20 Best Toys for Kids With Autism

These playthings offer sensory stimulation, skill-building opportunities and a whole lot of fun.
save article
profile picture of Holly Pevzner
By Holly Pevzner, Contributing Writer
Updated April 6, 2023
Toys for kids with autism HERO
Image: Target
We have included third party products to help you navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments. Purchases made through links on this page may earn us a commission.

Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are just that—kids. And they want to play! So what are the best toys for autistic kids to encourage that exploration through play? “Their toys don’t have to be fancy or special ‘learning toys,’” says Jamie Winter, PhD, a psychologist at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, New York. “They simply need to be toys that your child enjoys and that are developmentally appropriate.” In fact, the toys commonly found in playgroups, preschools and playrooms of neurotypical toddlers are the same kinds of toys that are beneficial to children with autism. “Puzzles, blocks, balls, cars and books are a great place to start for all kids,” says Winter. That said, the best toys for kids with autism do have some common threads. Below, some guidelines for selecting toys for autistic children, as well as some suggested toys to try out.

What to Look for in Toys for Autistic Kids

Before you start filling your virtual shopping cart with special needs toys, know this: First and foremost, toys for kids with autism need to be fun! Here’s what else to keep in mind:

  • Embrace high-interest toys. Children with autism can become very interested in one thing, like trains or dinosaurs. “Sometimes parents try to stop the intensity of their child’s interest, thinking it’s a habit that needs to be broken,” says Rondalyn Varney Whitney, PhD, OTR/L, associate professor of occupational therapy at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. “But interest is interest, and you should go with it. Simply think about ways to use that interest to expand play and learning.”
  • Avoid overstimulating toys. “Many children with ASD become overstimulated by electronic toys with a lot of lights, sounds and moving parts,” says Winter. Playing with these can not only lead to meltdowns, but children often also focus exclusively on the toy and don’t pay any attention to other children or adults around them.
  • Think beyond age-grading. Toy manufacturers age-grade their toys so parents can understand what’s age-appropriate—both from a safety and developmental standpoint. But when it comes to toys for autistic kids, as long as they don’t pose a safety hazard for your child, so what if the toy packaging reads ages 5+? Only you know what playthings are truly appropriate for your child’s developmental stage. “Some children with autism have intellectual disabilities—and some don’t,” says Whitney. “In fact, many have at or above intellectual ability.” Bottom line: Trust your gut and pick toys that meet your child where they are developmentally, keeping safety top of mind.
  • Choose no-wrong-way-to-play toys. Toys that can be played with in a lot of different ways are among the best toys for kids with autism. “They’re especially good for children who have inconsistencies in their development,” notes Whitney.
  • Look for just-right sensory stimulation. Children with autism typically crave a particular sensory input. Some gravitate toward the tactile (perhaps touching certain textures is calming), while others prefer to stimulate their proprioceptive system, which is basically joints and muscles (spinning or jumping might regulate their mood). And many have various sensory needs. “Look for toys that have lots of sensory pieces that your child will enjoy,” says Whitney.
  • Limit available toys. “It’s often problematic to have many toys out and available at the same time,” notes Winter. “Containers with lids, cabinets or shelving to put toys away will help you teach your child to clean up and to limit distractions.”

Best Toys for Autistic Kids

Your playroom can be stocked with the very best, but to make your collection of special needs toys truly impactful, get down on the ground and play with your child. “Playing with toys with others is an important way that children with ASD can learn,” says Winter. And don’t forget: Singing songs and playing with your child without toys is fun and important too! When it comes to the best toys for kids with autism, here are some of our top picks.

DIY Sock Puppets

There are literally hundreds of play possibilities with these silly little sock puppets, making them standout toys for kids with autism. This 40-piece set comes with plenty of peel-and-stick felt shapes, adhesive-backed googly eyes and fuzzy embellishments to help children label body parts and start to piece together meanings in facial expression (a skill deficit that often goes hand-in-hand with an autism diagnosis). Having the freedom to create a character of their own imagination affords children with ASD agency to express their emotions and communicate what they’re feeling or thinking through a third party (aka the playful puppet). Plus, taking the accessories on and off helps develop the very muscle groups and fine motor skills needed for holding a pencil or fastening buttons.

Recommended age: 3+ years

Baby and Toddler Learning Toy

Some of the very best special needs toys are really just awesome toys, no matter who’s playing with them. Take the Dimpl from Fat Brain Toys. The concept is simple: five colorful silicone bubbles for toddlers to push, pop, poke and grab. Here, autistic and neurotypical toddlers alike learn cause and effect (i.e., “push this and it makes a noise”), engage their fine motor skills and explore sensory stimulation. All kinds of wins!

