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Play is an important part of childhood — and it’s not just fun and games. Play lets children be creative and run with their imaginations.

For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), play provides important sensory input, which simply means engagement with the five senses.

It also gives autistic children an opportunity to connect with peers (social skills), practice motor skills, and develop a better understanding of the world around them.

Children with autism may also have difficulties with sensory processing. This means they may have trouble processing sights, sounds, smells, textures, or anything else that stimulates the senses.

As a result, you may want to explore toys that speak to your child’s proprioception (sense of their own body), vestibular input (sense of their head’s position and movement), and tactile stimulation (sense of touch on their skin).

When looking for toys for children with autism, it’s important to keep these things in mind. It’s not that your child won’t enjoy any type of toy. Instead, it’s about finding what toy most engages your child and what may help them work on certain skills.

Also keep in mind your child’s developmental stage (which may delayed). Toys usually appropriate for certain age groups may or may not work for a same-aged child who has ASD.

What type of toys do the trick?

  • To enhance proprioception, find toys like jump ropes, modeling clay, weighted balls or bean bags, and toys that provide a hugging sensation, like a large bean bag chair.
  • To strengthen the vestibular sense, try toys that rock, spin, swing, or involve some other motion, like a trampoline.
  • To practice tactile stimulation,shop for toys with different textures, as well as finger paints, play scarves, bubbles, and sand and water toys.

Aside from sensory toys, other good choices involve toys that work on language development (particularly if your little one is nonverbal) as well as fine and gross motor skills.

You may also want to search for musical instruments, sorting toys that soothe your child, or toys designed for “stimming” (self-stimulation, like rocking) or fidgeting. Games that get kids working together and honing social skills are another solid option.

If you simply look up “toys for children with autism,” you’ll likely find an overwhelmingly long list. We’ve categorized some of the most popular toys and included ratings based on their usefulness, quality, and — well — fun-factor.

The following toys earn high marks from both caregivers and therapists. Some are even designed specifically or have been designated by the manufacturer as a good pick for children with ASD.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $25
  • $$ = $25–$50
  • $$$ = over $50

Best toys for nonverbal autism

Melissa & Doug See & Spell Learning Toy

Price: $

This puzzle set includes eight different 3- to 4-letter words (pig, bus, bird, fish, sun, cake, etc.) and 50 letter pieces. Kids work on vocabulary building, spelling, and fine motor skills all at once.

Melissa & Doug includes this toy on its best toys list for children with autism. Parents say this is a wonderful way to get kids interested in short letter words. One mom shares that her son is “on the spectrum and non-verbal at the moment… every day [he] does one word [and] pronounces the letters.”

Melissa & Doug also carries a line of sound puzzles that feature farm animals, zoo animals, vehicles, musical instruments, and more.

Lucas the Lion Loves the Tiny Talker

Price: $$

This board book has an integrated “tiny talker device” that is similar to an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. While that may not seem very toy-like, the story follows a lion named Lucas who cannot talk. As the story goes on, Lucas’ mother gives him a Tiny Talker, and he can then find the words he needs.

Children can see the symbols in the story and match them with the corresponding sound buttons. One parent shares that this book helped her son communicate with her for the first time ever. She says, “The smile on his face makes it so worth it.”

Best sensory toys for autism

Fat Brain Toys Teeter Popper

Price: $$

Sit, stand, or sway on this colorful rocking board that can hold up to 110 pounds of weight. The bottom is lined in small silicone suction cups that make a smacking noise when tilted from side to side. Your child likely won’t notice they’re working on their core strength along with balance, stability, and overall coordination.

One parent says this toy is a “must try” for kids with autism. Her 4-year-old child, who previously would lie on the floor to play, loves the suction cup noises and rocking motion the Teeter Popper provides. She loves that he’s working his muscles and is stimulated while he plays.

One thing to note: Some parents mention that this toy might be better suited for preschoolers and older children instead of toddlers. They say it requires a good amount of stability and balance.

Harkla Compression Therapy Swing

Price: $$$

With a weight limit of 200 pounds, this swing is sturdy enough for kids of all ages. It produces a hug-like calming effect through compression of the cocooned sides — almost like swaddling. When combined with the swinging motion, the Harkla provides vestibular sensory input whenever your child needs it.

Parents say the bracketing hanging system is high quality and secure. One reviewer says that just a week after installing this swing, her son experienced fewer meltdowns.

