Toys and Tools for Learning + Fun
By Erin Leach
Autism is not one-size-fits all and even if a child is on the same side of the spectrum as another, it doesn’t mean that their needs are anything alike. What we do know is that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn better when they are taught skills through play rather than in any other way. They can improve their speech and language, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, and even sensory processing with the right types of toys, which is why we wanted to round up the top autism-friendly gift ideas for toddlers.
Whether you’re a parent, relative, or friend of a toddler with ASD, it can be challenging to know what might be an appropriate toy to give for birthdays (or just because). The good news is that we tapped our team of child development specialists to round up some of their very favorite autism-friendly gift ideas for toddlers ranging from music sets to doll houses and everything in between. We promise, you’ll never be stumped again when it comes to gift-giving for your loved one.
This bright and cheerful music set features xylo keys, a cymbal, and drum to keep your little one’s attention. Not only can playing music be good for the soul and boost one’s mood, it can also be a great way for your child to communicate with others—or bond over the common interest.
Pretend play can be a challenge for children with autism, which is why a gourmet kitchen with an oven, stovetop, and sink is a great gift. Little ones will want to explore, and you can begin practicing everyday routines—cooking, washing dishes, cutting food—together. It will also facilitate communication with other children during play dates at your house.
Especially for children who have difficulty expressing themselves, “play” with a doll house can be used to communicate their innermost thoughts and feelings. This two-story house features more than one doll so your tiny one can stage conversations and interactions between characters to practice socializing in real life.
Who doesn’t like jumping on a trampoline? Your child will get a kick out of bouncing up and down, all the while improving their balance and coordination while holding onto a long handlebar for support. Bonus points that if they happen to take a tumble, it’s not high off the ground.
Many parents who have children with autism say that their little one like trains. Perhaps it’s because of the rotating wheels that are fun to watch or it could be because trains run on a schedule (predictability is admired by many individuals with autism). This double railway set has no shortage of fun things to do with its train station, tunnels, and suspension bridges.
It can be hard to work on coordination and gross motor skills inside the house. That’s why the Moluk Bilibo shell-shape toy designed by child development experts is so special—kids can sit in it, stand on it, slide in it, spin it, and even stack it (all without having to worry that it will break).
Bike riding can be especially difficult for children with special needs. Introducing them to a cool mini bike with four wheels early will help them with their balance and will make sure they’re not as intimidated when they try to ride the real deal later on.
For some children with autism, communication and speaking aren’t second nature. You can use a cool set like this to encourage play with tons of honking, sirens, and other car sounds. Have your little one listen to you make the noises first, and then have them follow suit.