Children with autism are often visual learners. For this reason, visual sensory toys for autistic children are often a better choice than toys which focus on sound or text. This post describes the types of visual sensory toys that would be a good fit for autistic children and provides some specific toy recommendations under each category.
Climbing gyms or other areas that require kids to observe all three spatial directions are good for developing spatial skills, as well as for developing motor control skills and encouraging physical activity.
If you don’t want to buy such an large item, the simplest solution would be to venture to your nearest playground. The downside to going to a playground is that it isn’t private. If your child has a lot of difficulty interacting with other children at the playground then you might want to avoid this approach. Additionally, equipment at playgrounds might not be age-appropriate for your child (the monkey bars may be too high for your 3-year old, for example).
There are a variety of products you can set up indoors or in your backyard if you want to go have a private playscape for your child. Around $100 buys you a small plastic slide set such as the All Sports Climber, and around $200 gets you more rigid metal climbing structures like the Easy Outdoor Space Dome Climber. Both products can be found on Amazon.
You can also splurge big time and spend $500-1000 to get a large full-fledged climbing and slide system like the Step2 Playful Playhouse Climber ($550 from Toys R Us).
Toys with lights
Flashing lights if used in moderation can keep an autistic child’s interest and yet not overstimulate her. There are a variety of toys that have flashing lights, including toy cars and play sets. Most of these also come with sounds so you want to ensure that the lights and sounds don’t hurt your child because autistics tend to be highly sensitive.
Toys that move in reaction to touch
Visual sensory toys for autistic children that move in reaction to touch, such as spring activated cars, always gain interest from children because they develop intuitions about cause and effect as well as physics. It’s probably best not to buy any toys that shoot projectiles since you don’t want your child to think that shooting or throwing things at others is acceptable behavior.
Many Playskool brand toys may be appropriate since they associate motions with pressing buttons and don’t involve small parts or shooting parts. For example, Playskool’s Weebles On The Bus wobbles and spins the figures inside the bus when a child presses the button on top.
Toys with mirrors inspire curiosity. After all, everybody is a narcissist to some extent and is intrigued by his reflection, right? This holds even more true for kids, and mirrors allow them to see themselves in a new way as well as get some intuitions about visual perception.
Toys with magnifying lenses, just like mirrored toys, allow children a new way to perceive the world. Autistic kids often are scientifically curious so this can be a good toy to help nurture this curiosity.
There are variety of insect and geological exploration science kits that include a magnifying glass component so these could be good options for your scientifically minded autistic child.