Making the Most of Playtime: Buying the Right Toys for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

It’s always fun to discover that perfect present for a special child in our lives. The happiness and excitement it can bring becomes a lasting memory. Selecting the right present for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can seem a bit more challenging, as you aim to purchase the right type of toy for his or her specific needs. Of course children with ASD love toys as much as anyone, so while finding that just-right gift may require a little more thought and effort, it can also be rewarding, and more importantly, beneficial to the recipient.

As you shop online or venture out to browse at the nearby mall, keep in mind these helpful tips to ensure you choose a great gift:

  1. Ask yourself, “What’s the child’s interest?”

Children with ASD tend to be passionate, and they are often very into certain shows, activities, or characters. Observe and take note of this behavior first-hand, or ask the child, or his or her parent. The right focus area will lead you to the right area of the toy store.

  1. Promote shared play.

Friends and relatives can struggle with how to approach playtime with an ASD child. This is why a toy that is both interesting to the child and promotes shared play is an optimal choice. This can range from puzzles to model train layouts. Remember that interaction is the most important part of the gift, so once the gift is given, get in there and play!

  1. Let’s get building!

In the same line of thought as the shared play, interactive building toys are intriguing to children with ASD. Legos, blocks, etc. are easy to manipulate and can be used in many different combinations, all while helping to also build spatial skills. Even better, these affordable toys can be enjoyed in cooperation with other children or adults, but also used independently.

  1. Get a little help from Toys “R” Us.

For more than 20 years, Toys “R” Us, Inc. has published a weekly catalog entitled Toys”R”Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids®. This helpful resource showcases specially selected toys that aid in the development of children who have physical, cognitive, or developmental issues. Easy-to-navigate, the catalog can guide you to the right toy for your specific situation. You can access it here:

  1. Turn to AblePlay for essential information.

AblePlay is an organization which tests and rates toys based upon the needs of children with various disabilities. The website offers an intuitive rating system focused on the developmental areas of physical, sensory, communicative, cognitive, and social/emotional abilities of a child. You can easily select “autism” on the search engine, and browse through the recommended toys. Visit the site here:

  1. Look for toys that stimulate senses.

Many children with ASD have sensory challenges, particularly tactile defensiveness. Toys can be a good way to introduce tactile sensations in a low-key, non-threatening way, in which the child has total control. Suitable toys might include books with cloth, foil, yarn, etc. attached to them, toys that make sounds, and blocks with raised lettering or numbering.

  1. Find toys that help develop motor skills.

All children need to develop motor skills, but autistic children are more likely to struggle in this regard. Painting, finger-painting, and drawing are good choices, so consider purchasing the appropriate supplies to facilitate these activities.

  1. Make music.

Developing a skill like playing an instrument can come in handy during the tween and teen years in terms of buying kids some common ground with their peers. It’s also creative and involves social nuance. For little kids who may not be ready to tackle the piano or guitar, simple musical toys like a whistle or kazoo can be an ideal gift.

  1. Be mindful 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. Again, use your judgment, and always ask the parent if you need additional insight on what is best.

Gifting the right type of toy can truly tap into a child’s hidden potential, providing a fun surprise to commemorate a holiday or birthday, or as a just-because treat. It’s gratifying to know that by incorporating these thoughts and tips as you make your purchase, the benefits of selecting the right item will last long after the gift is received.

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