Shopping for toys can be tough—you want something that will keep your kid entertained first and foremost, but ideally you’d also like a plaything that will contribute to their development. And for kids with autism, there may be additional considerations that need to be taken into account, as these children often have different developmental, sensory and safety needs. So what toys are best for them? We spoke with two occupational therapists, a behavioral analyst and a parenting educator to get the scoop. Here, they talk about what to look for when shopping and share their top toys for kids with autism that can address sensory, sleep and developmental needs (and are also just really fun to play with).
15 Toys for Kids with Autism for Sensory Play, Skill-Building and a Whole Lot of Fun
The Best Toys for Kids with Autism at a Glance
- Great On-the-Go Toy: Squigz Starter Set ($30)
- Easiest to Clean Up: Kinetic Sand ($15)
- Great for All Ages: Goonidy Pilates Ball ($9)
- Great for Calm and Relaxation: Vivere Cotton Hammock ($70)
- For a Calming Sensory Experience: PLAYABLE Art Ball ($25)
- Most Variety of Experiences: Made by Me Sea Life Sensory Bin ($15)
- Great for Structure and Organization: Play22 Train Set ($22)
- Comforting Bedtime Companion: HUGIMALS Charlie the Puppy ($64)
- Great for Teaching Cause-and-Effect: JOYIN Bubble Machine ($22)
- For Practicing Fine Motor Skills and Coordination: Fat Brain Toys Klickity ($35)
- For Learning About Shapes: Melissa & Doug Shape Sorting Cube ($13)
- To Prepare for a Doctor’s Visit: Melissa & Doug Doctor’s Kit ($35)
- Great for Fidgety Fingers: Dimpl Pops ($25)
- For Encouraging Imagination and Creativity: Melissa & Doug Diner Play Set ($30)
- For Learning Phonetics and Letter Recognition: Alphabet Mystery Box ($60)
Meet the Experts
- Tony Russo is the owner of LifeSpeed: Behavioral Support Services, which provides support to people with developmental disabilities and/or cognitive disorders, including children with autism in the Chicago area. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
- Kate Usher OTD, OTR has been an occupational therapist at Durand School since 2018, with prior clinical experience in a long-term care for medically fragile children, New Jersey’s Early Intervention System and public and specialized school settings. Durand School is a private school in Woodbury, New Jersey, that serves students aged 5 to 21 who experience autism and learning/developmental disabilities.
- Laura Linn Knight is a former elementary school teacher who worked with children with autism. She is the author of the book, Break Free from Reactive Parenting, and a parenting educator.
- Taylor Lauder, MSOT, OTR/L is an occupational therapist at Springtide Child Development, an autism center that provides integrative treatment plans including Applied Behavioral Analysis, speech/occupational therapy and diagnostic services.
What to Look for in Toys for Autistic Kids
When selecting a toy, Lauder says she keeps in mind four things: developmental appropriateness, sensory stimuli, safety and level of interest.
“I usually start with developmental appropriateness, which is different from chronological age, because while most engagement in play assists with development, I want to make sure the child is getting the most out of the toy,” she explains. “For example, if a child’s play and fine motor skills are around the developmental level of an 18-month-old, I would be more likely to suggest toys that have a cause-and-effect component versus a doctor’s play kit which would lean more towards 3- to 4- year-olds.”
Russo notes that sensory toys can provide children who are sensitive to touch with the ability to help them engage with their senses in a manageable way. Good sensory toys will provide kids’ sensory systems with feedback and allow them to self-regulate.
“Every child takes in sensory stimuli differently and some toys may be overwhelming for them (think too loud, too bright, or too many moving parts), or some toys could be overstimulating which can cause disruptions in regulation,” Lauder elaborates.
As for the safety aspect, she also advises keeping in mind the fact that children diagnosed with autism often have a tendency for placing items in their mouth. Thus, it’s best to choose toys that don’t have an abundance of small, individual pieces.
If it feels daunting, don’t panic, says Knight. Shop as you would for any other child—by considering what they enjoy and any skills they need to develop.
“Remember, when you are looking for toys, it’s supposed to be fun,” she says. “You want to look for toys that engage a child with autism in the same way you would look for a toy for a neurotypical child. In fact, many of the toys that you would buy for a neurotypical child, are the same toys that a child with autism would enjoy (blocks, balls, stuffed animals, fidget spinners, cars and trucks).”
How We Chose the Best Toys for Kids with Autism
To select the toys on this list, we asked our experts to recommend items that they have either used with their patients or believe would be good picks, based on their experience working with children with autism.
We then researched each product and considered buyer reviews, age appropriateness and safety, looking for toys that would serve multiple age groups and cater to different needs.
Great On-the-Go Toy
- Why They’ll Love It: bright colors, works with a variety of surfaces, multiple sizes
- Recommended Age: 3+
“These suction cup toys are one of my go-to toys,” shares Usher. “They promote hand dexterity and strength, and they produce a simple cause-and-effect as they make a nice ‘pop’ sound when pulled off the surface.” These silicone suckers stick to smooth, flat surfaces, as well as to each other (hello, wobbly caterpillar!). Bright colors can help draw visual attention, and the toys also come in a variety of colors, as well as a spinning variety.
