Using Toys to Help Children with Autism Learn

Using Toys to Help Children with Autism LearnWe often think of toys primarily providing children with entertainment but so much learning can be done through play. Here are some different play options to help children with autism to develop in different ways;

Social Interaction and Engagement

Encouraging social engagement and interaction is very specific to what is appealing to a particular child.  Knowing what engages and motivates them will lead to more meaningful interactions.

Keep in mind the desired skills and the sensory input they prefer and choose toys and appropriate to their level.

Toys that develop social engagement and interaction skills include those that children can engage with both in isolation and with a partner, promote turn taking and cooperation, allow opportunities for imitation or provide a certain amount of predictability or familiarity.  These can involve two player games, or toys that involve role playing such as kitchen sets.

Emotional Development and Regulation

Stories and toys can assist children on the autism spectrum in developing tactics to recognize emotions and how to control them as well as understanding social cues and how to act in a socially acceptable manner.

Toys that foster children to expand their skills in this area will help them build connections with others, learn to make constructive choices and express emotions in an appropriate manner.

Look for books or games that demonstrate a range of emotional states, toys that encourage imitation and trying out different emotions, and activities that can lead to conversations about the why and how of different emotions or emotional reactions.

Imagination and Creative Thinking

Imagination is vital to understanding what someone else might feel, believe and desire. It contributes to the development of logic, memory and abstract thinking.

Toys that encourage children to think creatively will actively engage their imagination.  This will allow creative self-expression and help them gain confidence and learn how to negotiate their environment.

Toys that support this type of play include dolls and dollhouses, puppets, construction and building toys, stuffed animals, interactive stories, arts and crafts, musical instruments and dress up costumes.

Sensory and Motor Skills

Children with autism need to be regularly exposed to enhanced sensory and motor experiences as well as restful and calming experiences.

Helping children develop their sensory and motor skills supports all areas of development.

Large motor play, like jumping and climbing, supports a need for body awareness, physical skill development and self-regulation. Manipulative toys, like puzzles and art materials, support hand-eye coordination, motor planning and attention. Bath toys and blow toys support a need for enhanced touch and oral sensory input. Creating a safe space with a play tent, stuffed animals and quiet activities can be a great haven for a child with autism for when they need calm time.

Problem Solving and Cognition

Helping children on the autism spectrum put together parts of a whole and respond to visual cues or abstract ideas can lead to a sense of achievement and boost self esteem and confidence.

Acquiring new skills and concepts are essential starting points for independent living and social integration.

Word games, puzzles, science kits, building sets and games all aid in helping kids to expand their minds to solve problems and tackle complex and abstract ideas.


Teaching children with autism communication through the imaginative and give-and-take nature of play can help communication in a wide variety of situations.

A leading cause of frustration for children with autism is not being able to effectively convey their message and express their needs or feelings. Battling this will promote positive interactions with others.

Playful, low-stress opportunities for communication can be created through turn taking while playing games, requesting and talking about pieces of puzzles or other assembly toys, engaging in dress-up activities, and singing along with a music video or CD.