Autism is commonly accompanied by sensory issues. The American Psychiatric Association even added sensory sensitivities to the list of symptoms that help diagnose autism in 2013. If you have a child that is dealing with sensory issues, you might want to try bringing home some sensory toys for them to play with.

Sensory toys are designed to stimulate a child’s five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. They might include elements such as bright, contrasting colors, sounds, or different textures. These toys are meant to help children develop their senses in a safe and natural environment using play.

What Are Sensory Issues?

There are two types of sensory issues that might affect a child with autism: hyper-sensitivities and hypo-sensitivities. Both types of sensitivities affect how the child processes and reacts to different types of stimuli. According to Autism Speaks, these can include, but are not limited to:

  • Sights
  • Sounds
  • Smells
  • Tastes
  • Touch
  • Balance
  • Body Awareness

Hyper-Sensitive Children

Children who are hypersensitive are overly responsive to stimulants. This is often called “sensory overload.” Both regular and extreme stimuli, like bright lights or strong smells, can affect hyper-sensitive children, leaving them feeling overwhelmed. There are a number of strategies that can be used to help children with sensory hypersensitivity. In order to ensure appropriate support is in place, parents should consult with an occupational therapist or professional to determine the best way to support their child with hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli.

Hypo-Sensitive Children

As opposed to hyper-sensitivity, some children with autism are actually under-responsive to senses and stimulants. One example of this is a low sensitivity to pain. A child who has hypo-sensitivity also may be under-responsive to body signals that affect balance control and physical coordination. Some accommodations that can be made for children who are hypo-sensitive include weighted blankets, strong tasting or textured foods, and activities that practice physical skills such as dancing, jumping, running, and catching.

How Are Sensory Toys Used For Autism?

The use of sensory toys to help children with autism is becoming more and more common. There are many different types of sensory toys available, appealing to one or more of the different senses. Sensory toys work to engage a child’s senses in an enjoyable way.

Sensory toys used for autism can help children focus better, calm down, and relax, however, sensory toys do not replace formal and evidence-based treatment for autism spectrum disorders. In the end, sensory toys are meant to help a child learn more about their senses in a fun way. Through the use of play, a child with autism may better understand their senses and how to manage them.

Child with occupational therapist touching sensory integration equipment

The 6 Best Sensory Toys for Autism

You can find sensory toys online and in most stores. If you are trying to determine what the best types of sensory toys for autism are, here are a few options you might want to consider.

1. Sensory Mats

A great sensory toy for children with autism is a series of sensory mats. These are small mats that each utilize a different texture. Children can then use their hands or feet to feel and play with the different types of textures. You can even have your child close their eyes and go through the different mats while you ask them to describe what they feel.

2. Chew Toys

It’s not uncommon for parents to use chew toys for an infant, especially while they may be teething, but another use of chew toys is for children with autism. Chew toys are made of a non-toxic silicone material and can be hand-held objects or jewelry-like pieces worn around the neck or wrist. They come in a variety of textures, from dots, ridges, and patterns, or they can be smooth as well. Chew toys are meant to develop biting and chewing skills, as well as provide sensory stimulation.

3. Sand, Slime, or Putty

Another type of sensory toy that might be beneficial for your child is sand, slime, or putty. These allow your child to play while also developing fine motor skills. Children can play with the substance alone or they can incorporate other objects as well. Also, the substances are often brightly colored, appealing to their visual senses.

play dough is used as a sensory toy for children with autism

4. Pin Art

Pin artboards are great for both kids and teens with autism. These toys feature steel pins that allow a child to make and look at imprints in the pins. You can use your hands and fingers to make imprints as well as other objects and toys. The unique feeling of the pins when touching the pin artboard makes it a great no-mess sensory toy for children with autism.

5. Rainmaker Toys

To appeal to a child’s sense of hearing, try a rainmaker! A rainmaker is a fun toy that can help a child with autism relax when playing and listening to the soothing sounds of “rain.” The bright colors and cascade of falling beads are another bonus with this toy, allowing a child to engage with multiple senses at once without it being overwhelming.

6. Fidget Spinners

You have probably already encountered fidget spinners, as they became the latest craze a few years ago. These toys help a child focus by keeping their hands occupied. Not only great for children with autism but also children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD). The smooth and fast rotation of the spinners are enjoyable for many children, and with many different designs available, you are sure to find one that your child loves.

Sensory Toys at Carmen B. Pingree

At Carmen B. Pingree, we understand the sensory difficulties children with autism may face, which is why we have occupational therapists that will guide children and parents through different options to support their children with hypersensitivity or hypo-sensitivity to sensory stimuli. We incorporate the use of sensory toys when appropriate to supplement our primary treatment modalities as well. The use of toys that help engage a child’s various senses can help them learn and become more familiar with these senses in a safe and natural play environment.

If you have any questions about our autism programs, contact us today! We are dedicated to providing comprehensive treatment, education, and related services for children with autism and their families.