The Toy Insider’s Hot 20, Top Tech 12, and STEM 10 lists feature the best toys for the 2016 holiday season. They are picked by The Toy Insider team of editors for their awesome play value, high quality, and originality. However, what toys offer the best developmental benefits for a child on the autism spectrum? Which toys navigate kids through sensory and social issues?
I used the Toy Insider’s hot toy lists to select seven of the best autism-friendly toys. I chose these toys because they assist with key skill development and allow for potential social and behavioral improvements.
Snuggles, My Dream Puppy (Moose Toys)
Snuggles moves, feels, and responds just like a real puppy. When kids feed him his bottle, he’ll fall asleep in their arms. Pat his head or rub his tummy and Snuggles will close his eyes and make adorable puppy sounds.
Snuggles can be a great way to improve empathy and learn how to be gentle. Snuggles can better translate those social skills compared to a stuffed animal or robotic pet, since it has realistic puppy actions. Caregivers can even set a chart for caring for the puppy so children can follow directions and cues.
Shopkins Happy Places, Happy Home (Moose Toys)
Kids can collect and display Happy Places Petkin furniture pieces to decorate and personalize Popette’s home. The house play set comes with Popette Lil’ Shoppie, a large Petkin, two medium Petkins, two small Petkins, and two mini Petkins.
A benefit to this set is that it can be used for social stories, role playing self-help skills, engaging in interactive play, and sharing goals. Parents and caregivers can use the tiny Shopkins doll and house to roleplay going to bed and the steps the child has to take to do so.
Alternatively, engage in free play with the product to work on imaginations (what are we going to do?), speech (pretend the characters are speaking to each other), and conversational skills (bounce backs, listening, on topic, etc.).
Furthermore, the small pieces can address fine motor skills. Shopkins can be hard to manipulate for some children, and playing with them regularly can enhance occupational skills like grip, spacial planning, and managing frustrations.
Code and Go Robot Mouse Activity Set (Learning Resources)
The Code and Go Robot Mouse Activity Set lets kids build a maze and use the coding cards to create a step-by-step path for the programmable robot mouse. Create endless maze path possibilities, and then watch the mouse race to find the cheese.
The big benefit on this product is the practice of executive functioning skills and patterning. A child has to follow the cues from the cards (left, right, right, left, etc.) and program the mouse in a similar pattern.
The set also offers growth potential. A more advanced step would be to put the pretend cheese on the board, and have the child figure out how to get there. They have to find the cards to accomplish that feat, put them in order, and then program the mouse accordingly.
It is a product that can continue to challenge kids as they master different skill sets.
Think and Learn Code-a-pillar (Fisher-Price)
The Think Learn and Code-a-pillar helps younger children learn sequencing and programming by arranging easy-to-connect segments in endless combinations to send Code-a-pillar on his path—forward, left, right, or pause. Configure the segments so Code-a-pillar can reach the targets kids set up throughout the room.
This toy is slightly more simple than the above Code and Go Mouse. However, the function and value is similar. It is a good start for children on the spectrum who need more support in this area for a less frustrating start. It also allows for more manipulation by physically attaching the pieces of the caterpillar. Thus, it provides for a more visual understanding of the pattern(s) you want kids to create.
Roominate Cotton Candy Carnival (PlayMonster)
This wired building set inspires open-ended, hands-on play, while showing kids that creativity and engineering are fun. Use circuits, motors, and colorful building pieces to create unique and original structures, then rebuild something new again and again.
Similar to the Happy Home, this set can work on similar therapy and life goals, such as social stories, speech, and communication. This set takes it a step further by requiring the user to build the carnival first. Thus, this step can also work on executive functioning, following directives, fine motors skills, spacial planning and more.
Other Roominate sets can expand play value (and the play set itself). For example, the child can leave their townhouse to go to the carnival! What is it like in the house? How do we get to the carnival from the house? What do we do when we arrive at the carnival?
Lastly, combine all the pieces from all the Roominate sets to make your own unique creation. It can be a good tool for older child. What can they create? Can they describe what they made? Alternatively, a caregiver can give a goal (build a hot dog stand) and see how the child completes the task (and stays on task, too).
The heart of this Bloxels video game maker rests within 320 tiny blocks that, based on color, each represent a different game element. Children use those blocks to create a story that can turn into a video game.
Bloxels’ strength for children on the spectrum is the basic manipulation of the small ‘blox’ into the small squares. Once that is mastered, then children can work on following patterns (challenges are included with the toy or kids can make up their own). Alternatively, a child can work on following more abstract directives (for example, make a boat on water).
Once a child is comfortable with the board, designs, and directions, he or she can move forward with the tech aspect of Bloxels. Children can work on cause and effect, inferencing, social stories, and executive functioning skills.
If they discover something isn’t quite right after a test run, they can just readjust their blocks and try again. It is a way to work on maladaptive behaviors when things don’t go as planned. Lastly, there is also an in-game gem system. It allows kids to earn gems (rewards) that help them unlock cool features if they stick with the game.
Mebo (Skyrocket Toys)
Mebo is a robot with a built-in HD camera, an articulated arm and gripping claw, a two-way audio, and a microphone. Kids can control Mebo through an app, and access him remotely by connecting to his hotspot.
The benefit of Mebo is that it can assist with speech and communication skills. Having a child work on commands, articulating the desires of what s/he wants Mebo to do, and communicating them clearly.
As the child improves on the skills through play, Mebo can be used as a tool for executive functioning. Tell your child you want a piece of paper to be picked up off the floor and s/he needs to process through the steps needed to guide Mebo in performing the act.
Mebo is robot and sometimes electronic devices may not respond in the way we expect. Thus, when it has has a mind of its own, it can work on a child’s frustrations, adaptability, and flexibility skills.
These are my choices for autism supportive toys for the holidays. They are fun, offer lots of play potential and value, and provide educational support to those challenges children on the spectrum face.