As a company that creates toys and weighted items popular with autistic children, we’re often asked for recommendations regarding Christmas, Hanukkah, and birthday gifts. For example, one of our favorite practical tools for nonverbal communicators is our Tiny Talker, which can become essential for daily life. (If someone you know may benefit from it, it could be a great stocking stuffer.)
We love having these discussions with customers and friends, and thought that perhaps others would have similar questions. With no further ado, please enjoy what we believe are some of the best toys for autistic children of all ages.
Weighted blankets are one of the best possible gifts for autistic children. There are many benefits of weighted blankets, but they are particularly helpful for people on the autism spectrum.
Studies have shown that weighted blankets can help people of all ages who struggle with sensory processing disorders experience a “calming effect.” Autism spectrum disorders often times cause anxiety because it’s more difficult to process all of the information coming at them so quickly — particularly children, who are still learning how to express themselves.
Weighted blankets are most effective when they’re custom made because the weight needed is determined by the weight of the person who will be using the blanket. This is why we custom-make as many of our blankets as possible (though we do have some ready-made in stock).
To learn more about what size you should purchase, or how heavy the blanket should be, check out our size guide. Remember that the blanket is meant to fit the body not the bed. For most children ages 1-6, this means a small size (about 34” x 50”) because it fits on a crib or toddler bed mattress without hanging over the sides.
There are two very important factors to keep in mind when buying a weighted blanket for a child:
Children under the age of 1 should never use a weighted blanket. According to safe sleep practices, parents (and grandparents, nannies, babysitters, etc) should be following the ABCs for children under the age of 1: Alone, on their Backs, in a Crib. The only blankets approved for infants this young are wearable blankets, often called sleep sacks.
- All children (whether on the autism spectrum or not) should always be able to lift the blanket off of themselves without assistance. If they cannot, save the blanket for when they’re older and can maneuver the blanket on their own.
Weighted Travel Blankets
Our “Calm-to-Go” weighted travel blankets are slimmer than regular weighted blankets to make them more portable. In order to keep them as travel-friendly as possible, we only make them in a small, compact size (34” x 50”). They can be rolled up quickly and buckled shut for easy stowaway. Because we don’t want to add any unnecessary bulk, we keep the travel blankets in lighter weights. They’re available in 4lbs, 6lbs, and 8lbs weights.
Weighted travel blankets are great gifts for autistic children who get anxiety during car rides, or are nervous about going on a plane. They’re perfect regardless of how long your journey is, whether it’s the drive or bus ride to school, or to see grandparents in a different state.
They come in a variety of colors to fit anyone’s personality and they all come with a free travel pillow, which is perfect for your plane rides. Truthfully, these blankets are such fabulous gifts, you may find your autistic child wanting to use it around the house, as well. (And maybe you use it when your child isn’t. No judgement.)
One of our favorite toys for autistic children are our Peaceful Pals. They come in a variety of animals, such as monkeys, turtles, unicorns, dogs, pigs, and even a simple star or heart. These sweet little stuffed friends come in 3lb or 5lb weights and are loved dearly by the children who receive them.
While the weight of the Peaceful Pal is what helps soothe the child, what soothes the parents is often the fact that their favorite security item doesn’t look like a therapy item. It looks like a regular stuffed animal — just a little bit heavier. Parents have enough to worry about without being afraid their child will be a target of bullying.
Peaceful Pals can be used with or without a weighted blanket. In fact, one customer (Cathy P.) shared with us that her son rides in the car with Michael the Monkey, and that having the weight is helpful for him when it’s too hot to use his weighted blanket.
Many parents report that their children on the autism spectrum sleep better (and longer) when they sleep with their Peaceful Pals. And they’re machine washable. What more could a parent want?
Chewies are great gifts for autistic children who are developing oral motor skills or neurotypical adults who might need additional help in developing the proprioceptive functions in their jaws. Our offerings range from infants to young children and are all easily portable.
For toddlers, children, and teens, we love the Jellystone Design necklaces that they can wear. For older children, we love the Rolla Chew Pendants. Autistic children can wear them all day long so they have easy and quick access if they need it. As a safety precaution, all of our necklaces feature breakaway clasps.
We carry a wide variety of chewies and other oral motor tool aids, so if you’re looking at a particular item, be sure to check the age recommendations before purchasing. Some items aren’t recommended for infants under the age of 9 months, and some should only be used by autistic children when under direct supervision.
As always, if a toy is becoming damaged, it’s best to discontinue its use. If the chewie breaks into smaller pieces, they could become choking hazards for infants and toddlers.
Kinetic sand has been a hot wish list item for a lot of kids over the past few years, and for good reason. It’s fun, it’s easy to work with, and (from a parent’s perspective) it’s easy to clean up — much easier than actual sand.
While some kids (and adults) might enjoy a day at the beach to play in the sand, we don’t all live close enough to water. Kinetic sand is perhaps the next best thing. It feels just like you’re playing with sand, but it’s cleaner and holds its shape without needing extra water.
Playing with the sand is great for working on fine motor skills, exercising your creative muscles, and encouraging sensory exploration. Keep in mind that kinetic sand is best suited for people ages 3 and up — obviously, it’s not safe to eat. If this is the recipient’s first bag of kinetic sand, you might also want to consider purchasing some accessories, like a bucket, sand tools, and perhaps an inflatable tray to keep it all contained.
Bubble Tube Lamps
These Bubble Tube Lamps from SensoryMoon are great gifts for autistic kids. A quiet motor sits in the base of the tube, pushing air through the water and creating slow, calming bubbles that float up in the tube. Ten plastic “fish” are free to bounce around the tube as they please. The child can even change the color of the LED light in the tube via remote control with 20 different color options.
