25 Toys That are Great for Child Development This Holiday Season
It’s the time of year for spreading holiday cheer, so we at Hopebridge set out to help Santa and his elves come up with some of the best gift ideas for kids with autism. It can be challenging to find the perfect present for children on the spectrum who may not be into this year’s trending toys or could be overwhelmed by the latest gadgets. If you need a little assistance imagining your kiddo’s wish list, we broke down some of our favorite gifts into five fun categories for toddlers and early learners with differing abilities.
Before we get to the goods, here are a few extra tips to keep in mind for shopping for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD):
- It does not require tons of money to make the holidays special.
Rather than flooding your child with gifts, which could be overwhelming, collaborate with family to choose one or a few select items that fit their interests. Focus on a couple heartfelt, handmade gifts over Kwanzaa, offer eight nights of simple yet special presents for Hanukkah, or give one “big” toy alongside smaller stocking stuffers for Christmas.
- You do not need to buy new in order for it to feel new to your child.
Check out Facebook Marketplace or your community’s mom groups to scan for items that will make your kid happy. Many parents sell or give away toys their children have grown out of in order to make room for new toys, so use it to your advantage–especially if you are still unsure whether they will engage with them. Activity cubes, balance bikes, Legos, push toys, doll houses, train sets and more pop up all the time and are often still in excellent shape.
- In addition to your child’s interests, keep developmental and sensory needs in mind.
It is ok if your child’s list does not look like others’ of his or her age. You may choose to gift toys that are intended for children younger than your own, but are more appropriate for your kid’s developmental needs. The important part is that he or she will enjoy it and remain safe using it, plus learning by playing is a bonus!
Download the Hopebridge Autism-Friendly Holiday Guide
Hopebridge created a special holiday guide packed full of easy-to-use resources for those looking to make this season more inclusive and accessible for the autism community.
Gift Ideas for Active Play and Enhancing Gross Motor Skills
Gathre Art Playset
- Little Tikes My First Slide
Does your child adore the playground, but it’s just too cold outside this time of year? Bring the fun indoors (and outdoors with better weather!) with this easy slide setup. It’s also a great option for children still learning to stand and climb, as it’s durable and sturdy to hold onto while pulling oneself up. It’s also a nice segue for those still easing into the playground, as it introduces them to this type of physical activity in a more comforting environment.
- Rocket Ship Pop-Up Play Tent and Tunnel
Calling all space fanatics, this one is for you! Future astronauts will love blasting off from their very own shuttle with this tent, plus the tunnel is beneficial for those still working on their crawling skills. Want to add more sensory play into the mix? Pour in some balls to create an indoor ball pit.
- Fat Brain Toys Teeter Popper
Rock it, roll it, sit in it, stand in it … this seemingly simple contraption offers endless fun and creativity, plus improves core strength and balance while stimulating the senses. As a bonus, it also has suction cups that pop as it rocks back and forth.
- Faux “Snowballs”
This set of indoor snowballs – which also provide outdoor fun in less snowy locales – give kids and adults a chance to have a “snowball fight” without the cold, slushy mess. Practice tossing, throwing and catching with 40 soft and light balls that come with their own storage case.
- * Splurge: Gathre Arc Playset
Shaped like a rainbow for your kids, but in the neutral colors and prints that mesh with your décor, this cute, comfy and creative setup offers the potential for hours of fun gross motor play right inside your home. With three separate pieces, it offers your child (and you!) the opportunity to sit, swing, slide, seesaw and slither through the tunnels and forts they build.
Toys for Building Fine Motor Skills
Melissa & Doug Poke-a-Dot! book
- Melissa & Doug Poke-a-Dot Books
If your child (or you) loves to pop bubble wrap, these books are a must-have for your home. In addition to the fun of a story, the sturdy and interactive books have plastic “buttons” to pop throughout the pages. They encourage language development and hand-eye coordination, plus the clicking and popping sounds can provide an extra sensory experience. With themes like Old MacDonald’s farm, the ABCs, trucks, ocean animals and more, choose one that will get them excited to dive in and poke those dots!
- Crayola Washable Palm-Grasp Crayons
Crayons have evolved and there many stages to help match your child’s developmental level. These palm crayons easily fit in a child’s hand and don’t require a more sophisticated grip, allowing them to explore scribbling in an easy-to-use crayon.
- Vegetable Memory Game
This toy has a few ways to play, depending on your child’s developmental level, which allows it to grow with them. Your kid first can practice “planting” and “picking” the vegetables, which get those fingers working. If they are ready for more, you can make it into a memory game. It also provides opportunities to work on language, colors and shape recognition, in addition to hand-eye coordination.
- Melissa & Doug Catch & Count Wooden Fishing Game
Time to go fishing! This compact toy packs a lot of punch when it comes to building skills. It sparks imagination and motor skills as your little one tries to “catch” each of the fish. Use it to practice communication, numbers and colors, and opt for a two-player game to work on more socialization.
- *Splurge: Montessori Busy Book
Made of soft felt, this book offers a ton of activity within its super cute and creative pages. It’s intended to stimulate fine motor skills, develop hands-on skills, spark language skills and enhance life knowledge. The educational and interactive book is a nice addition to a road trip or a ride in a shopping cart, but also works wonders for one-on-one play to practice opening and closing buckles or learn more about functional life skills like dressing and bath time.
