The 2017 Toy Insider’s Hot 20, Top Tech 12, and STEM 10 lists feature the best toys for the 2017 holiday season. They are picked by The Toy Insider team of editors for their tremendous play value, high quality, and originality. However, what toys on their lists offer the best developmental benefits for a child on the autism spectrum? Which of these hot toys, stem toys, and tech toys navigate kids through sensory and social issues?

I used the Toy Insider’s three hot toy lists to select eight of the best autism-friendly toys. I chose these toys for not only their fun factor, but also how well they assist with key skill development and allow for potential social and behavioral improvements.

Prices are included for each toy, as well as the links to the individual product page, so you can learn more about the product from The Toy Insider experts. However, no ages are included on this page since children on the spectrum can have different play needs, regardless of age (but you can check out the safety age grades on the product pages).

The toys are ranked by price point so you can find the ones that best suit your budget, but all of these will suit a child on the spectrum. While they may provide spectrum functionality, they are also really entertaining. Just because a child with this diagnosis may have play challenges, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have toys that are super fun.

Soft’n Slo Squishies (ORB)

These are great therapeutic toys to help manage anxiety, fidgeting, and outbursts, but with the fun, unique shapes of cake, pretzels and ice cream cones! Kids can squeeze to stay on task and help focus, or as a tool to help with the mantra of keeping hands to oneself. It is also fun to use them to play catch, as it is soft in case they miss it. Get a few and use them as tools in social stories or during pretend play as a safer alternative to plastic faux food. Toss one in your bag to always have one on hand on-the-go. MSRP: $5.99-$14.99


Fingerlings (Wowwee)

Having the monkey hang on his or her finger makes physical therapy exercises exciting! Alternatively, put one on a pencil or magic marker for a fun way to get through occupational techniques. Maybe hang a Fingerling in room as an incentive to walk to it or find it! Use the Fingerling for fantastic fairy tales—the monkey noises and interactions can help a child create social stories and work on vocabulary. Ask the child to make a move and anticipate the Fingerlings reactions for a Monkey Say Monkey Do game, which can help learn cause and effect and executive functioning skills. MSRP: $14.99


Scoop & Learn Ice Cream Cart (LeapFrog)

As kids build their customers’ ice cream treats using the included cards, they are building memory and sequencing skills, learning to follow directions, and improving listening behaviors. Kids can ring up the orders on the cash register for social skill practice. The ice cream scoop also helps with hand and eye coordination and improving fine motor skills in a fun play way! MSRP: $39.99


K’NEX Power and Play Motorized Model Building Set (K’NEX)

This set comes with 50 unique building ideas to  construct cars, planes, robots, and more using made-in-the-U.S. pieces and a battery-powered motor to bring creations to life. Building is an essential tool for therapists, caregivers, and parents to use with children on the spectrum. Instead of classic bricks, however, this is another tool and toy to consider in the playroom. What makes it unique, and fun, is what is built can be functionally used with the included motor. Read a story and have a child make a model based on an aspect of the story for attending and recollection skills. As they build their creation, they are working on attending, motor skills, coordination, imagination, and so much more. MSRP: $49.99


 

Soundmoovz (Cra-Z-Art)

Kids choose from more than 400 sounds, strap them to wrists or ankles, and move to make music using bluetooth and an app. Multiple play modes include instrumental, robot, karate, and more. These are great for occupational and physical therapy. As they do their work and exercises, they can have this added fun element. It is also as a way to get the ‘sillies’ out before doing direct table top therapy practices or as a break/reward opportunity to earn. MSRP: $69.99


Dance Code Featuring Disney Princess Belle (Hasbro)

This toy is an entry into coding, but it is a product about dance, rather than robots or gaming. Plus, Dance Code Belle features a familiar Disney princess. These two facts make this coding toy more relatable for kids who may have been hesitant or intimidated by coding. However, don’t let the word ‘coding’ make you feel that this toy may be too complex. Coding is, in essence, an executive functioning skill. For many kids on the spectrum, working on processing through steps, and seeing the cause and effect, is an important skill to work on. However, while they may be “working” on such skill, they are having fun watching Belle dance. MSRP: $79.99


Luvabella and Luvabeau (Spin Master)

These boy/girl babies affectionately respond to love just like real babies with authentic movements and emotions. The benefits are learning social cues on the most basic level—learning to respond to the baby, have compassion for its needs, and react to the demands of the doll. With realistic sounds and features, it is one doll on the market that can more effectively simulate real life scenarios. Also, it’s a good tool to have for a older child who may soon become a big brother or sister. It may help them prepare for the sounds and changes ahead in the family structure. MSRP: $99.99


Nintendo Switch (Nintendo)

A neuropsychiatrist once told me that video games can be good for kids on the spectrum because it helps them learn logic, strategy, and organization, as well as work on motor skills and managing frustrations. The key is finding the right platform and the right games. Nintendo Switch is a good size—not too big and not too small—and does not require an internet connection. The games are high tech, as compared to many iOS/Android apps, but has the portability that smart devices offer. There are a variety of Nintendo Switch games on the market now, so it is possible to find one suitable for your child, too. A gaming system can be good therapy and can be a good way to incentivize. Use in conjunction with Kudo Banz as a way to earn gaming time. MSRP: $299.99

A final point I want to make is that while these eight toy picks are great for kids on the autism spectrum, these are a great toy additions for the whole family. So, other children can play with the toys, and with their sibling, too. Play should be fun—and this will make the holiday season, and beyond, fun for all!