Sensory Toys for Autism: Benefits & Types

Explore sensory toys for autism, their benefits, types, and how to choose the right one for your child.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 12, 2024

Sensory Toys for Autism: Benefits & Types

Understanding Sensory Toys

Sensory toys are an integral part of a child's development, especially those with autism. Designed to stimulate one or more senses, sensory toys appeal greatly to children on the autism spectrum by providing a calming effect and a desired sensory experience Autism Speaks. This section delves into the benefits of sensory toys and the importance of sensory engagement in autism.

Benefits of Sensory Toys

Sensory toys specifically designed for children with autism cater to their unique sensory needs, helping them engage with their senses and providing feedback to their sensory systems. This engagement with their senses is not only comforting but also beneficial to their overall development Autism Speaks.

Such toys are becoming increasingly popular among parents and therapists as they recognize the positive impact these tools have on children with autism. Benefits include aiding focus, attention, stress relief, relaxation, and calmness. Furthermore, sensory toys can reduce anxiety and stress in clinical settings, improve engagement, and create opportunities for individualized assessments based on a child's sensory needs and preferences The Genius of Play.

Moreover, these toys offer an accessible way for children with autism to interact and engage in play with family, peers, or friends. This interaction promotes social skills, an essential aspect of a child's development Autism Speaks.

Importance of Sensory Engagement

Sensory engagement is vital in children with autism. Sensory toys enable this engagement, allowing children to explore their senses in a safe and controlled manner. By interacting with sensory toys, children can better understand and regulate their sensory needs, thus enhancing their ability to interact with the world around them.

This engagement also aids in behavioral observations, contributing to comprehensive evaluations of how a child plays, learns, communicates, and moves. Such observations are crucial in understanding the unique needs and behaviors of a child with autism, which in turn allows for the development of personalized strategies and interventions WPS Publish.

In conclusion, sensory toys for autism are not merely playthings. They are powerful tools that facilitate sensory engagement, aid in development, and enhance understanding of children with autism. As research and understanding of autism continue to grow, the utilization of sensory toys as a therapeutic tool is likely to become increasingly important.

Types of Sensory Toys

Sensory toys play a crucial role in the lives of children with autism, providing them with essential sensory experiences and stimulation. These toys come in various forms, each offering unique benefits and catering to different sensory needs.

Benefits Of Weighted Blankets | Sensory Direct Blog

Weighted Blankets and Toys

Weighted blankets and toys are among the highly recommended sensory toys for children with autism. They serve a dual purpose. Firstly, weighted blankets can aid with sleep routines, offering a comforting, calming effect that can help children transition into a restful sleep. Secondly, weighted toys can provide a grounding sensory experience, providing a sense of security and stability during playtime or stressful situations.

It's important to note that the weight of these items should be carefully selected based on the child's size and comfort levels. Always ensure that the child can easily move the weighted item if needed, and never use these items as a restraint.

Chew Toys and Vibrating Toys

Chew toys and vibrating toys also offer valuable sensory experiences for children with autism. Chew toys, in particular, provide different textures for sensory stimulation, which can particularly benefit children who enjoy oral sensory experiences or those who need help focusing their attention.

Vibrating toys, on the other hand, can provide soothing vibrations that can help to relax and calm a child. These toys can be particularly effective for children who respond positively to tactile stimulation.

Bubbles and Water Play Activities

Bubbles and water play activities are fantastic sensory experiences that don't require any additional toys. Bubbles can be visually stimulating, and the act of blowing bubbles can also provide oral sensory stimulation. Watching bubbles float and burst can be a soothing and engaging activity for children with autism.

Water play activities, such as playing in a bathtub, can also be beneficial. The sensation of water, the visual spectacle of splashing, and even the sound of water can provide a multi-sensory experience that's both fun and calming.

When introducing these activities, it's important to ensure that the child is comfortable with the sensations involved. Some children might find the wet sensation of water play unsettling at first, so it's crucial to introduce these activities slowly and to respect the child's comfort levels.

All these types of sensory toys can contribute to better sensory engagement and learning experiences for children with autism. When selecting the right toys, it is important to consider the child's sensory sensitivities, preferences, and the potential benefits each toy could provide.

Sources: The Genius of Play

DIY Sensory Toys

Making your own sensory toys is a great way to provide tailored sensory experiences for children with autism. Homemade sensory toys can be customized to meet the specific sensory needs and preferences of the child. In this section, we will explore two popular DIY sensory toys: sensory bottles and sensory playdough.

Homemade Sensory Bottles

Homemade sensory bottles are an excellent tool for providing visual and tactile stimulation. They can be filled with a variety of items like beads, rocks, leaves, and tree branches, offering a unique sensory experience for the child [1].

To create a sensory bottle, you will need a clear, plastic bottle and a selection of items to place inside. These can include glitter, sequins, small toys, or natural materials. Adding water or oil can create a 'snow globe' effect, with the contents of the bottle slowly floating down when shaken.

