Choosing Holiday Gifts for Children with Autism

BlueSprig December 13, 2019

He’s making a list and checking it twice… Santa will soon be coming to town and for many, the frantic search is on for gifts that will bring a smile to their child’s face. For parents with children on the autism spectrum it can be especially stressful to find toys that offer enough stimulation to their little ones.

Toys can be teaching tools for all children. According to an article on Spectrum News written by Associate professor at University of Washington, Raphael Bernier, play time is crucial for developing cognitive skills and is essential for engaging the senses. Toys designed for children with autism may be more likely to address their particular needs.

With the different options available, it’s important for parents to remember to carefully evaluate the claims made by the maker of toys for children with special needs. Just because a toy is advertised as being designed for a child with autism does not necessarily mean that it will help treat the child’s symptoms. Any statements made to that effect must be accompanied by research demonstrating the claims. The use of specially designed toys for children with autism should never be considered a substitute for evidence-based treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however these toys may be more enjoyable to play with or learn from for a child with special needs as compared to other toys.

There are many wonderful and uniquely created toys available. Often toys are categorized into areas that reflect the ways they can be used. These include sensory toys, fine motor skills toys, cause and effect toys, puzzles, and manipulatives. The suggestions below may make it easier for parents to search for the best gift options for their child and allow them to focus on the best parts of the season: family togetherness, joy, and love.

Sensory Toys

Sensory toys provide sensory input that some children with autism may want and help to capture their attention. In fact, they are often used in ABA therapy as rewards or reinforcers to help shape desired behavior.

Because many sensory toys include visual effects such as lava lamps or light shows, they can be a welcome distraction especially during the busier holiday season. They often include varying textures that can provide comfort for children. Additionally, fun toys that shake, vibrate or make different sounds can work to keep them entertained and engaged.

Mom Loves Best has compiled a handy list of the best sensory toys of 2019 that parents may find resourceful.

Fine Motor Skills Toys

It’s not uncommon for a child to learn by playing. Toys can be used to target specific areas of skills some children with autism may lack.

Toys that include stacking, sorting, and building are great examples of ways to incorporate the use a child’s fine motor skills. Creative activities such as painting, drawing or sculpting could also help develop these abilities while keeping children engaged and entertained.

Verywell Family has created a list of the 10 Best Toys for Fine Motor Skill Development of 2019 to help parents in deciding what toy is best their child this holiday season.

Cause and Effect Toys

Cause and effect toys may help children develop their visual motor skills. These tools can assist with hand-eye coordination, following rules, repetition sequences and learning and exploring.

For children challenged by social settings, these types of tools may create opportunities to interact with their peers. Examples of cause and effect toys include sound puzzles, water games, light spinners, ooze tubes, voice changing toys, and water timers.

The website, Toy Ideas, has compiled a list of 9 Examples of toys that teach cause and effect that many children may be delighted to find under their Christmas tree.


Puzzles are another fun activity enjoyed by children and adults alike, especially when they include sounds and music. Puzzles can offer children on the autism spectrum a way to develop their problem solving skills while offering a form of visual stimulation.

Puzzles can be a great way to help kids build communication skills and work on their imitation or interaction skills. These can usually be found for all age groups and stages of development. Puzzles are a fun and visual gift idea for little ones who like to use their hands.

Mom Junction has compiled a list of 15 Brilliant Toys for autistic children to play and learn with several puzzle ideas just in time for the holidays.


Young children typically love to do things that allow them to interact with their environment such as opening and closing things, sorting shapes, and building towers. Toys that can help with development of mathematical skills, counting, organizing, and learning patterns are called manipulatives. These toys can boost fine motor skills and spatial awareness while being fun for children at the same time.

There are many variations available. Learning card games, sorting games and toys, and stacking activities can make skills like problem solving and eye hand coordination more enjoyable. Ultimately parents are the foremost experts on their children, so they should always go with their instincts on what toys and games their child may respond to best. Parents can always consult with their Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or behavior therapist on what they would suggest. Sometimes children on the autism spectrum are unable to say what exactly they would like. Fortunately, there are many wonderful toy and gift options available that can keep them happy and engaged all year long.

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