As a single parent to three beautiful children, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder, it is very important to me that I have things at home that will reliably help her unwind and stay calm and relaxed. In around 18 months, we have come a long way in my daughter’s development, thanks partly to sleep aids and partly to acquiring some of the best toys for children with verbal or nonverbal autism.
Each child is of course unique and different, so use your best judgement to decide which are the best toys for your nonverbal or verbal autistic child (these are all suitable whether your child currently speaks or not). I can’t tell you how much money and time I have spent looking for genuinely high quality toys that are OK for my daughter on a sensory level.
Let’s just say there have been a lot of broken fidget toys, squishies and the like, which is not much fun- the best toys for children with autism are ones that last!
“Why buy special toys for autistic children- aren’t these just normal toys?”
Of course all children need toys of some kind- but autistic children often have certain sensitivities that mean that specific kinds of toys are more helpful than others. The best toys for nonverbal autism or autistic child who do communicate verbally are those that do not overwhelm them, but meet their sensory needs in an appropriate way.
Hyper-Sensitivity in Autistic Children
For example, some children are hyper-sensitive. This means they feel and experience things at a heightened level and therefore can become easily over-stimulated, which is overwhelming, unpleasant and sometimes physically painful for them.
Hypo-Sensitivity in Autistic Children
A child who is hypo-sensitive will be under-responsive to sensory stimuli. This means that they may not notice sensations such as hot or cold, hunger or needing the toilet. They may benefit from strong sensations such as weighted blankets, strong tasting food and activities that include a lot of physicality such as running, jumping, rolling and throwing for hand-eye coordination.
Autistic children may experience neither, one or both of these sensory states. For example a child may be hyper-sensitive to certain things but hypo-sensitive to others; you will probably already be aware of this in your own child. My daughter who has sensory processing disorder, for example, didn’t realise she was freezing cold when she went into the sea in winter, but can get overwhelmed to tears by the hum of the fridge.
How Toys For Children With Autism Help Their Development
Having the best sensory toys for autistic children is one of the best ways to reduce their stress levels (and therefore yours), in a fun way. The right toy can also encourage language development and cognitive development in different ways. So without further ado, here are the best toys for nonverbal or verbal autism, as rated by myself and my daughter:
If your child has speech delay or struggles with communication skills, this is something they can do without the pressure for verbal expression or language skills. Over the holiday season or busy times throughout the year, or just when she is a bit overwhelmed, it is a great way to provide some calm, quiet time for nonverbal autistic kids.
Although it may seem strange to give a child a chew-toy when we are used to giving them to babies or dogs, chew toys can be an excellent way of helping a child regulate and are frequently recommended by a child’s occupational therapist.
It is extremely important to only purchase chew toys from a high quality brand so you know that the material is sturdy (so small pieces don’t create a choking hazard) and non toxic. The best one we have found is by Chew buddy, who have chew toys in necklace form so they are readily accessible. They come in shapes such as stick people, circles and aliens.
These look funny but are absolutely brilliant for children who also respond well to weighted blankets. Body socks are like giant stretchy pillowcases that kids can get into- they can push against the stretchy fabric so they can apply as much or as little pressure to themselves as they like.
Being in a body sock is like a hug without the human/ emotional element, which many autistic children can struggle with.
These are not only one of the best toys for nonverbal autism, they are also fascinating and so much fun- I have to stop myself playing with it, and we always find that when guests come over they end up fiddling too! A pin art board is a board with non-sharp pins in, that you can press into to make different shapes.
Because the pins are made of metal they are pretty cold and it is a very specific sensation, which my daughter and many children with verbal or nonverbal autism enjoy. Something we like to do is practise facial expressions, and then press our faces into the pin board to see what they look like- this is perfect for autistic children to learn social skills as well as being a lot of fun!
A Pin art board makes a great gift for younger or older children, or adults with autism or sensory issues.
We have a range of non-toxic, durable squishies at home from the brand Anboor Squishies, which are perfect for stress relief. They come in different textures such as slow-releasing and bumpy or smooth and quick-rising.
These are good toys to have on hand for sensory input during other tasks (eating, reading or watching TV, for example), they help develop hand muscles for gross motor skills, and they are the type of toy that makes the perfect gift for little kids or older kids. My daughter likes to squeeze hers as she goes off to sleep, like a stress-ball and loves these cute food-themed squishies.
These brilliant cubes are one of the most famous educational toys. They are a great thing to have on hand for hours of concentration, and are ideal for developing hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills as well as cognitive skills.
The puzzle game requires the user to get all the different colors of squares to separate sides of the cube- to get them to the right place they must be turned using large or small movements. This Rubik’s cube comes in eco friendly packaging and has been updated to ensure smooth, snag-free playing.
Having some time on a balance board can be a fantastic addition to nonverbal kids’ daily routines. Young children up to adults can enjoy the physical activity of balancing on a sturdy board, and helps with the important task of developing physical awareness.
A balance board is one of the perfect toys that family members can also enjoy- ideal for social interaction- and watching a parent or carer have a wobble will capture a child’s interest and encourage them to have a go.
It’s a great toy to get if your nonverbal autistic child spends a lot of time on video games, as they can enjoy their fun game while benefitting from movement.
Sand, slime or putty
Kinetic sand is a firm favourite in our house, as is slime! We particularly love these artisan scented slimes as the texture and scent is so lovely, and they come with cute sprinkle pieces inside for extra sensory input.
I find sand, slime or putty one of the best toys for children with autism as they can play with it for hours. I put toy farm animals on a tray with some sand, or sprinkle some small gems into slime, and that’s the afternoon sorted!
We love Tuff Trays as they contain the mess to a small area. I do also have a few different jars of putty too (ranging from soft to quite hard, like the Therapy Putty set below), as this is less messy (doesn’t need to be taken out of the jar) so can be used to push into when she is on the sofa.
Fidget Toys For Children With Autism
Although these come in different forms, I haven’t yet found one that my daughter doesn’t like- although she has her favourites. Fidget toy types that are brilliant and suitable toys for nonverbal children include:
‘Marble Mesh‘- a small tube of mesh with a ball inside that you can push back and forth
‘Bike chain‘- a small chain that you can roll between your fingers
‘Pop It‘- Lots of soft plastic bubbles that you push to create a ‘pop’ sound effect
‘Infinity cube‘- This is a plastic cube that flips over in pieces to create itself in different ways.
Fidgets are great for having on hand in the car or in a handbag for times when sensory overwhelm may be an issue. At home, they’re great for open-ended play- and they make great gift ideas as there are so many types.
I remember the first time my daughter saw one of these, and I couldn’t understand why something that looked like an egg timer was so fascinating. However, the steady drip-drip-drip of the coloured oil is actually very soothing, and liquid motion bubblers are absolutely perfect to put beside your child’s bed if they have a hard time getting off to sleep.
The cycle takes a while so your child can just watch it as they drift off- or if they’re playing with it in the day, can tip it up each way to see the coloured beads of oil balance and move around.
Enjoy The Best Toys For Children With Autism
I hope that this post on toys for children with autism is really helpful to you. Having these at home for my daughter has made a massive difference in her wellbeing, alongside sleep management and a gentle home education approach.