Toys for children with sensory issues
I have to admit, when I first heard the term ‘Sensory issues’ I didn’t quite understand what it meant.
Through raising our autistic son these past few years, I’ve now gained a wealth of experience in what sensory issues can entail. One big learning curve for us has been learning to buy toys for children with sensory issues.
Like pretty much all things, sensory issues can and will vary greatly from one person with ASD to another, but in our experience, for our son these issues often include obsessions and preferences for certain toys.
These preferences will often be based simply on the feel of an object and certain toys that are often recommended in these situations (such as Play Dough) our son Andre cannot stand.
These sensory issues for our son also involve a complete refusal to even attempt certain foods-usually based on the feel of it in his hands or mouth or just the sight of it. This also often flows on to issues for our son to tolerate certain fabrics and textures on clothes and bedding.
Sensory issues, from what we’ve come to understand, typically refer to things that trigger the person’s senses of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.
We have spent hundreds, if not thousands already on toys for Andre, often that he’d play with once and never again.
Once we realised that he may have certain sensory sensitivities that could be affecting his like or dislike for some of these toys and items, we’ve had much better success with choosing toys.
One thing I would absolutely recommend from about the time your child is mobile on their own feet, is investing in some floor mats or play mats.
Obviously if your home that your child typically plays in is carpeted, it won’t likely be as big of a problem for you to worry about padding, though of course they can still be helpful for those hard falls.
Purely just from the times I’ve seen our son hit our hard floors, and seen the extremely erratic ways he can move his body when throwing tantrums, I can’t recommend enough trying to ensure some soft landing zones for the areas your child typically plays.
At times, during earlier days, we would even sometimes incorporate the use of one of our spare single mattresses on the lounge room floor, just out of the fear of damage Andre could do to himself.
Aside from that, we’ve used a couple of sets of various padding for the areas of floor our son’s play typically occupies.
Bean bags and kid couches
His kid couches have always served us well in providing Andre with a separate little chill out area of his own, where he can just relax and watch a show or two.
He’s gone through 2 or 3 of them so far, as is often spilling his drinks and various other things on them, and they’re relatively inexpensive to replace.
We also bought a large bean bag, since our son is tall for his age, and figured he’ll hopefully get use out of it for years to come.
I’ve read that many children with ASD and related disorders find comfort in textures and maneuverability that bean bags provide, allowing children to somewhat mould it to their own preference.
Playhouse or Tee-pee
I have read great things about providing extra levels to your child’s ‘own’ little space, such as a playhouse or tee pee type set up all of their own.
We tried both these ideas-had an indoor playhouse in one corner of lounge room, and later a tee pee, but in both cases, we found our son used them each only a handful of times, then would go months on end without even entering them.
When we decided to remove them, to make room for more appropriate toys, Andre didn’t kick up any fuss, didn’t seem to mind us removing them, or show any feelings of resentment or signs of missing them once they were gone.
A safe zone to call their own
Providing even just a couple of these items can help in creating a bit of a safe zone for your child.
In our experiences, we have found often that following an intense tantrum, Andre will be happy cuddling up with a blanket on a couch, quietly watching a kids show he enjoys.
If like us, your child is non-verbal, it is often very difficult just to figure out what has upset them.
We find that just by ensuring we have something set up for him to know that he has a safe corner to go to, and take a few minutes to just wind down in his own time and way, has greatly affected the longevity of some tantrums.
Not only that, but it also gives him a ‘neutral ground’ area so to speak, whilst still being able to remain in the lounge room.
Forcing him to go to his bedroom never worked for us, as he never seemed to make the connection between the behaviour and the outcome, so would go to his room but cry or scream even louder the entire time he was in there.
Cars, cars, cars! I’m not yet sure (as our daughter isn’t quite old enough yet) if these all time classics only relate more to boys, or if girls get just as much fun out of them.
I do know Andre enjoys lining them up in a single row, usually on the TV cabinet in front of the TV where he’s watching his shows.
He doesn’t really push them along the floor making car noises, as one might typically expect, but he does Love pushing them down ramps and things like that.
We have a few different ramp and garage type toys for Andre’s car, that do get regular use.
This one here (above) Andre loved when he first got it, but it quickly became apparent to us that he was still a bit too young for this one.
For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend this one to any children under the age of about 5 (as is recommended on box anyway).
It is battery operated, and pushes the cars out onto the ramps at good speeds-the problem for us being Andre didn’t make the connection with how fast they were traveling and how that could be painful trying to catch the cars flying at speed.
This meant he was often getting a finger or worse hit by a car after putting his hands in their direct flight path, so we ended up packing this one away, for use when he’s a bit older.
It is a great ramp though, and can keep kids entertained for hours, especially when you can also add extra tracks to it to create a bigger racing track, more jumps etc.
The ramps pictured above have all been our son’s favourites, and great for us too, as no mechanical working parts, just a matter of putting cars on a ramp and watching them race down the ramps.
Again, like other toys and objects our son gets a little obsessed with, it’s often more about just having these items in his hands at all times, which appears to be a type of comfort for him-as opposed to utilising them for ‘play’ in the traditional sense.
We have found bead mazes can often be very useful for our son.
He has a good one at home that comes with a few different sides (hexagonal in shape) providing different activities, that has kept him occupied for varying amounts of time.
Andre also has a couple of smaller ones, and a few at his childcare facility he goes to, that he uses very frequently.
These popular educational toys are said to help with hand eye coordination, problem solving, and even some pre-writing skills, as can help build their muscles in hands and teach them how to manoeuvre and steadily guide something using their hands.
Andre loves going to the paediatrician’s office when we do, as she not only has this decent sized maze, but also some other great toys he loves.
I have found that the prices on these handy educational toys can vary quite considerably, depending on where you go, what size you want, kinds of attachments included and so on.
I’ve found they seem to be getting more and more popular as I find more and more frequently ‘sold out’ on most sites I check out.
There’s a great site we’ve ordered a couple of things from, who have a good range of these types of educational toys and many others, they can be found at
A soft place to land
Play is important, not just for children to have fun, but to learn some crucial skills and concepts that will serve them throughout their lives.
It Can help improve their fine and gross motor skills, negotiating, taking turns-learning to share and to be patient, and even developing skills that may help them in their passions later in life.
On this particular point, we’re thinking we wouldn’t be surprised if our son turns out to do something either with music (as loves playing with all kinds of instruments), or involved with it-especially considering how much he generally adores The Wiggles and dancing to their songs.
We try to just provide as fun of an environment for our son, and our daughter, as we possibly can at home.
I want my children to always enjoy being home, to look forward to it, and to know that they will always have a fun, safe, soft place to land and retreat to anytime they need to.
This will be the case always, regardless of how old they are.
There’s probably a plethora of things we could be doing better, and are working to do so more and more for both of our children.
However, toys is one area we feel we are certainly providing at least enough variety and abundance whenever we can, so that Andre in particular can be exposed to a wide array of various textures, items and concepts from as early as possible, to assist him in any way possible.
Always happy to discuss any toys or ideas mentioned above and welcome any comments or feedback. We will look to update these with various other things we’ve had any amounts of success with.
I hope something in here can help you, when trying to find toys and accessories for your little one on the autism spectrum.