Children are classified as having low functioning autism based on the severity of symptoms and results from IQ tests. What does this mean exactly for the adult who wants to buy the right toys for these children? It means that children with low functioning autism are more likely to display one or more of the following characteristics:
- An inability to express themselves using verbal language or to learn language
- An inability to live independently
- An inability to use typical nonverbal gestures used for communication
- Avoids eye contact
- Prefers to be alone
- Poor physical coordination
- Either a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimulation, or a lack of sensitivity to such stimulation (noises, lights, touch, tastes, smells)
- Emotions vacillate to extremes, such as crying for no reason
- Very impulsive
- Very aggressive
- May like to injure themselves
- Physical manifestations, such as being below average in weight and height
- Lags other children in their age group academically
For all these reasons, choosing an appropriate toy for a child with low-functioning autism is particularly hard. While high functioning autistics may do well with age-appropriate toys, low-functioning autistics may need toys designed for younger children, which will be safer and also easier to understand.
Characteristics of Appropriate Toys
Low-functioning autistics have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, which prevents them from easily communicating with peers and adults and leads them to spend most of their time alone. They will therefore embrace toys that allow them to play alone and grow to be familiar with such toys. At the same time if these toys can also be adapted for interaction with others you may have an easier time getting them to use the toy as a medium for communicating with others.
Because of their emotional extremes and the possibility they might show aggression towards others or themselves, you will want toys that are safe to play with and won’t hurt or cut others (this means no-no for toys that shoot projectiles!).
Finally, toys that help them develop their motor abilities will be useful during their childhood because this is a critical period for motor development.
Specific Toy Ideas
The best types of toys are those that usually interest babies and toddlers because low-functioning autistics operate at a level several years below their peers.
For solitary toys that can also be used effectively with others and are safe, a good option may be soft hand puppets, such as those sold by Melissa and Doug. Melissa and Doug sell a variety of cheap ($10-20) hand puppets that range from firefighters to dinosaurs to dragons. One thing you might want to be careful about is the wooden dowel that is included for use in posing the arm. You can easily remove this from the puppet if you think it might be a safety hazard.
Construction sets for very young children are also a good option for toys that can be played alone as well as with adults. Duplo (the young child’s version of Lego) is an obvious candidate, as well as a variety of toddler stacking toys such as the Fisher-Price Little Superstar Classical Stacker. Such toys generally run $20-40.
Wooden Puzzles are also good, safe options for alone time and adult time play activities. Again, Melissa and Doug is a good option for these toys since they are cheap, colorful, and safe for young kids.
Finally, soft balls marketed for babies or toddlers are good options for use in teaching motor skills. The best way to make use of such toys is to work with the child in tossing games, which will improve eye-hand coordination. Plush balls are the best options, and you should avoid foam balls such as those sold by Nerf since a child could easily bit off bits of the foam.