15 Mom-Approved Gifts for Kids With Autism

Jeanne Sager | Dec 13, 2016 Big Kid
15 Mom-Approved Gifts for Kids With Autism
Image: iStock.com/FatCamera


It's that time of year again, when many of us are trying to come up with the perfect gift to buy for the child with autism on our holiday shopping list. So what are other moms' can't-fail tips for buying something that will be a total hit? We found some moms of kids on the spectrum and asked them for a little help to make all of our shopping a little easier this year. Check out some of the great ideas we've come across!

Carol Greenburg knows the holiday shopping struggle all too well. Greenburg is editor of The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism and mom of a 10-year-old with autism. She's also East Coast regional director of the Autism Women's Network, and she is often asked what the perfect gift for an autistic child might be.

"I don't know what the perfect gift for any autistic child is," she says with a laugh. "What's the perfect gift for any neuro-typical child?"

Like shopping for any other kid, moms want to get autistic children something they will enjoy, Greenburg says, not some one-size-fits-all present. The challenge is in balancing the need to provide them with gifts that help them build their skills with gifts that they will really like.

"Moms need to think about what they want to work on, but also what will be the most fun, the most enticing," she says.

When in doubt, the special-needs advocate suggests, play to their interests. "Autistic kids, and autistic people in general, tend to have special interests -- what some people call obsessions. The way to an autistic child's heart, the way to connect with an autistic child is to follow their interests! Don't be afraid to be giving into an obsession!"

Remember to consider the child first, Greenburg adds, not what age recommendation is on the toy box, but what the child is actually interested in and developmentally able to do at this moment in time.

Still looking for some great ideas? Greenburg and several other moms of kids on the spectrum gave a few ideas of what has worked with their kids!

  • Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl and Cup Set


    Shannon Rosa, who blogs about her family at Squidalicious, tries to ensure that gifts for son Leo, who is 12 and autistic, are about him and what he actually enjoys rather than what other people think he or a child his age should enjoy. 

    "He adores fidget or stim items, like his current beloved Guyot silcone Squishy Bowl and Cup Set," Rosa explains. "The cup or bowl let him keep his hands busy -- he can twist and turn and stretch and bend them, and carry them everywhere. Plus, the soft silicone is so touchable, everyone who handles them wants a set for themselves!" ($15, Amazon)

  • Snap Circuits


    Jean Winegardner, better known in the blogosphere as the mom behind Stimeyland, has a 9-year-old son who was diagnosed with Asperger's just this year. When CafeMom asked her for Jack's favorite toy, she said Snap Circuits are a hands-down win. 

    "They are cool, because they are not too complicated to put together and come with detailed directions," Winegardner explains. "But they teach kids to follow diagrams and they have a big payoff if one puts it together right, because lights flash or propellers take off. Jack has even tried to make up some circuits of his own!" ($18, Amazon)

  • Pin Art Tactile Fidget


    Leigh Merryday, blogger at Flappiness Is... and mom to 3-year-old autistic son Callum, recommends pin art like this for kids to express their creativity and experience the tactile feedback they crave. Callum is fascinated by this one! ($18, Amazon)

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  • Lego Classic Medium Creative Brick Box


    Lego is highly popular with a lot of kids on the spectrum -- to the point where there are Lego clubs specifically for autistic kids. Mom Erin Mast prefers Lego sets with "no preconceived plan for building" for her boys on the spectrum because "it encourages creativity and problem solving."

    This set includes 484 pieces of various sizes and colors and certainly fits the bill. As the item description states: "The only limit is one's imagination!" Let the thinking outside the box begin! (prices vary by seller, Amazon)

  • Piano Mat




    This step-on piano isn't "just" good for people trying to re-create the famous scene from Tom Hanks' Big. It's also great for little sensory seekers, says mom Leigh Merryday of Flappiness Is... ($39.99, Amazon

  • Gift of an Experience (price varies)


    Our readers don't always have to think about buying another toy for the house. Both Greenburg and Shannon Rosa of Squidalicious suggest gifting experiences that are great for kids.

