Toys to engage kids on autism spectrum
From little fidget toys to indoor "pools," there are lots of options for toys of all kinds that are appropriate for kids on the autism spectrum.
Many children with autism like sensory toys that have different textures and parts that can be moved around, said Libby Wojda, information referral coordinator for Autism Society of Illinois.
"It's a sensory self-regulation for them, so they can maintain their regulation and composure so they don't become overwhelmed," she said.
Also, a lot of kids with autism like toys with a certain weight, like weighted teddy bears, or the feeling of something enclosing them like a weighted blanket. This, too, helps them self-regulate, she said. "It has a calming effect."
April Arden, an occupational therapist and owner of Pediatric Therapy Partners in Hoffman Estates, said the best toys enrich kids' ability to play with others, she said.
Kids with autism seem to prefer to play alone, but often that's just because of their inability to express their desire with play others, she said. "Sometimes they don't even know how to begin that interaction," she said.
For kids ages 2 to 5, "pretend play" toys, like dishes and play food, stimulate child-parent interaction. Similarly, parents can just grab a stuffed animal, give another to their child, and start a simulated interaction between the two, Arden said.
For kids ages 5 to 8, Arden suggests toys that allow children to get help from parents, such as building blocks like Duplos, Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. "Asking 'Do you need help?' or 'Can I help you?' is a good way to encourage that interaction," she said.
Kids on the autism spectrum also like toys that make noise or light up, she said.
Most importantly, however, parents have to pay attention to their own child's likes and dislikes.
"If you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism. Each individual child has different needs and wants," Wojda said.
"Every child is so different so it's really up to the parent to see what they're interested in," Arden said.
Also, parents have to dig out their own, sometimes long-forgotten, play skills.
"Some parents have a hard time playing, I think we lose that ability as we age," she said. "Get down on the floor, be silly, make funny noises. Do anything they can to enrich the interaction they have with their children."