Sensory bottles can also be used to help children self-regulate. Watching the contents of the bottle move can have a calming effect, making them a great resource for children who may become overwhelmed or anxious.

Sensory Playdough

Sensory playdough offers a fantastic tactile experience. It can be easily made at home using simple ingredients like flour, salt, and water. Adding food coloring or essential oils can provide additional sensory stimulation.

Playing with playdough helps children develop fine motor skills while providing a valuable sensory experience. It can be squashed, squeezed, rolled, and cut into different shapes, offering endless possibilities for imaginative play.

Both homemade sensory bottles and sensory playdough can be used as 'sensory conversation starters' during autism evaluations [2]. They offer valuable insights into a child's strengths, differences, language and communication styles, social relationships, and emotional responses.

By creating your own sensory toys, you can provide a personalized experience that meets the unique sensory needs of children with autism. These toys not only support the child's sensory development but also offer a fun and engaging way to explore the world around them.

Sensory Toys in Autism Evaluations

Sensory toys for autism play a crucial role not only in developmental play but also in comprehensive autism evaluations. Their use can offer significant insights into a child's abilities, preferences, and developmental progress.

Role in Understanding Children

In the context of autism evaluations, sensory toys can reveal intricate details about a child's abilities and development. They pave the way for a closer and more trusting relationship with the child, enabling professionals to understand the child's worldview, social relationships, communication, and emotions better. These toys are essential tools for understanding the unique sensory profiles of children on the autism spectrum [2].

One key aspect of autism evaluations is understanding the child's sensory sensitivities. Approximately 74% of autistic children respond to sensation in atypical ways, emphasizing the importance of using sensory toys to gain insights into their sensory profiles. By incorporating these toys into the evaluation process, professionals can build a holistic picture of a child's strengths and identify the support they may require moving forward [2].

Enhancing Communication and Observation

Sensory toys, often termed as "sensory conversation starters," play a significant role in enhancing communication and observation during autism evaluations. Dr. Monteiro, a leading expert in the field, employs these materials during evaluations to gather information about the child's strengths, differences, language and communication styles, social relationships, and emotional responses. These materials form the basis of the MIGDAS-2 autism evaluation method [2].

In autism evaluations, sensory toys are essential for observing an individual's aversions or sensitivities to sensory input. These toys help in distinguishing between individuals on the autism spectrum and typically developing children based on their preference for objects or social communication [2].

Moreover, sensory toys can reduce anxiety and stress in autistic children during clinical settings, as well as improve focus, engagement, and individualized assessments based on a child's sensory needs and preferences. They also aid in behavioral observations, which contribute to a comprehensive evaluation of how a child plays, learns, communicates, acts, and moves [2].

In sum, the use of sensory toys in autism evaluations serves as a critical tool for professionals to better understand and support children on the autism spectrum. By tailoring their approach to the unique sensory profiles of each child, they can enhance communication, foster understanding, and support the child's development effectively.

Selecting the Right Sensory Toys

Selecting sensory toys for children with autism can be a delicate process and requires careful consideration of the child's unique sensory sensitivities and the environment in which they will be used.

Considering Sensory Sensitivities

Sensitivities to overstimulation, heat, cold, social anxiety, and extreme oral texture, taste sensitivity, and odor sensitivity are common among individuals with autism. These sensitivities can affect various aspects of daily life, such as food preferences and oral health care.

When choosing sensory toys, it's crucial to take into account these sensitivities to prevent sensory overload that may lead to discomfort or distress. Sensory toys should be chosen carefully, keeping in mind the child's unique needs to provide a safe and enjoyable play environment.

For instance, for children with autism who have extreme oral texture and taste sensitivities, selecting toys that are smooth and do not have strong tastes or odors would be beneficial. Moreover, toys that do not involve close social interaction or potentially overwhelming sensory inputs like bright lights or loud sounds can also be a good choice.

Creating Supportive Play Environments

The environment in which the sensory toys are used plays a significant role in their effectiveness. A supportive and fun play area can help children with autism feel more comfortable and engaged.

Consider creating a space that is:

  • Calm: The play area should be free of clutter and distractions. This can help the child focus on the sensory toys and their experience.
  • Safe: The play area should be in a safe place where the child can explore without the risk of injury.
  • Personalized: The play area should cater to the child's individual preferences. For example, if a child enjoys quiet spaces, consider adding sound-absorbing materials to the room.

Sensory toys used during autism evaluations can reveal details about a child's abilities and development, leading to a closer and more trusting relationship with the child. These toys facilitate an understanding of the child's worldview, social relationships, communication, and emotions [2].

In conclusion, choosing the right sensory toys for children with autism involves considering their individual sensory sensitivities and creating a supportive play environment. By doing so, you can provide a safe and enjoyable play experience that caters to their unique needs.