    Rosa has even come up with a way to make the experience "unwrappable" for Christmas or Hannukah:

    "A custom photo book of a favorite experience, place, trip -- or of his favorite people. One can make books through any number of services, and I recommend the extra-sturdy padded hardcover editions when available. Leo loves revisiting past moments at his own pace, and having all his favorite people in one place -- and he treats his photo books like talismans. If a child is working on reading, a mom can include captions of appropriate complexity. Don't tell Leo, but this year he's getting a book about going to Disneyland!"

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  • Guess Who? Game


    Mom Erin Mast has sons who are on the spectrum, and she swears by this board game. "It challenges turn taking and encourages a child to recognize differences in particular people, animals or items," she explains. ($10, Amazon)

  • Gak




    Carol Greenburg's son 10-year-old son has limited verbal skills, but he is very tactile. He loves rubber balls with stretchy things that he can pull on or playing with slime. Our readers can buy some, or make their own! ($17, Amazon

  • Inflatable 'Pea Pod'


    A "Pea Pod" is a great gift for kids who crave pressure. "This thing is awesome for my sensory seeker!" says Amazon user TinaBelle616. "This really helps to calm him down before bed. If one's child loves to be squeezed and squished like mine does, this is a must have! "

    This PeaPod is meant for kids ages 1-4, and can even make kids feel like they are rocking on a ship! ($76. 48, Amazon

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  • Sensory Sox


    Sensory socks are perfect for kids who are on the spectrum. The product description on Amazon boasts: "This unique dynamic movement sensory sox will help to improve self-calming, balance, increased body and spatial awareness, and heightens movement creativity." Pretty cool, right?

    One Amazon user testifies that this is true, saying, "My ASD [autism spectrum disorder] kid loves this, he wears it every morning before starting his day. He says it makes him feel good and calm." ($29.96, Amazon)

  • Play Sand


    Kids who are on the spectrum sometimes need a product that will let them fidget. And Play Sand can be a good way for autistic kids to fidget quietly in the classroom. 

    As Amazon user Emily attests, "This had been the greatest purchase I've ever made. I use it to help manage my own anxiety, but I took it to school so some of my kids in the spectrum would have a quiet fidget and they LOVE it!!!" ($12.99, Amazon

  • Jacobs Rib-It-Ball


    The Jacobs Rib-It-Ball is a great, easy-to-catch ball for kids who don't have defined motor skills or want to build their hand-eye coordination. 

    Amazon user Cabezablanca writes in their review, "Every child I have tried this with except one has loved it. It is easy to grasp and very lightweight. The ribs have a crinkly sound which gives some nice auditory feedback. Ribs are perfect for little hands to hold on to." Give it a try! ($39.99, Amazon

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  • CALMforter Weighted Blanket


    The CALMforter Weighted Blanket is great to help kids with sensory issues or anxiety get a full night's sleep. Additionally, it has tiny notches sewn into the blanket for the kid who fidgets or needs tactile stimulation. 

    "My son is 13 and has anxiety and sensory problems that affect his sleep," the mom writes. "No more fighting with him at night to go to sleep; he seems to go to sleep right away!" Hey, what's good for a kid is great for mama too! ($199, Amazon

  • A Play Tent


    Play tents are fun for kids who both are and aren't on the spectrum. But for kids who do have sensory issues, a play tent can be a welcomed respite. 

    "Play tents are nice," this mom writes, "they can be set up as a place to give kids a sensory 'break,' with pillows, blankets, and books to look at." So cozy! ($44.46, Amazon

  • Mesh and Marble Fidget Toys


    Have a little one who just won't stop fidgeting? These Mesh and Marble Fidget Toys are perfect. It might seem simple, but pushing the marble back and forth can be soothing, and the mesh can be pushed or pulled as well. 

    This mom on Amazon seems to agree: "Bought these for my son, he's ASD, Asperger's, etc. ... I found that I keep one with me at all times (go figure) and have given out a few to friends and coworkers who also found them useful! Great stocking suffer, birthday gift, stress reliever (and ice breakers for those with ASD or anxiety disorders!!!). Oh! And it even came with a cool carry bag!!" ($8.99 for a pack of 8, Amazon

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