Neliblu Wacky Tracks Snap and Click Fidget Toys

Price: $

You’ve likely heard of a fidget spinner. The idea with these snap-and-click chains is similar. They’re a tactile fidget toy that may help reduce stress or anxiety while also increasing your child’s focus and attention. Each link of 24 in a chain moves and locks into five different positions while also producing a satisfying clicking noise.

Reviewers say these are a hit with their kids with ASD and that many of their little ones like breaking the chains, connecting them, and forming them into bigger shapes.

This toy is best for older kids, though. The links may be stiff and difficult to move for small hands, and the pieces of the links are quite small, which could pose a choking hazard for little ones.

Best games for kids with autism

Didax Social Skills Board Games

Price: $$

This set of six games by Didax includes the topics of how others feel, acting out, manners, mountain of emotions, what you should do, and what makes a good friend. Play is encouraged in small groups where elementary-age kids work together to learn social skills.

While these topics are important to all children, one reviewer explains that she purchased them for her 7-year-old and that they’re “especially good for children on the autism spectrum.”

BMAG Counting Bears Game

Price: $

This colorful game includes 90 bears — 60 little and 30 big — 6 sorting cups, 2 large tweezers, and 11 cards for play. Kids can play this game alone or work together for more teamwork and social interaction.

Sorting the bears by color helps with fine motor skills and may be soothing to some children. One reviewer shares that her daughter who has autism loves this game and that it captures her attention quite well. It has even become a part of her regular therapy sessions.

Best musical toys for autism

Edushape Rainbomaker

Price: $

This 16-inch musical rainmaker stick is designed for kids ages 12 months and up. The plastic beads gather in one end and — when turned over — cascade down the plastic tubing to create the sound of rain.

It’s a soothing sound, and several reviewers note they bought this toy specifically for their children with autism. One parent shares that her son “can literally play with it ALL day. It’s pretty hard looking for toys for him due to his sensory issues; however, this toy caught his absolute attention once taken out of the box!”

Rhythm Tech Cabasa

Price: $$

This pick isn’t a toy — it’s an actual musical instrument called a cabasa that’s traditionally used in Latin jazz music. Still, its soothing percussive swish is appealing to adults and kids, musicians and non=musicians alike.

Reviewers say this instrument is “perfect for family music time” because it’s both versatile and durable. For kids with autism, it provides tactile stimulation that music therapy group Wholesome Harmonies says it uses to “access sensory channels, modify state, and provide sensory stimulation for neuronal growth.”

Best toys for preschoolers with autism

Fat Brain Toys Squigz 2.0

Price: $$

This 36-piece building set is made of silicone pieces that connect via suction cup. With all the bright colors and bendy shapes, you really can make anything or just enjoy the popping sounds of the pieces pulling apart.

One reviewer explains that she learned about Squigz from her child’s occupational therapist. They’re great for building hand strength or sticking on different levels to work on your little one’s squatting or bending. A convenient plus: They can be washed in your dishwasher.

Keep in mind that for autistic children who may have developmental delays, this toy could present a choking hazard, depending on their age.

Educational Insights Teachable Touchables Texture Squares

Price: $

Little kids will love these crinkly, slippery, silky, scratchy, and soft squares. The textures may help build tactile awareness and even their budding vocabulary skills.

In each set, there are 10 different textures that come in pairs, for a total of 20 squares in all. Reviewers say the textures and included activities are wonderful for kids with sensory issues. Others say they are useful for all sorts of open-ended play throughout the day.

Linzy Toys Education Bear

Price: $

Your child can practice dressing this cute (and inexpensive) bear from head to toe. There are fabrics of a variety of textures along with snaps, buttons, zippers, Velcro, and more.

Reviewers say their kids enjoy dressing and cuddling it over and over again. One parent shares that her daughter “is very much into textures and, having autism, really likes the soft fabric of the doll. It helps her with her motor skills as well.”

Be cautious when using this toy: If pieces come off the bear, they could pose a choking hazard.

In the end, your child is going to enjoy toys that cater to their unique interests or needs. If your child receives Early Intervention services, you might reach out to your therapist to see if there are any particular toys they suggest adding to your home collection.

Otherwise, focus on toys that speak to sensory needs, fine and gross motor skills, as well as language development and social development. Above all else — have fun!