Autism, broadly categorized under the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is one of the 5 development disorders caused by an abnormality in the brain that affects the social and communication skills of a child, as well as his behavior. This condition is first noticed in children between ages 2-3 and lasts throughout their life.
Children diagnosed with autism do not develop like normal children would. In the sense that they have difficulty in following social behavior and norms, as well as in forming normal relationships. Since autism is a broad spectrum disorder, the symptoms differ from person to person -- or in this case, from toddler to toddler. By extension therefore, the toys and activities that one chooses for toddlers with autism will also differ.
How Autistic Children are Different
Autistic children are not open to social communication like other children, they talk very little (barring their immediate family), do not make proper eye contact, might not like being touched or cuddled, hate changes in their routine, are prone to repetitive behavior patterns, and are comfortable following a set routine. Moreover, they might not follow the same developmental patterns as other children do. In normal developmental patterns, several stages of development take place simultaneously in a harmonious manner, but in the case of autistic children, the varied forms of development might take place separately - all this has an effect on the way they behave.
Please Note: The images used below are for representational purposes only. They do not tag the children featured in them as autistic.
Best Toys for Autistic Children
When it comes to choosing toys for autistic toddlers, one has to choose toys which will help develop their physical skills, their cognitive thinking as well as their social and language skills. One has to also keep in mind that because their development might not take place at the same level as that of other toddlers their own age, they might prefer to play with toys that are different from the ones normal children play with. Autistic children are extremely creative and many tend to excel in fields of math, music, art, and other visual skills in later life -- thus choosing toys which helps channelize and encourage this creativity is important.
Several toy manufacturing companies design specialized toys meant especially for children diagnosed with autism. Make sure you ask for these when you go to a store. In the meantime, here are a few choices that you can look into so that you have a clearer idea of what you should be getting them.
1. Crayons and Activity Books
A very interesting activity that is highly recommended is the use of crayons and activity books. This helps keep the child engaged, while simultaneously inculcating cognitive skills in him.
2. Play Dough
Play dough is another great toy that toddlers love to use. The sheer variety that this activity provides is enough to keep a toddler engaged for long periods. This helps stimulate most senses of the child and helps him learn several skills that include cognitive thinking, learning, and problem solving.
3. Animated Videos
Animated videos or sing-along videos are considered extremely beneficial for autistic children. Autistic children are known to be greatly influenced by these videos and they also learn to speak while watching them. The characters in these videos inspire the child in many ways and the child tries to imitate their mannerisms.
4. Activity Toys
Activity toys have several types of activities built in one structure. These prove to be thoroughly engaging for the child. It stimulates all their senses and helps develop motor skills and cognitive abilities in the child.
5. Teething Toys
When the toddler starts teething, it is important that you provide him with teething rings so that he does not end up putting anything unhygienic in his mouth. Teething rings help ease the pain that the toddler is experiencing and thus are extremely important.
6. Automatic Musical Toys
Musical blocks are also a favorite among toddlers. A feature of musical blocks is that the child can mix and match sounds of various musical instruments to make a unique composition. This keeps them engaged and the different sounds keep the child hooked.
Rattles usually have a particular sound(s) fitted in to help attract a toddler's attention. This helps develop not only their sense of sound, but also their motor skills while they grasp the rattle.
8. Musical Toys
Musical toys are a great way to stimulate the senses of the child. The toddler finds the sound that is created by the toy extremely engaging. Moreover, there are several varieties of toys that fall in this category and thus one can choose something that the child finds most engaging.
9. Hopscotch Puzzle Mat
This can be a great toy to improve the child's organizing skills, motor skills and balance. The child can initially fix the puzzle and then start playing the game. Playing the hopscotch puzzle mat helps the child learn to hop on a single foot and also jump on two feet.
Books are a popular choice when it comes to teaching a child the necessary skills of understanding, as well as developing his cognitive and problem-solving abilities. In that direction, coloring books, and/or activity books are a great tool that can be used for autistic toddlers as well. Providing an autistic child with book sets containing colored pictures and fun facts on animals, vehicles or plants, or those books which have elements of yarn or wool attached to them are a great way to stimulate the senses of the child and get the child involved and interested.
11. Stacking Toys
Autistic children love setting things in order, and are known to give in to repetitive behavior patterns. In that direction, providing them with stacking toys helps them fulfill this need. Along with that, the bold structures and colors also help stimulate their senses.
12. Lacing Beads
Another toy that is highly popular among autistic children is beads. There are several elements that this choice helps with -- the varied colors are an easy attraction factor for the child, other than that, it helps develop his motor and grasping skills for having to arrange them in a particular way.
Puzzles can be of several types - the most popular of which are jigsaw puzzles. It is recommended that one starts off with simple puzzles and gradually increases the difficulty level. Another popular choice that people make is to use a board that has depressions of different shapes in it and its corresponding pieces. The child has to match the shapes with the pieces provided.
Building blocks are another great way in which an autistic child can learn the varied skills, and by manner of which all his senses get stimulated. Blocks can be of several types - they can be a part of a building activity (ideal in case of older toddlers) or simple blocks that can stacked (ideal in case of younger toddlers). These are available in different colors, shapes, sizes and sounds, are sturdy, and do not tumble easily.
Autistic children, having sensory imbalanced systems can become aware of the various body positions and body responses while riding a bike or playing on the trampoline. Also, jumping and balancing on the trampoline helps to integrate various body systems. A tricycle is a great toy to improve balance and boost confidence levels in autistic children. The child may initially take a while to get used to the bike and will require some support. However, with time they usually improve and start riding fast on their own. It is better to ride on a flat surface like a driveway or at the park, as it is much easier for children to learn.
While choosing toys for autistic children, it is important to keep their mental level in mind, as every child has different levels of autism. If the child shows an inclination or preference for a particular kind of toy, get him that, as it will help him further develop his interest and also keep him engaged for longer periods. Be careful not to get the child addicted to any particular toy line by providing him with a variety of toys.
It is better to provide them with a few, good toys rather than a lot of them. Too many toys can be a little overwhelming and crowded for the child. It becomes easier for the child if he is given a few, selected toys which suit his needs and keep him engrossed. Another thing that parents can do is to take their child with them when they shop for toys. This way, the child gets to see the available toys in the market and pick up whatever he likes.
Picking up toys for autistic children can get a little difficult at times, but it is important to take an interest and get the child a toy that suits him best. Playing with the right toys will ensure that the child does not lack in confidence and is able to interact with others around him.