When your child has been diagnosed with autism, it can sometimes be hard to find a way to ensure they play well. Many children on the autism spectrum tend to stim. That’s why autism stim toys were created. These toys help provide stimulation for the senses and can help regulate the child’s nervous system.
There is a plethora of stim toys on the market that will help a variety of autistic children. However, not every stim toy will work for every child. It’s important, as parents, to recognize our children’s individual needs and find the stim toys that meet those needs.
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Sensory Stimulation in Autism
Sensory stimulation can often go hand in hand with autism. Many children on the autism spectrum can be either hypo or hypersensitive to sensory issues. This means they can either be over- or under-responsive to certain stimuli. However, stim toys can help children meet these sensory needs.
These toys can help stimulate the child’s senses and provide a way for caregivers, parents, and even siblings to play with and care for the child. However, recognizing which stim toys are necessary for the child in a given moment to help with sensory regulation can be challenging.
Types of Autism Stim Toys
Tactile Stim Toys
Tactile stim toys tend to focus on touch and textures, allowing for sensory stimulation when it comes to touch. Some of the best tactile stim toys include:
- Fidget spinner
- Stress ball
- Pin art
- Vibrating toy
- Silly Putty
- Finger tube
Both of my sons have used tactile stim toys to help them with their sensory sensitivities. My older son really enjoys playing with pin art and making shapes against his hands and face.
Meanwhile, my younger son is a big fan of the pop-its and a vibrating ball. Both address important sensory needs for him. And if you don’t have any tactile toys with you, bubble wrap can work wonders as it serves a similar purpose to a pop-it.
Visual Stim Toys
While tactile toys focus on touch, visual stim toys focus on sight. They can work wonders for a child who needs stimulation for the eyes. Some of the best visual sensory toys include:
- Light up toys
- Spinning toys
Light-up toys and spinning toys can often go hand in hand. My younger son uses a toy that spins and lights up when he needs visual stimulation.
Even without his toys, he really likes the stimulation from our holiday light projector we have set up inside our house during the Christmas season.
Auditory Stim Toys
Much like visual stim toys, auditory stim toys are self-explanatory as they focus on the auditory senses. Some auditory stim toys include:
- Toy instruments
- Sound puzzles
- Vibrating toys
Both of my sons love music. While my older son is learning to play multiple instruments, my younger son likes to bang on objects around the house. That’s where toy instruments have come in handy. He bangs on a toy drum or xylophone to meet his auditory needs.
Some stim toys can meet multiple sensory needs. Toys that vibrate can often help with sensory input for both touch and sound. Plus, if your child has a sensitivity to sound, ear defenders or noise-canceling headphones can help prevent auditory sensory overload.
It’s important to pay attention to your child’s needs and preferences when introducing a stim toy. Depending on the child, it’s important to introduce the stim toys during free time.
If it’s introduced during a time when the child needs to be focused elsewhere, the toys will become a distraction and hurt more than help.
This has been difficult for my younger son as he has a very short attention span at the best of times. Still, there are times when stim toys have improved his focus rather than distracted him. It’s up to the parent, caregiver, or teacher to recognize when the stim toys will help and when they will hurt.
It’s also important to make sure a stim toy is safe and durable. Stim toys that break easily can lead to injuries. My younger son already has a self-injurious stim behavior. There’s no need to add to that by giving him a stim toy that can increase the injury risk.
Stim toys also need to be portable and practical. Yes, it’s great to have a stim toy at the ready in your home, but not all stim toys can be transported if we have to go somewhere. That’s why I often have a smaller version of the same stim toys to ensure my son will be able to access them when needed.
Where to Find Stim Toys
If you are looking for a stim toy for your child, they can be found almost anywhere. Numerous online stores sell sensory-specific toys. They range from helping with fine motor skills to addressing oral sensory issues to help prevent biting. Stim toys can also be found at most retail stores around the world.
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Importance of Stim Toys
Your child may not always need a stim toy to meet their needs, but there will likely be times when stim toys are necessary. They can provide stimuli, help calm an overwhelmed child, and address self-stim behaviors. Stimming toys may be just what your child needs for their sensory input.
Q: What are stim toys for autism?
A: Stim toys for autism, short for stimulatory toys, are designed to provide sensory stimulation and support self-regulation for autistic individuals. These toys often include fidget spinners, stress balls, or textured objects to help manage sensory sensitivities and promote a sense of calm.
Q: Why do autistic people need stim toys?
A: Autistic people often use stim toys to help regulate sensory experiences, providing a calming and grounding effect. These toys can assist in managing sensory sensitivities and promoting focus, contributing to emotional well-being and comfort.
Q: Can fidget toys help with stimming?
A: Fidget toys can help manage stimming behaviors by providing a socially acceptable outlet for sensory stimulation. They offer a constructive way for individuals to channel their need for repetitive movements or sensory input.
Q: Should autistic people be allowed to stim?
A: Yes, autistic individuals should be allowed to stim, as stimming is a natural and often beneficial way for them to self-regulate and cope with sensory input. Restricting stimming can hinder their well-being and comfort.
Aspiranti KB, Hulac DM. Using Fidget Spinners to Improve On-Task Classroom Behavior for Students With ADHD. Behav Anal Pract. 2021
Sensory Processing in Autism: A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings | Pediatric Research (nature.com)
Tomchek SD, Dunn W. Sensory processing in children with and without autism: a comparative study using the short sensory profile.