Bubble Tube Lamps are perfect for anyone with autism or sensory processing disorder who experiences sensory overload. It won’t add much noise to the room, but will help draw the eyes to an object designed to slow the world down.
These calming toys are four feet tall, but are quite slim and can be placed on dressers, nightstands, or on the floor. Many parents place them in their child’s room to help them fall asleep at night, as some children on the autism spectrum have trouble sleeping.
Compression sheets are a great gift for autistic children (or adults) who are comforted by the feeling of being held tightly, or want extra weight on them, but perhaps aren’t ready to invest in a weighted blanket just yet (though, it can be paired with a weighted blanket). While they don’t necessarily have all the same benefits as weighted blankets, they can be an effective alternative for children who need extra help sleeping.
Our compression sheets come in twin and full bed sizes and wrap around your bed like a pocket. They’re like little people pockets! They give you the feeling of being tucked in, snug as a bug in a rug, but you’ll never come “untucked” because the sheet will always be wrapped around you.
Some people compare the feeling of compression sheets to being swaddled. Babies love being wrapped tightly in swaddle blankets because it gives them the feeling of being tightly enclosed as they were in their mother’s womb. It’s jarring for them to have so much freedom of movement. Our compression sheets can recreate that feeling for sensory children and adults.
Another weighted blanket alternative (or addition) is our weighted sleep mask. This isn’t ideal for autistic toddlers because of its size (a Peaceful Pal is a better option for them), but for older children or adults, weighted sleep masks are a great way to help nighttime anxiety. One customer even said it helps with migraines.
Some people find that anxiety is most difficult to manage at night (regardless of the cause for anxiety — autism, general anxiety disorder, or any number of medical conditions). This is one of the major reasons people buy weighted blankets for their beds. They feel safe and secure, which helps them slow their minds down.
But for someone who needs extra help, or isn’t ready to invest in a weighted blanket, sleep masks are perfect. They’re lightly weighted (only about a pound) so they don’t put too much pressure on your head, but just enough to make your brain quiet down, and shut out any excess light.
We’re willing to bet that anyone’s brain will settle down for bed with a weighted sleep mask and a few deep breaths.
Another great toy for infants is the Dimpl from Fat Brain Toys, which was rated one of the best toys of 2019 and it’s easy to see why. It’s a simple toy — it’s just a piece of hard plastic with holes in which silicone pieces of various sizes are mounted — but it will keep kids ages 6-24 months occupied for quite some time. They get to explore fun colors while pushing the silicone back and forth in the toy, forming bubbles on either side.
Like many of their other products, the Dimpl is made of BPA-free food-grade silicone, and has been rigorously safety tested. If you’re looking for something smaller to keep attached to the diaper bag, check out their Simple Dimpl.
What kid doesn’t love stickers? They’re sticky, they’re colorful, and they can be placed just about anywhere (hide your valuables). To kick things up a notch and engage the senses, Everything Smells developed scented stickers they call Dr. Stinky Stickers.
This may be your child’s first experience with scratch-and-sniff, and it’s bound to be a fun one, with scents like apple pie, baby powder, bologna, campfire, toothpaste, and even zombie. (What does a zombie smell like, anyway?)
In each package, you get two sheets of 13 stickers for a total of 26 stickers. Feel free to broaden their horizons with new smells, or spoil them with their favorites. Either way, it’s sure to be a fun experience for all.
See & Spell Learning Toy
If you’ve ever looked up children’s toys, you’ve heard of Melissa and Doug. They’re a toy manufacturing giant, but the difference with them is that their toys are durable, educational, and legitimately pretty. Take for example the See & Spell Learning Toy (one of Melissa’s picks).
This toy is a great gift for any kid between the ages of 4 and 6 (any younger than 4 and the pieces will be a choking hazard). Each wooden block has a colorful picture of a word that can then be spelled out with the corresponding wood letters. It’s perfect for kids who are learning how to spell and become more familiar with letters.
Another fun way to use this toy is to stencil with the letters. You can place the wood letters on a piece of paper and use a pencil to trace around them. Your child could use this method to sign their name on cards, or write a thank you note to the gift-giver.
There’s a golden age during childhood when the kids want to help the parents out around the house, and while they may not do a very thorough job, it’s fun to involve them and let them learn what it means to manage a household. If your toddler wants to help you clean up the house, by all means: let them.
Melissa and Doug have a children’s cleaning set that includes a standing broom, hand broom, mop, dustpan, and duster. This is a really great toy for learning coordination and keeping children active throughout the day.
However, one of the coolest things about practical toys like this is that they’re great for cognitive development and self-confidence. If children are itching to be more independent, it’s best for us to let them — even when it’s difficult for us. Doing things like cleaning up after themselves and assisting in household chores (again, even if it isn’t particularly thorough) will show them that they’re one of the big kids — they’re learning and growing and can do things on their own.
More Gifts for Autistic and Special Needs Children
There are plenty of excellent gifts and toys for autistic children now — this is by no means an exhaustive list. We could have gone on and on (and on). We don’t like to make recommendations we can’t truly stand behind, so rest assured that all the companies we’re recommending on this list make a really fantastic product.
Be sure to check out Fat Brain Toys’ full line of toys specifically designed for special needs and autistic children. There are so many affordable options for any occasion — even if it’s just a Tuesday and you get to babysit your grandchild.
The same goes for Melissa and Doug. They also have a line of toys for children on the autism spectrum, kids who need additional sensory processing development, and many other categories of special needs.
SensaCalm was founded by a grandmother of an autistic child, and has become a family business. We’re very sensitive to the needs of families dealing with highly sensory children, and simply want to help you and your loved ones feel more comfortable each day.
If you have any questions about any of our products, please get in touch with us by calling 855-736-7222 or use our contact form.
Looking to keep your autistic child safe from wandering? See our blog post here.