“We are working with an OT who brought them, and we loved them,” notes buyer Allie J. S. “They are great for hand strengthening, fine motor and just for fun. They are easy to stick together and aren’t too difficult to pull apart. They allow my child to be creative with utilizing hand eye coordination skills and gaining hand strength.”
Easiest to Clean Up
2. Kinetic Sand
- Why They’ll Love It: soothing sand, doesn’t dry out, can mold into any shape
- Recommended Age: 3+
Another toy Usher recommends is Kinetic Sand. As a sensory exploration toy, the squeezable sand gives a child the opportunity to interact with different textured materials, she explains. "The items allow for open-ended play in which the child can direct and build their own play schema. If your child is aversive to different textured items, their interaction with sensory items can be more positive when immersed in play.” This award-winning kit comes in a three-pound bag, with the option to upgrade and add a variety of tools. Kids will be able to experience the feeling of beach sand—without the mess (the sand is soft but sticks together), making it a favorite with parents, too.
“Kinetic sand provides a fun sensory experience for kids,” writes one happy customer. “The best part? It’s easy to clean! I’ve vacuumed this stuff up, no problem.”
Great for All Ages
- Why They’ll Love It: soft, flexible, durable, teaches balance and coordination
- Recommended Age: 5+
Toys don’t have to be complicated—something Lauder likes to do is pull out a ball to engage her patients. “Working with a ball builds gross motor and visual motor coordination, but it can also help promote early learning skills such as joint attention through imitating what they are doing (drumming on the ball or rolling it) and expanding that play,” she explains. While many balls can work (she likes yoga balls, basketballs or tennis balls, for instance), we’re loving this Pilates ball that comes in myriad colors. The exterior is a smooth, soft and durable PVC, and withstands up to 700 pounds—meaning, no need to be extra gentle with this toy.
Great for Calm and Relaxation
- Why They’ll Love It: plenty of room for parent and child, low to the ground, fun colors
- Recommended Age: 3+ with supervision
While a hammock might not fall into the traditional toy category, according to Knight, it can be incredibly fun and calming for children with autism. “A hammock swing can encourage sensory integration and the gentle swinging motion can provide a calming input,” she explains. “This can be a great toy for a child, teen or adult with autism.” Vivere’s double hammock accommodates up to 450 pounds and comes with a steel stand and carrying bag. Hooks are easily adjustable, so you can hang the hammock at your desired height.
For a Calming Sensory Experience
- Why They’ll Love It: fun colors, adaptable, helps develop fine motor skills, smooth and polished wood finish
- Recommended Age: 3+
Knight recommends the PLAYABLE Art Ball as a great sensory toy pick. Kids can experiment by twisting it into different shapes by rolling, scrunching and pushing. “This toy is great for developing fine motor skills, as well as providing a calming sensory experience,” she says. The ball features joints that glide seamlessly, making maneuverability easy. It can be arranged into a variety of shapes or taken apart and rearranged, encouraging creativity and problem solving.
“Such great sensory toy they can manipulate, also great for color recognition,” writes Amazon reviewer Natalie. “Soothing for children and adults with sensory issues, ADHD, ASD, [etc.].”
Most Variety of Experiences
6. Made by Me Sea Life Sensory Bin
- Why They’ll Love It:
- Recommended Age: 3+
The other sensory toy Russo recommends is this bright and cheerful sensory bin. Suitable for kids over age 3, it gives them the opportunity to experience a variety of textures. In the box are expanding water beads, pebbles and play sand, plus shovels, molds and rollers to create different shapes. To shake things up, add water to the bin for some ocean-inspired fun.
Great for Structure and Organization
- Why They’ll Love It: bright colors, easy magnetic couplings, variety of cars to mix-and-match
- Recommended Age: 3+
Train sets are a childhood toy staple, and this wooden set boasts over 6,000 five-star reviews. “Train sets provide structure, familiarity and are easily organized in a way that is appealing for a child with autism,” notes Knight. This Play22 pick includes 12 pieces, from engines and coaches to cargos and tankers. Each can be connected to other cars via two end magnets.
Comforting Bedtime Companion
- Why They’ll Love It: weighted pressure, developed to help manage stress and anxiety
- Recommended Age: 2+
HUGIMALS creates a line of weighted stuffed animals. Charlie the Puppy weighs 4.5 pounds and has a removable weight and washable exterior. Russo shares that weighted sleep aides can help relieve stress and offer comfort and are an ideal item to incorporate into the bedtime routine.
“I got him because I have extremely bad anxiety, depression, ASD and many other issues,” writes Amazon reviewer Lisa. “I have a hard time coping some days, I don't sleep well. I have texture issues, so I need softer things to touch, and Charlie is so soft. He is just amazing straight out of the package.”