Recommended age: 10+ months

Train Set Toy

Many children with autism adore trains: They lend well to categorizing, and train schedules make the concept of time less abstract. But complicated tracks can cause more frustration than fun. To up the enjoyment, take your play beyond simply chugga-chugging around the tracks. “Talk to the train, tell stories about the train, build imaginary scenes with the train,” says Whitney. “Use the trains as a stepping stone for more play.” The narrative-building around the train and its passengers can jumpstart greater open-ended storytelling—about where folks may be headed, what adventures the animals are off to on the sidelines and more.

Recommended age: 18+ months

Tactile Building Blocks

Bristle Blocks by Battat
Image: Amazon
Buying Options

Virtually any kind of building blocks are great toys for autistic children because there are no right or wrong ways to engage—the play possibilities are endless! Plus, blocks are ideal for honing kids’ motor skills. What makes these stick-together/pull-apart blocks especially good toys for children with special needs is the bristly texture that adds some tactile stimuli.

Recommended age: 2+ years

Kids Playfoam

Move over, PlayDoh! Kids with autism often take a special liking to this (nontoxic) molding foam that can be squished, sculpted and rolled into virtually anything, allowing children oodles of tactile stimulation. Playfoam is among the best special needs sensory toys, but it also provides a great fine-motor and creativity boost too. Other major pluses: It’s not sticky, it’s easy to clean up and it never dries out. (We love the carrying case too, so you can always have it with you.)

Recommended age: 3+ years

Pogo Jumper

A lot of children with autism have an over- or under-sensitive vestibular system, which is part of the sensory system involving balance and coordinating movement. “It’s not uncommon for children with autism to either seek movement, like bouncing or rocking—or avoid it—when they’re looking to regulate how they feel,” says Whitney. If you’ve got a seeker, consider adding kid-friendly pogo sticks to your arsenal of toys for autistic kids. This one has the added cause-and-effect bonus of creating a funny squeaking noise each time the child lands.

Recommended age: 5+ years

Scented Bubbles

Evereden Scented Bubble Bundle
Image: Evereden
Buying Options

“Scented bubbles offer a lot of different sensory stimuli—there’s watching, blowing, smelling, clapping or poking them to pop,” notes Whitney. These fun bubbles feature 100 percent natural fragrances that you can feel good about, including Cool Peach, Fresh Pomelo and Melon Juice, all from Evereden’s Kids Multi-Vitamin Skin Care range. Bonus: It’s also a great way to test out scents (for kids shampoo and/or lotion) with your child, especially if they’re sensitive to certain smells. Bath time might just get a whole lot easier!

Recommended age: 3+ years

Play Kitchen for Kids

KidKraft Vintage Wooden Play Kitchen
Image: Walmart

Pretend cooking, serving and turn-taking is fun for all kids. And since playing in this pint-size kitchen mimics everyday life and everyday social interactions, it’s helpful practice for children with special needs. “Here, a child has a safe way to practice social skills and pro-social behavior, where the idea of failure isn’t as overwhelming,” says Whitney. Plus, toys like a play kitchen encourage language and identification skills too.

Recommended age: 3+ years

Weighted Stuffed Animal

Huggaroo Weighted Lap Pad Puppy
Image: Amazon

A weighted stuffed animal is one of the best toys for autistic kids because their just-right heft provides sensory input that works to relax and focus the child’s body and mind. Your kiddo can stroke the puppy for additional tactile input that further decreases stress. And at 3.6 pounds, this pup might just be the perfect companion for your little one.

Recommended age: 3+ years

Sensory Pouches

Unlike slick, hard plastic toys, this bag of textures is jam-packed with sensory stimuli that are perfect toys for autistic toddlers. There are 20 different pillows and patches featuring tactile differences, like scratchy, silky and soft textures. An activity guide is included to help parents brainstorm different play scenarios.

Recommended age: 3+ years

Toy Bolts and Nuts

Skoolzy Nuts and Bolts
Image: Walmart

Toy bolts, nuts and screws make for wonderful playthings for autistic kids—after all, they’re pretty much the original fidget toy. Plus, there are the added bonuses of fine-motor tuning, open-ended play and the whole no-wrong-way-to-play thing. This bright set includes 24 jumbo-sized pieces that twist together with ease, minimizing frustration. It comes with a drawstring tote bag too, to encourage your child to clean up once they’re done playing. Positive reinforcement awaits!

Recommended age: 18+ months

Construction Blocks Set

MindWare KaBlocks Blast
Image: Target

Here, your kiddo can build an impressive block tower with 22 soft foam blocks, and then send their creation flying into the air—over 6 feet up! The silicone launch pad is equipped with an easy-to-use stomp lever that children can step on and witness cause-and-effect in action. Fine and gross motor skill sharpening? Check. Creative thinking encouraged? Yes. Fun toys for kids with autism and their siblings? You bet!

