I’m often asked about toy recommendations for children on the Autism Spectrum, or with other diagnoses. While it’s important to remember that children with special needs vary in their interests and abilities, there are plenty of toys on the market that can provide children with fun experiences—regardless of ability!
All of the below toys have suggested age ranges from the manufacturers, but I chose not to list them, because as caregivers of these children know, the age modeling suggested on the product packaging does not often apply to children with special needs. Children may have oral fixation concerns or developmental delays that impact the recommended manufacturer age, so gift-givers should try to take those issues into consideration when selecting the perfect toy.
Here are the Super 7 Toys for Children with Special Needs that I love for this holiday gift buying season. These toys offer lots of therapeutic opportunities, as well as ways to modify the interaction with the toy to fit the need of the child. Plus, these seven toys provide lots of fun and interactivity with other members of the family, too.
Load six hanging forks with your choice of snacks (not included), then place the spinning crown on your head. The player who eats the most snacks before the music stops wins the game. This is great for kids who cannot use their hands for play. Also a good game for kids with food aversions, as it can be a playful way to help them try new tastes and textures. You can take out the timing and music functions for more simple, unhurried play; and it’s a fun game for the whole family, so everyone can play together. (MSRP $19.99)
These plush monkeys feature long arms so little ones can give them big hugs. While the monkeys don’t provide a strong hug, they can be a good alternative for those kiddos who need deep pressure, giving them a calming feel when the long arms are wrapped. Kids can also swing, toss, tickle, or turn Fingerlings Hugs upside down for different reactions, or record their voice and have the monkey repeat it back as a silly remix, giving kids a good cause and effect activity. The plushies can also be used when kids are in a supine position, and each monkey can hang from a wheelchair as a playful companion. Plus, kid can toss the monkeys by their feet or hands for similar effects when a child’s arm movement is limited. (MSRP: $29.99)
Kids can learn sequencing and patterning while having fun exploring musical styles and different genres of music with the simulated 15 musical instrument sounds. The Rocktopus has three play modes: math, music and game for when you want to follow the pre-programmed play model. However, free play is possible too and enables this toy to fit the need and level of its player. A good toy for children with visual impairments, as they can use their hearing for play opportunities. (MSRP: $59.99)
This 64-piece building set includes a sky shuttle and multiple track accessories. Kids can create loops, hills, twists, and turns using the magnetic pieces. The shuttle can even perform tricks, such as a 360-degree spin. When the shuttle is in motion on the track, it can be something a child can properly fixate on. Having a child build the set themselves enables them to motor plan, and utilize executive functioning skills in addition to the specific sequencing and patterning opportunities this set can provide. (MSRP: $129.99)
Sammy the robot teaches kids coding and programming principles without a tablet or smartphone. Lay down a sequence of physical code cards and let Sammy drive over them to load the program, then use the map cards to run the program. Lots of function and sequencing opportunities for executive functioning support. The simple design and coding principles makes it a good start for kids who want to code, but find traditional coding too complicated. (MSRP: $129.99)
Little builders will stay busy with a workbench and tool set designed just for them. It enables kids to work on hand and eye coordination, following directives, grip strength, and sequencing and patterning. The simple pretend screws and nails are small and light enough to manipulate with other body parts for children who cannot use their hands directly. Alternatively, it enables kids to build up strength in hands and arms while having a blast. (MSRP $49.99)
This R/C car track set features twist and turn track pieces and light-up cars. Kids can configure the track any way they want, and then race their R/C cars through the tubular track. The fun is that kids can set up the pieces in any shape and direction they desire, which enables the benefit of spacial planning and organizational activity. Most car sets are used on a flat surface, but the Zoom Tubes track set can be built vertical for kids in supine positions or who are wheelchair bound. You can buy additional sets for a massive track and multiple cars, which makes it super fun for kids who are unable to leave the proximity of a room or home due to an illness. (MSRP: $29.99)