Great for Teaching Cause-and-Effect
- Why They’ll Love It: multiple colorways, non-toxic bubble solution
- Recommended Age: 3+
This two-pack bubble machine kit comes with two guns and bottles of bubbles for hours of playtime fun. Russo recommends toys like this because of the cause-and-effect aspect. It teaches children that they can control their environment, in addition to promoting social and emotional learning (not to mention, bubbles are just a whole lot of fun). “This category includes any type of interactive toy that responds to a child’s voice or touch with light sound and/or vibrations,” he elaborates, “As well as toys that have features to push, pull or spin.”
For Practicing Fine Motor Skills and Coordination
- Why They’ll Love It: bright colors, variety of textures and sounds
- Recommended Age: 1 to 2 years old
Another cause-and-effect toy Russo recommends is Klickity. The toy exposes children to a variety of sounds, movements and textures. By pushing, pulling, spinning and shaking, they’ll unlock different effects while practicing fine motor skills and coordination.
For Learning About Shapes
11. Melissa & Doug Shape Sorting Cube
- Why They’ll Love It: easy to grip, variety of shapes, teaches problem solving and shape recognition
- Recommended Age: 2 to 4 years old
“I love shape sorters because they work on countless skills through a simple design,” Lauder says. “Children can learn shapes, colors and counting (just to name a few) while working on their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.” Melissa & Doug’s Shape Sorting Cube features 12 shapes and bright-colored cut-outs. When playtime is over, the shapes pack away neatly into the cube, which can sit tidily on a playroom shelf.
To Prepare for a Doctor’s Visit
12. Melissa & Doug Doctor’s Kit
- Why They’ll Love It: familiarizes kids with doctor’s office visits, comprehensive accessories to play with and explore
- Recommended Age: 3 to 6 years old
Another thing Lauder likes to do with her patients is encourage pretend play. “I love using doctor’s kits or playing restaurant with my kids because it helps promote imagination and creativity. It can also be used as a playful way to prepare a child who is going to the doctor through use of similar tools,” she notes. This kit by Melissa & Doug includes 25 pieces, from a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff to a thermometer and reflex hammer. Everything can be conveniently stored away in the included tote bag. Reviewers noted that it helped their kids feel more comfortable at the pediatrician’s office, with Amazon buyer Kiersten writing, “My child hates going to the doctor. I got her this for Christmas and she’s been playing doctor with me. Once we had to go back to the doctor and I said, ‘let them check your ears like you do to momma at home,’ and she did!”
Great for Fidgety Fingers
13. Dimpl Pops
- Why They’ll Love It: bubbles in a variety of colors and sizes, tactile stimulation, calming
- Recommended Age: 3 to 10 years old
“Sensory toys can be a great way to provide relief for kids sensitive to touch, sound, sight and even certain textures. These types of toys benefit children on the spectrum by helping them engage with their senses, provide feedback to their sensory systems and regulate their sensory needs,” notes Russo. One sensory toy he recommends is the Dimpl Pops board, which features 25 bubbles in a range of sizes and colors. “I got this for my autistic goddaughter, and she just loves it,” writes Amazon reviewer Michele. The silicone surfaces provide tactile stimulation and can aid in calmness and concentration.
For Encouraging Imagination and Creativity
14. Melissa & Doug Diner Play Set
- Why They’ll Love It: complete kitchen accessories, realistic food
- Recommended Age: 3+
Another excellent pick for pretend play is this restaurant set that features 41 kitchen and cooking accessories, including a diner menu, a dry-erase marker and play money. With so many accessories, they’ll be running the diner in no time. Plus, it gives them an opportunity to role play in different scenarios. “My 4-year-old and I were big fans of this kit,” writes Amazon reviewer Rachu. “Very fun to roleplay being customers/staff at a restaurant. Great for building understanding on how to order foods (lots of menu options) and calculating prices/tips then paying for your order. He enjoyed both sides of the play, from customer to waiter/chef.”
For Learning Phonetics and Letter Recognition
- Why They’ll Love It: kid-friendly miniatures, easy-to-read alphabet board, great for family play
- Recommended Age: 3 to 6 years old
“This toy is a great way to introduce letters and letter sounds within play,” Usher says. “You can structure the toy as a true game in which you and the child take turns, so you are also working on waiting and turn-taking. This toy is great for toddlers or young learners who are working on letter recognition and letter sound. You can also incorporate letter tracing by having the child trace the letter on a whiteboard or a piece of paper.” The box includes an alphabet board and miniature items, each of which begins with a different letter that they then need to match to the board. Reviewers have noted that it’s great for early learners as an engaging, fun way to learn the alphabet.
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Marissa Wu is a PureWow Associate Editor with a focus on SEO. She covers everything from fashion and home trends to travel, beauty, wellness, family and food. Her work has also appeared in Southern Living, Martha Stewart and Forbes Vetted.
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