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Best sensory toys for autism 2022: Playtime additions to self soothe and focus

Help prevent sensory overload while promoting focus and calm with our picks of the best sensory toys for children with autism

Providing autistic children with sensory toys has a number of benefits. These tactile and visual toys can help children with hypo- or hypersensitivity regulate their emotions. This, in turn, helps give them a better sense of relaxation and focus. Sensory toys can also help children with autism improve their motor skills and even social skills.

Sensory toys can be an affordable and fun way for autistic children to self-soothe. They are designed to stimulate sight, sound, hearing, touch and even taste. Using features like interesting colours or textures, the toys give children a safe avenue to explore and engage their senses. This said, it’s important to bear in mind that the choice of toy will vary from child to child, and not every child will have the same responses to certain stimuli.

There is a vast array of options available when shopping for sensory toys for children with autism. Below, we’ve compiled a buying guide with some information about the sorts of toys available, as well as some pointers towards helpful resources on autism. Below that is our roundup of some of our top sensory toy picks.

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Best sensory toys for autism: At a glance

How to choose the best sensory toys for your child

How do sensory toys help with hypo- or hypersensitivity?

Playing with toys is one of many ways children interact with the world around them. That said, the experience isn’t the same for all children, particularly for those with autism. Sensory toys allow children with autism to experience their senses in a safe and enjoyable manner. Whether your child is overwhelmed by stimulating situations or under-responsive to them, providing them with sensory toys can help them relax, focus and regulate their emotions. These toys can help ease discomfort when children are sensitive to textures and encourage more natural play habits.

Sensory toys also help with motor skills. They can improve coordination, and they stimulate the brain which helps improve neural processing. What’s more, sensory toys can make it easier for children to learn social skills like sharing and negotiating.

What types of sensory toys for autism are available?

There are a wide variety of sensory toys that are available for children. Some of the options available include:

Fidget toys: This is one of the most common types of sensory toy available. They occupy a child’s hands in different ways, depending on the type of toy. There are fidget spinners, cubes, tubes, rings and more.

Tactile substance toys: Anything that your child can dig their hands into can offer a pleasant sensory experience. This includes playdough, slime, sand and others.

Chew toys: Many children handle stimulation by chewing. This type of toy gives children something durable that they are allowed to chew on, and often comes in the form of jewellery.

Noise-making toys: This covers a number of toy options. Instruments such as shakers or small drums, bells and whistles can appeal to your child’s auditory stimulation. There are also toys and books that make a whole range of noises, from crinkles to squeaks.

What features should I look for in a good sensory toy for autism?

More than anything, you want to ensure that you choose a durable toy. It needs to be able to handle lots of play time. This is particularly important for chewable toys, which need to be strong enough that your child won’t easily bite through it and break pieces off. Look for toys that have vibrant and contrasting colours, as well as multiple textures. You can buy toys that make multiple sounds. While you don’t need a single toy that appeals to all senses, it’s good to choose a toy that can appeal to multiple senses at once.

Anything else I should consider?

Every autistic child is unique, and each will have individual reactions to sensory stimulation. While the sensory toys listed below have benefited many, it’s important to note that they may not be the right choice for everyone. As such, this list should be considered as a guideline, with some product recommendations across a range of sensory toy categories, rather than as something to offer definite solutions.

Parents or guardians should always seek medical advice from their child’s doctor or specialist. And for more support, consider some of the following helpful online autism resources:

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The best sensory toys for autism in 2022

1. Yetech Fidget Cube: The best portable sensory toy

Price: £8 | Buy now from Amazon

Having a sensory toy that’s easy to take on the move with you is important. You never know where or when a child can become overwhelmed and you want to have somewhere to redirect that energy. This fidget cube from Yetech is small enough that it can fit easily into any bag and most pockets.

Each side of the fidget cube has a different function. These are:

  • A switch that flips up and down
  • A gamer-style joystick that glides in every direction
  • Three dials that resemble a combination lock as well as a silver rolling ball that clicks
  • A soft oval-shaped dip that is meant to resemble the shape of traditional worry stones
  • Five small buttons (three that click when pressed and two that are silent)
  • A turntable that spins in a circle

This one small toy engages many senses with multiple textures, noise-making buttons and actions. Overall it’s a great tool for helping reduce stress or anxiety in autistic children, and to improve their focus.

Key features – Materials: Plastic; Noise: Yes; Size: 6.2 x 6.2 x 4.6cm

2. Learning Resources Sensory Fidget Tubes: The best visual sensory toy

Price: £30 | Buy now from Amazon

The four tubes included in this set each have their own unique visual appeal. These sensory fidget tubes offer multiple shapes and textures to provide children with a visual diversion. There is even a tube with interactive options in case simply watching isn’t enough to soothe the child.

The pack of four includes:

  • A glitter tube with multiple sizes of glitter to watch as it falls
  • A fidget tube with a button children can press to move the glitter through the tube
  • A reverse hourglass where the glitter falls upwards instead of down
  • A gravity spinner with a colourful piece that spirals downwards around the pole in the middle

With these different features, you can occupy children in multiple ways for varying amounts of time. Each one is designed to help children work on their focus and observation. It can also be an avenue to help children express their feelings by asking direct questions about their emotions as the tube runs its course.

