored set provides endless hours of learning fun!
15. Jumbo Lacing Beads: This jumbo lacing bead set is great if you’re looking for toys for toddlers with autism. Practice sequencing and counting, stacking and lacing, discuss the different colors and shapes…the possibilities are endless!
16. Hidden Rules: If your child struggles with social skills, this is a great card game to play together! With 40 hidden rules for everyday life, this card game is similar to Uno and helps develop language skills to boot!
17. Feelings In a Jar®: I was recently introduced to the ‘In a Jar®’ products, and I really love them. There are tons to choose from for different ages, stages, and struggles, and I particularly love this jar as it contains 365 feeling words to help kids talk about and understand emotions. You can take turns acting out the different feelings, challenge each other to use them in a sentence, and for older kids, you can use them as journal prompts.
Leisa Hammett once said, ‘Life is… not about counting the losses and the lost expectations, but rather swimming, with as much grace as can be mustered, in the joy of all of it.’ I love that quote because I think it serves as a fabulous reminder that we need to stop focusing on trying to ‘fix’ our children through conventional methods, and instead concentrate on finding ways to support their development by connecting and having fun with them.
I hope this collection of developmental toys for autistic children not only provides you with the inspiration and tools you need to have more fun with your child, but that it also helps you empower your child to find ways to relax, focus, and find enjoyment in life while simultaneously developing her gross and fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, social skills, and language development!
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