In a previous post about Christmas toys for autistic children, I mentioned that Mattel’s Fijit Friends was one of the 2011 season’s hot toys. Here I’ll delve deeper into what makes Fijit a good choice for autistic kids even though it’s a mass market toy, as well as behaviors you might want to avoid when incorporating Fijit into your child’s play time. Fijit is available at any large toy retailer such as Amazon.

There are a lot of customer reviews that talk about personal experiences with Fijit, but in this post I’ll link the personal experiences with insights from scientific research to provide a more holistic view of why Fijit is good.

Great things about Fijit include:

  • A unique rubbery skin that promotes tactile exploration and safety
  • Extensive use of nonverbal communication such as music and dancing
  • Bright colors and facial expressions that might allow it to be incorporated in teaching sessions
  • Looks cute and not human

Some not so great things about Fijit are:

  • Its price—at $50-$60 it’s expensive compared to most other toys
  • Some minor issues with its voice command understanding

See It In Action

The simplest way to show what Fijit is and how it acts is if you watch a video of it in action. The video below is taken from the 2011 New York Toy Fair. (Be warned—some pretty bad dancing occurs in the video!)


So now that you have a sense of what Fijit does, let’s talk more about its good and bad.

 

Good: Unique rubbery skin that promotes tactile exploration and safety

Fijit’s skin is made of a rubbery material used to make many occupational therapy items such as tentacle balls. This makes it safe to have around. Safety is important especially for low-functioning autistic children. Online reviews often rave about the build quality of the rubber body.

The rubber skin has another benefit: sensory stimulation. One autistic mother who introduced Fijit to her daughter found that the rubbery skin provides something very stimulating to her daughter’s sense of touch. Her experience is supported by research involving robots and autistic children, which found that children one of the most surefire ways to get autistic children to try a new toy is for it to be made of materials that promote tactile experience.

Good: Music and Dancing Abilities Promote Nonverbal Communication

As I mentioned in a previous post, music activities provide many benefits to autistic children. Foremost is that music is a nonverbal communication method and is also comprised of patterns.  Autistic children typically have verbal difficulties, as famed autistic Temple Grandin explains in her description of her struggles. Dancing is another nonverbal way of expressing yourself that can help autistic children feel less frustrated.

Good: Bright colors and facial expressions that might allow it to be incorporated in teaching sessions

Research using autism robots supports the idea that interactive toys which express “emotions” and have changing facial expressions can be used in therapy sessions to teach autistic kids how to identify emotions. While some customer reviews complain that Fijit can get boring after a while because it repeats the same phrases and does the same things over and over, I don’t think this is necessarily a  bad thing if you’re using Fijit for teaching purposes. In fact, autistic children tend to like doing activities repeatedly so Fijit might offer a great chance to work on developing social skills.

Good: Looks cute and not human

Related to using Fijit as a teaching tool, one thing experts caution about with interactive toys is that may be best if they don’t look too human. One reason is that autistic children are intimidated by other children. A toy that looks like other people might therefore scare them away. Also, experts want to make sure that autistic children don’t view such toys as replacements for person-to-person interaction. The fact that Fijit looks nothing like a human (or any real-life animal for that matter) is a plus.

Bad: Expensive

Fijit is expensive compared to most other toys, at around $50-$60 on Amazon. However this isn’t out of the ballpark compared to other interactive toys such as the Tickle Me Elmo series.

Conclusion

Fijit has many features that make it attractive for autistic children. But as children will respond differently to different types of toys—for example, high-functioning autistics tend to be more sociable around interactive toys while low-functioning autistics tend to be cautious around them—you will want to take stock of your child’s history with interactive toys to decide if Fijit would interest her given its high price tag.

Or better yet, take it for a trial run at a local toy store if you can before buying!

What have your experiences been with interactive toys and autistic kids? Would Fijit sound like a good choice for your child? Please share your experiences in the comments section!

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