Key features – Materials: Not listed; Noise: No; Size: 6.35 x 20.32 x 22.86 cm

3. Zimpli Kids Mega Play Pack: The best tactile substance toy

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon

This play pack gives children an opportunity to dig their hands into multiple substances, each one delivering a different tactile experience. The pack has four different substances, with three packages of each for a total of 12 playing sessions.

The four substances in the pack include:

  • “Gelli play”, which makes a goo-like substance when added to water
  • “Slime play”, which turns into a slimy substance when added to water
  • “Snoball play”, which turns into artificial snow with water
  • “Crackle baff”, which changes the colour of your bathwater, as well as making it frizzle and pop

Each substance is designed to be easy to clean, safe for the drain and safe for skin. It’s made in the UK and meets all European safety standards. It’s also vegan-friendly and biodegradable. It can be used on a table top, or in a bowl or container. These substances may benefit a child’s creativity, cognitive and social skills as well as physical development.

Key features – Materials: Sodium polyacrylate, parfum, colourants, sodium chloride, sucrose, maltose, carbon dioxide; Noise: Yes; Size: 20 x 3.4 x 20 cm

4. Orto Nature Massage Puzzle Floor Mats: The best sensory mat

Price: £59 | Buy now from Amazon

The Orto Nature floor mat comes in the form of interlocking tiles, which means that you and your child can mix and match pieces and arrangements. Each tile has a different texture for children to walk or crawl over. Having been developed with physiotherapists, these mats have several physical benefits: the tiles can act as foot massagers, they can help improve blood circulation, strengthen muscles and more.

There are several varieties of mat themes available, including:

  • Dinosaurs
  • Hedgehogs
  • Sea creatures
  • Forest
  • Nature
  • Maths
  • Crocodile

Each unique tile offers a different colour and texture to encourage creative thinking and activity. The tiles are made to endure the rough play of children, with increased armoured grating inside. They’re also non-toxic, non-slip and quick to put away at the end of play time. It’s a perfect toy to help children explore different textures while enjoying the varying colours and patterns of each tile.

Key features – Materials: Polyvinyl chloride; Noise: No; Size: 100 x 50 x 3 cm

5. Chewigem Hexichew: The best chewing sensory toy

Price: £14 | Buy now from Amazon

Chewigem has spent ten years developing products suited for those with sensory processing difficulties, including those with autism and ADHD. While many of the company’s products are chewable jewellery, this hexagonal hand-held toy made of food grade silicone is perfect for children who are too young for jewellery. Another great perk is that if your child breaks the toy before the recommended lifespan, the company will replace it for free.

Aside from chewing, it has a number of other soothing benefits including:

  • Bright colours for visual stimulation
  • Textured surface for tactile stimulation
  • Fidget and play by linking the ends of each arm
  • Squeeze and bending capabilities

Chewing is often a habit that signifies overstimulation in autistic children. Having something safe to chew redirects the habit from something they shouldn’t be chewing on, such as clothing. It can help with focus and concentration, while also helping to strengthen facial muscles and motor functions. Overall, the hexichew can offer your child lots of self-soothing time while improving their mood.

Key specs – Materials: Silicone; Noise: No; Size: Not listed

6. DeMoca Montessori Busy Board: The best busy board

Price: £43 | Buy now from Amazon

A busy board, or sensory board, is a great way for children to engage their senses in a structured manner. Since there are multiple activities on a single board, it allows children to entertain themselves in several ways. The DeMoca Montessori Busy Board can help children regulate their emotions while teaching everyday functions.

These functions include:

  • Tying shoelaces
  • Opening and closing buckles
  • Navigating a labyrinth
  • Pulling apart and re-attaching velcro
  • Flipping a switch
  • Learning how gears work
  • Opening and closing a door latch
  • Spinning a wheel
  • Doing up and undoing a zipper

The board gives autistic children a variety of tactile surfaces like laces, velcro and zippers to engage with, and the structured activities can provide interactive sensory stimulation for long periods of time. This is especially convenient during long car rides and other time-consuming events that can overstimulate. Overall, this busy board gives children a sensory experience that is both functional and fun.

Key features – Materials: Wood; Noise: Yes; Size: 38.2 x 26.9 x 3.2 cm

7. Yefun Push Bubble Sensory Fidget Toy: The best fidget toy

Price: From £3 | Buy now from Amazon

The push bubble toy has been one of the most popular toys on the market for a while. Designed to replicate the sensation of popping bubble wrap, pressing down on the silicone bubble creates a small popping sound. Children can pop all the bubbles on one side, and simply flip it over to start again, creating a fun and enjoyable tactile experience.

The push bubble toy can also teach teamwork and sharing as part of a game. This game goes as such:

  • Players take turns pushing down bubbles. They can push as many as they like in a single row. 
  • The bubbles have to be connected, all in the same row.
  • The last player to press a bubble loses the game.

The mould, made of food grade silicone, is non-toxic, heat resistant and easy to clean. The repetitive nature focuses a child’s attention and calms their big emotions.

Key features – Materials: Silicone; Noise: Yes; Size: 17.3 x 16.7 x 2.4 cm (orange unicorn design featured, sizes vary for other designs)

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