Toys; Every kid loves 'em. But if you're looking for autism toys you don't need to look very far. The truth is that virtually any toy can be used for therapy to benefit the child. The point is how the toy is used and how you interact and play with the toy with your child. You just need to make sure the toy is fun, safe, and age appropriate. Usually safe and age appropriate go hand in hand. To find a toy that's fun you've got to know the child and you must know what that child's interests are.
With autistic children toys are extremely good for learning. That's the functional part. And the same toy can often be used to teach multiple things and work on different areas of deficit including motor skills, speech, self help skills, and so much more. Here are some great tips and techniques for working with toys so your child benefits. But for these techniques to work you, the parents, need to be involved. You are the key to making each toy fun and functional. When learning is fun children are more likely to remember what they've learned. When "fun" is involved they won't even realize they're learning! And you don't need anything marketed as autism toys to do that.
Something to remember; Buy toys that YOU, the parents, will enjoy. I've found that when I like the toys I'm playing with I don't "burn out" nearly as fast. Who'd of thought I'd like playing with autism toys? Of course, it also has to be a toy that your child will enjoy. I guess that goes without saying.
Around age 4 and 5 my son absolutely loved the Chevron cars like the red sports car pictured left. He still loves them but now he has moved on to more detailed cars. We played with these usually by sitting about ten feet apart and taking turns pushing them back and forth to each other. That's when Braden learned about turn taking and waiting. We involved his little cousin and that helped with socialization, especially when we played with just one car.
We used these to help with speech therapy by having two cars, maybe one red and one green. Once I had both cars he was naturally waiting for me to push one or both back to him. But I'd hold onto them and ask him which color he wanted. When he finally told me I'd reward him by pushing that car to him. Imaginative play was as simple as making the car do a pretend power skid or pop a wheelie or crash. As you know toy cars come in all shapes and sizes and for all ages. Heck, adults collect toy cars. These things can make great autism toys!
There are some wooden cars (and trains) that allow children to stack on the parts and build the car. Those are great for sequencing, order, and motor skills. They can even help teach colors and numbers and sizes depending on the car.
• Emotions, motor skills, imaginative play, and more
Legos are so versatile it's ridiculous. I don't think better autism toys exist. And they make these things for all ages so it's no problem finding Legos that are age appropriate. If your child likes pirates, Lego makes 'em. If your child likes space ships, Lego makes 'em. The latest movies, the latest cartoons, and whatever else. Lego keeps up with the trends like no other company. There's a reason they're so popular with children and even some adults. Also, these can be used to help teach your child how to clean up!
But how can these things be used as autism toys to teach about emotions? Let me tell you. My son has Thomas the Tank Engine Legos, Duplo size. One thing we can do is build a track that dead-ends into a wall or goes up a bridge and then drops off, wrecking the train. Oh NO! When this happens you can teach about feelings like sadness and pain. And when the engines are running along fine and one is helping the other you can teach about happiness and being helpful. The possibilities are really endless. Think of all the different scenarios you can create!
Legos are great for motor skills simply because your child has to put them together. And learn to grade pressure, which is something many autistic kids have issues with. How hard do you have to push to get legos to stick together? And when something is assembled what a sense of accomplishment!
With a little creativity virtually any toy can be used to help with imaginative play. Guide your child. Use your imagination and help him/her to use theirs. Have your lego man use a pretend bathroom. Make him talk to other lego people. Legos can be used in so many ways to help children with autism. And they're not just for boys anymore. Legos Belville line is aimed right at the girls. With Legos you just can't go wrong.
One more thing worth mentioning about Legos - They all come with visual directions for assembly! The kids get to see the progress as the toy gets closer and closer to completion. That's a huge plus for children with autism!
Games & Puzzles
• Turn taking, socialization, speech, problem solving
Cranium is becoming more and more known for making great games for kids with autism. My son has both Balloon Lagoon and Cariboo. Cariboo is especially helpful in teaching turn taking. For young children this game is exciting and rewarding. These autism toys are positive reinforcement at its best! Several other manufacturers also make great original games that can be instrumental in teaching everything from colors and numbers to motor skills and self regulation.
Melissa and Doug is another brand I often see utilized by therapists. Their games and puzzles and well made, often wooden, and generally for younger children. There are so many games for sale that you're sure to find one that's ideal for your child.
• Eye-Hand Coordination, Vestibular Input, Colors, Shapes, etc.
Yes, they make noise. Yes, they're more expensive. But electronic toys, like my son's "I Can Play" Piano by Fisher Price keep children's attention and gives them the vestibular input they crave. Plus, toys like this piano plug into the TV and have video games designed to teach academic skills like colors and shapes. These autism toys can also be played freestyle without the need for a television. To play the games on a TV screen autistic children need to use their eye-hand coordination. And when they use it, they get better at it. At age 6, my son loved this piano, and we encouraged him to play with it by cheering and helping him along. Oh, and no parts to pick up when the playing is done!
Nintendo's Wii can be used to help with eye-hand coordination too. And game developers tend to release more appropriate games for that console. The thing I like about it is that it makes kids get active.
Dolls, Animals, Action Figures
• Self help, Imaginative Play, Emotions
I group these "autism toys" together because they really all serve the same purpose. And what's the difference between a stuffed animal, a dolly, and an action figure anyway? My son doesn't have any dolls but he has plenty of stuffed animals and plastic animals and a few action figures.
When Braden and I play with his animals and action figures it's a lot of role playing. I'll usually make the animals attack each other, fart, and eat everything in sight. Braden loves it! My wife and I don't have a girl, but if we did I imagine we'd be doing more cuddling, feeding, and burping with dollies. Dolls can be especially great for self help skills because we can pretend to feed them, clean them, and change their clothes. We can teach love and gentleness. And if you should drop the baby doll you can say the baby got hurt, or the baby is sad. You can interact with your autistic child and invoke different emotions.
Children with autism don't often express emotions well, so here's a golden opportunity to help in that area too. These can be very valuable autism toys when used appropriately.
Virtually all toys are autism toys in my eyes. It doesn't matter how they're marketed. What matters is how they are used.