How to Choose Toys for Autistic Children

Two Parts:Functional PlayMore Ideas

Engaging autistic children in play can be a lot more challenging than with non-autistic children. In addition, play needs to reflect both enjoyment for the child, and assist development of specific personality traits and coping mechanisms.

Part 1
Functional Play

  1. Image titled Choose Toys for Autistic Children Step 1
    Look for toys that stimulate their senses. Many autistic children have sensory challenges, particularly tactile defensiveness. Toys can be an excellent way to introduce tactile sensations in a low-key, non-threatening way, in which they have total control. Suitable toys might include:
    • Books with cloth, foil, yarn, etc. attached to them—you can even make your own
    • Blocks with raised lettering or numbers (this appeals to the ordering need as well)
    • Toys with bumps, fur, raised elements, ridges, etc.
    • Musical toys and toys that make sounds
    • Hard board books for children prone to tearing - allow them to tear the wrapping paper as much as they wish!
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    Choose toys that help social interaction development. Teaching all children cooperation through toys is an important rite of growing up. For autistic children, socially interactive toys are even more important for helping them to develop coping mechanisms when interacting with the wider world. Board games are excellent for this, especially when the whole family pitches in to play together. Focus especially on the issue of taking turns and that losing is not a big deal. All children need to learn these skills but the frustration element can be very intense for autistic children.
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    Find toys that help to develop motor skills. All children need to develop motor skills, but autistic children are especially likely to struggle in this regard. Painting and drawing are good choices, and trying fingerpainting can help sensory issues (if the child is able to try it). Developing balance might be tricky if the child refuses to ride a tricycle or bicycle. A lot of encouragement and patience will be required, as well as understanding that it might never happen. Trampolines are excellent but make sure it is safe and always be present.
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    Consider toys that emphasize or provide room for organizational skills. Functional play does not only help the child with their weaknesses; it also encourages them to build upon their strengths. Autistic children are often skilled at creating and understanding systems. You can encourage this by buying toys that allow them to design cars, construct elaborate towns for their dolls, and employ their visual skills. It may inspire them to go into STEM at an older age. Look for...
    • Building blocks
    • Toys that can be taken apart and reassembled in different ways
    • Puzzles and brain games
    • Dollhouses or toy towns to organize
    • Buttons and beads (consider choking hazards)
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    Always be considerate of the child's skill levels. Less complicated toys are better for younger children or ones with greater sensory or intellectual impairments; simple push-button, open and use toys are best. For children with stronger skills, building, creating, discovering, connecting, etc. toys are generally fine.
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    Don't overdo the functional play. Sometimes, it is fine to let your child simply enjoy a line of toys that is pure fun.
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    Remember that there is no "correct" way to play. The point of playtime is to have fun and relax—not to behave exactly like other people want you to. Allow your child to be themselves. It's okay if their playtime looks a little different from that of other children.

Part 2
More Ideas

  1. Image titled Choose Toys for Autistic Children Step 6
    Select quality over quantity. Too many toys is always too many toys. For autistic children, it can feel overwhelming and crowding. It is better to choose one good quality toy over many cheaper toys that will clutter your house. If you hit the right choice, that one toy will provide many hours of enjoyment.
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    Search online. There are numerous stores catering to toys for autistic children, offering advice and good ideas. There are also many, many guides on what toys to get for autistic children. Have a good read to inform yourself and apply the most appropriate ideas to suit your child – every child is different, and every form of autism is different, and you know your own child's needs and interests better than anyone else.
    • Find out what autistic writers loved when they were children.
    • Consider stim toys as well as traditional toys.
    • Some autistic children will do typical imaginary/interactive play with others, while tending to focus on stimming or systematizing play when by themselves.
    • Be careful of websites that emphasize "appropriate play." The goal of these websites may be to make autistic children look normal, rather than to help them have fun and improve their skills.
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    Look for toys that match the child's special interests. Encouraging the child's passions will help them feel supported and understood. (It may also eventually lead to a fulfilling career for the child—a girl who loves fire trucks may someday design them.)
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    Search for outdoor toys. Exercise is important for all children, and autistic children are no exception. (It may also provide an outlet for extra energy.) Encourage the child to play both by themselves and with others. If they are anxious by nature, encourage collaborative rather than competitive play.
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    Consider making toys with your child. If you have an older child, they may enjoy going through the creation process with you. For example, show the child how to make yarn dolls, or sew a doll.
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    If the autistic child has siblings of a similar age, see if there are toys that they can share. Examples include balls, sidewalk chalk, art supplies, and sports gear. This gives an opportunity for the siblings to hang out together.
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    Try choosing toys that encourage parent/child play. This will help you or the parent bond with the child, and get to know how their mind works. It also provides an opportunity for the parent to model social skills in a relaxed, enjoyable environment. Autistic children are unique individuals who are worth getting to know.


  • Note that while some autistic kids are oversensitive to stimulation, others are under-sensitive, and would love finger paints and other sensory stimulation such as bouncing or swinging.
  • People who don't understand autism will tend to give "age-appropriate" or extremely childish gifts. Autistic children develop at different rates and may not be ready for the gifts, or may have outgrown them. Check your irritation; people mean their best and only family and best friends should be informed about the need to be conscious of developmental stages. Everyone else - just put their gifts in storage until your child is ready. If they have outgrown the gift, re-gift it quietly or donate it.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the parents of an autistic child what an appropriate gift might be. Oftentimes they may be able to tell you a good subject matter.
  • Many autistic children love spinning toys.
  • If you're a parent and are having guests for the child's birthday, consider mentioning what the child likes. For example, "Clara has recently discovered Legos and loves to build, especially things with wheels. She is also creating a miniature town for her toy dogs."
  • As with all children, avoid overusing the TV as a play device. Moderation is key for all children.


  • If you're giving a gift, don't be offended if it goes unused. The child's experiences of the world differ from yours and what might seem fantastic to you might be scratchy, noisy, overly bright, or painful for the child. This is something to remember for all gifts to children; their personality isn't yours!
  • Never get objects that shatter when dropped. Not only is this dangerous, but it will frighten and upset the autistic child, sometimes to the point of a meltdown.

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