This post is about finding the best toys for autism. When purchasing gifts, it’s common to think of toys. But you may be surprised to discover that some of the best toys for autism might be a little different. The favorite gifts are not necessarily all what we would think of as traditional toys.
I receive many questions about holiday gift ideas from families who have children of all ages with autism. The best answers go beyond the many TV commercials that attract kid’s attention.
Having five grandchildren gives me a great opportunity to hear all about what is considered “hot” or exciting in the “kid gift world.” Yet I find that those items may not have long term “play value.”
What is “Play Value?”
Play value is my own concept that I have developed to evaluate the true value of toys and gifts. It’s a very informal assessment that looks at two main elements.
The first thing I look at is the cost. The second important factor is how much “play time” or activity time would that item really get. Unfortunately, the question about “play time” might not be easily answered until after a purchase. Sometimes you need to guess.
There isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between these two elements. This is a concept related to all children, not just those with autism. Sometimes the best gifts don’t cost much.
The classic funny story
You’ve probably heard about or witnessed this type of situation. The child spends hours playing with the box that a new toy came in. In contrast, the new toy is practically ignored. In this situation, I would say the empty box has high play value and the toy has low play value.
How to make decisions
Sometimes the best gifts you can get for students with autism are the same toys or items that are popular with other students in the same age range. That gives them a way to “join in” and have an avenue to socially connect with others.
Just keep in mind that all the TV ads that compete with gift ideas for upcoming holidays can produce a lot of disappointment. That swarm of commercials can drive us to make choices that might not accomplish our goals for individuals.
In contrast, some of the best gift ideas match the unique needs, interests, passions and curiosity of students with ASD.
Ideas to consider
Here’s what has risen to the top of my list so far (no particular order). These ideas cover a wide age span. Check them out.
My grandchildren got a similar one a couple of years ago and they absolutely wore it out. The combination of music, singing and volume has a magical effect for lots of kids and a wide age range.
It’s amazing how non-verbal or low-verbal children can be stimulated by this technology. Music has the potential to increase verbalization, improve socialization and provide that bridge to social opportunities with other children.
“Wearable technology” is highly desirable. The Fitbit wristbands monitor activity level and sleep can be a very useful tool for encouraging healthy life style activities.
This item actually represents a whole category of wearable technology that can be of interest to those with autism. Physical activity can be monitored with tech tools. Students who do a lot of sitting will have incentive to get up and move around more.
Related technology with timers, calendars, scheduling apps or other personal organization tools or communication prompts can be great options, too.
Headphones have grown up to become AirPods or Earbuds or a variety of brand names depending on your technology choice. The current versions are more user friendly and socially desirable than the older styles.
This is a perfect example of a gift item that can provide that social connection for a student. It helps if they have the same currently popular option that their peers have.
The AirPods or Earbuds category are a great option for leisure time and relaxing. But they can help meet autism needs such as calming when things are not going well, riding in the car, going into noisy places, helping to focus attention, waiting and more.
Be sure to pay attention to what style will be comfortable to wear. Newer versions are fairly sturdy. They are “hip” looking so they fit into the current social scene better than some of the choices in the past.
Have you had a season with the elf? My grandkids have had a lot of fun with him. Their elf moves around and every morning they have to find him in his new location for the day. The elf is a lovely idea for a family tradition.
You have to make sure to shop for him early. The time to use him is in the weeks before Christmas.
My grandchildren (both boys and girls) have made a zillion bracelets with their looms. When I think about “play value” of various toys and activities, I would say this loom had very high play value.
This activity can keep kids busy for hours.
They go back to it repeatedly when they need something to do. Also, after they have made a million bracelets, it’s natural to give them away to others. That helps create social opportunities. Be sure to get extra bands.
One more thing. This product has been on the market for a few years. Just be aware that there are many knock-offs now. Be sure to read the reviews. Some of the knock-offs have been criticized for poor quality or not working as well as the original version.
It sounds funny to think of a toothbrush as a gift, but these make awesome stocking stuffers. There are many varieties with different characters. Be sure to get one with a timer on it. That will help get kids to brush as long as they need to. Some have music, too. The vibrating movement is desirable for many. Often, children who have difficulty with the task of brushing are transformed with electric toothbrushes.
Another strange gift. These can be a good tool to help wiggly kids sit in their seats, encourage good posture or provide sensory stimulation. Ask your favorite Occupational Therapist for more ideas how to use it.
These are popular with teachers and parents to calm the hyperactive child. At home, wiggle seats can be a life saver during dinner and homework time. They can have a calming effect on children and help provide improved behavior for ADHD and autistic children.
The thing I like about Uno is it’s so easy to play. It is a great entry level game for young children, but it can keep older kids and adults engaged, too. It’s great for two to play, or a larger group works just as well.
Kids that are just learning can have a prompt partner so this is really an “all inclusive” game. The social value can be very high.
All the information is there. It’s a large enough size for everyone to see easily. This clock was developed for Grandma and Grampa who are having a hard time remembering this info. But it’s a perfect prompt for many students because it provides an orientation that can help them keep grounded. Strange. Even though the information is located in various places around the home, there’s something very calming and satisfying about having a dependable place to look.
They come in a variety of sizes for use by young children through teens. Because the bottom is not flat, this wobble chair keeps children and teens in motion, engaging their stomach and back muscles, working their legs and arms...almost as if they were running around the yard. Perfect for active kids, especially while many kids are spending a lot of time in virtual learning situations. Get one for each child.
This collection was assembled by the father of an autistic child. He said, “My goal was to curate the perfect all-inclusive complete sensory toy kit that not only targets each of my son's sensory needs but productively relieves stress/anxiety while encouraging creativity, improves focus & concentration. This was the result!”
A collection like this is guaranteed to provide much “play value.”
That’s my list to get you started
I think you’ll see that the reason I like many things on this list is because they have very high value for engagement and repeated use. Choosing these types of items will ensure your gifts will become integrated into life in a meaningful way.
So remember, when you are trying to find the best toys for autism, some of the best gifts for autism might be a little different from the traditional toy lists for other children. The favorite gifts are not necessarily toys.
What are you looking for?
Do you have your own shopping list started? What are the best toys for autism on your list? Please share.
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