Recommended age: 3+ years

Play Tent for Kids

Some kids with autism (as well as neurotypical kids) can become overstimulated by their environment and crave a secret hide-out, away from noise and chaos. This hide-me tent and connecting tunnel does just that, while also building muscle and motor skills. It provides a fun environment that can be used both indoors and out—your kiddo will love having their own adventures in here!

Recommended age: 2+ years

Play Veterinary Set

Does your little one love animals? Let them practice their social-emotional skills with this veterinary playset, complete with a doggie and kitty that need a little TLC to get back on all four paws. Beyond social and emotional skill-building, these sweet animals—in all of their soft tactile glory—may just morph into comfort companions for your child too. The set comes with 24 pieces, including a stethoscope, medicine bottles, thermometer and more.

Recommended age: 3+ years

Fidget Noodles

Chuckle & Roar Oodles of Noodles Fidget Toy 10pk
Image: Target
Buying Options

Stretch ’em, pop ’em, twirl ’em—no matter how your child plays with these multi-colored tubes, they’ll get the one-two punch of auditory and tactile stimulation in one fabulous toy for autistic kids. These textured, differently sized accordion-style tubes can be bent, snapped together or onto the container’s lid, pulled apart, twirled around and pushed together using the connector pieces. They make all sorts of cool sounds as they’re manipulated, and all that finger movement boosts motor skills too.

Recommended age: 3+ years

Chew Necklace

Ark’s Dino-Tracks Chew Necklace
Image: ARK Therapeutic

Chewing can be a very effective way for kids with autism to calm themselves and self-regulate. To keep your child’s fingernails, sleeves and fingers bite-free, turn to chewelry (chew + jewelry = chewelry), a great on-the-go way to get oral sensory input. We love that they come in three color-coded toughness levels—from soft/standard to XXT/super firm—to keep up with your child. The brand’s POV states that if your little one is regularly chomping down on things like “LEGO pieces, hard plastic toys or wooden items” or has chewed through the XT/medium firm pendants, then they’d probably enjoy the XXT chewie.

Recommended age: 5+ years

Visually Stimulating Bubble Toy

Visual sensory-seekers love toys that offer the calming blub, blub, blub of colorful bubbles moving up and down. This type of visually stimulating toy offers tons of calming entertainment for everyone. (There’s a reason these things are often spotted on the desks of stressed out executives!) When the bubbles stop after two minutes, just flip the toy over and start again. Bonus: If you go with a multipack, you can stash a bubbler in your bathroom, the car, their backpack, a grandparent or family member’s house, etc. so you always have one on hand.

Recommended ages: 4+ years

Suction-Cup Toys

Many top-notch toys for autistic kids simply hand control over to the child. “When children have volition over the toys—like when they have the ability to turn it into multiple things—great fun and learning happens,” says Whitney. Squigz, for instance, are a set of 50 suction-y shapes that stick together (and to various surfaces) to create, well, anything. There’s no wrong way to play! Plus, the push-and-pull is great for fine-motor building.

Recommended age: 3+ years

Toy Wooden Dollhouse

Plan Toys Victorian Dollhouse
Image: Plan Toys
Buying Options
Plan Toys| $380

Start with this plain wooden house as a blank canvas, and let your child dream up the play scenario that makes the most sense to them. Here, kids can engage in imaginary play and, at the same time, work on developing social and emotional skills that’ll serve them well outside of the playroom too. It’s also a great way to encourage shared play experiences for your child and their siblings.

Recommended age: 3+ years

Dress-Up Play Set

Melissa & Doug Wooden Bear Dress-up
Image: Melissa & Doug

Reading and understanding other people’s facial expressions can be tough for those with autism, so it’s smart to get toys for autistic children that provide fun opportunities to work on this skill at home. Enter: This too-cute bear cub that comes with 18 interchangeable pieces, including different facial expressions like surprised and sad. It’s also an awesome toy for building hand-eye coordination and dexterity. It all comes in a lidded wooden storage box for on-the-go play.

For more advanced play opportunities—should your child be ready, of course—you can explore the “expansion” pack, so to speak, with mama, papa and baby bear. This 45-piece set fosters the same sort of social-emotional learning, but with more characters to put skills in practice.

Recommended age: 3+ years

About the experts:

Jamie Winter, PhD, is a psychologist at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, New York. She provides individual therapy for children, as well as parent coaching.

Rondalyn Varney Whitney, PhD, OTR/L, is an associate professor of occupational therapy at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. Her work focuses on ideas like the co-regulation of a child and adverse childhood experiences.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

save article

Next on Your Reading List

Article removed.
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List