Gift Ideas for Creativity
Princess Castle Magna-Tiles Structure Set from Maisonette
- Scented Squishy Dough
Clay, play dough and slime opens a world of creativity as children can stretch, roll, mold and mix colors (much to some organized parents’ dismay!) into an endless number of shapes and figures. We love this nontoxic variety pack from Squishy Dough because gift-givers can choose from scents like strawberry, Fruit Loops, blueberry and lemon, along with glitter dough to unlock the senses in new ways. Made in the Rocky Mountains, you’ll also be supporting a small business from Colorado with this present!
- Lush Cosmetics Rainbow Soap
If you know your child is already into play dough, or if you just need a reason to get them more excited about bath time, this genius product from Lush might be for your family. There are seven scented colors of soap that can be molded much like clay and keep your kiddo clean at the same time. If they fancy a bubble bath, it can be crumbled under the running tap for mountains of suds.
- Musical Instrument Toys
This colorful instrument set allows for cognitive exploration and cause-and-effect play. The variety allows it to grow with your child. Even from the start, infants and toddlers can test out the egg shakers, and the more complex instruments that require more fine and gross motor skills can be reserved for a later developmental period.
- Invisible Ink Pens
If your child is already interested in drawing, reading or writing, these invisible ink pens can feel like magic. Take turns drawing lines or pictures, or writing a secret message they can unearth with the attached light on the cap.
- *Splurge: Princess Castle Magna-Tiles
Princesses in training will get a kick out of creating their own imaginary world of fairytales with these themed Magna-Tiles. The interactive set is intended to build STEAM skills, including spatial awareness. Watch them piece together the magnets – and knock them over as half the fun – while chatting with them along the way for extra communication, social and pretend-play opportunities.
Toys for Communication and Imaginative Play
Odin Parker Wooden Explorer Set
- Personalized Mixing Bowl Set
If your child enjoys digging through kitchen cabinets, is fascinated by cooking, or you want a new way to get them excited about mealtime, give them the chance to join in the “mix” with their very own baking tools. They’re great for pretend play or the real deal as you talk about various foods, take turns following directions, and prepare to sit down for dinner. Plus, kids who can read or recognize their name might get a kick out of the personalization.
- Wooden Doctor Kit
A toy doctor’s kit is a staple in many households, but this kit can serve an extra purpose if your child is nervous about visiting the pediatrician’s or dentist’s office. Use it to practice well checkups with dolls, stuffed animals or each other, including communicating “what hurts” and how they feel. It doesn’t hurt that its little pieces are adorable, too.
- My First Library
Books are always a good idea, and these simple board books encourage pointing, looking at books and labeling. The thicker pages are durable and travel well. Images are bright and simple. These books are wonderful for building language skills and focusing on common items. In addition to solely English, these sets also come in other languages, such as Spanish, French, Italian and Telegu.
- Bluey Garbage Truck Play Set
Bluey plus a sanitation truck … need we say more? Combining some of many kids’ favorite things, this sweet set encourages pretend play with familiar sights and characters. Talk about what is going on as they drive the truck or listen as they script various scenes from the show. Or, if your child is preparing for school, consider Bluey’s preschool playset to act out various scenarios before they head to the classroom.
- *Splurge: Odin Parker Wooden Explorer Set
Your little adventurer will be off to discover new things with this explorer set filled with kaleidoscope-like binoculars, a camera, compass and more made from sustainably sourced beechwood. Use it to take them on a hike along your street, observing the sights, sounds and feeling of nature – and neighbors – around you.
Gift Ideas for Sensory Fun and Calming
GED LED Hexagon Panels
- GE LED + Color Tile Light Bulb
You may have spotted these hexagon lights on Instagram and TikTok, as modular light panels are the perfect addition to a sensory room for kids who are intrigued or calmed by light. This set has 17 color settings, including a mode that synchronizes the lights with music.
- Ark’s Brick Stick Chew Necklace
A sensory seeker’s dream, this Lego-inspired chew necklace offers kids the chance to orally stim in a safe manner. It has large bumps on one side and small bumps on the other for lots of varied sensory input, as well as comes in various toughness levels and an adjustable breakaway cord.
- Busy Cube
Think of this as an amped up version of a fidget spinner. This 7-in-1 busy cube features familiar gadgets from around the house, such as a faux light switch and water tap, spinning wheel, lock and key, and a screw cap, among others. This toy can help cultivate children’s cognitive, attention, hands-on and learning abilities, while keeping them entertained at the. same time. There aren’t any sharp edges on this cube, but we still encourage you to play along with your child to increase the interaction.
- Light-Up Bath Toys
Bath time will be much more entertaining when your kid adds these glowing bath toys into the tub. A little extra playtime with these ocean animals allows them to splash around while also creating a soothing sensory experience that sets them off into bedtime.
- *Splurge: Cacoon Swing
Of course we had to have a swing on our list! Whether used indoors or outdoors, this Cacoon hanging chair is a cozy spot for naps, flipping through books, listening to music or taking a break. It has UV protection and can be hung from a tree, ceiling or tripod stand for a few different swinging options.
Did we miss any great gifting ideas for kids with autism? Share what presents your kiddo will be opening on Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah – or just because! – on our Hopebridge Facebook page.
To make this season extra special for your entire family, check out even more autism-friendly holiday tips for you and your child on our blog.