18 Mom-Approved Gifts for Kids With Autism

Jeanne Sager | Oct 29, 2019 Big Kid
18 Mom-Approved Gifts for Kids With Autism
Image: Twenty20

Mom-Approved Gifts for Kids With Autism
Twenty20

What's a better way to come up with the perfect gift for a child with autism than to ask moms who know the score? We're all about learning from other parents -- especially when it comes to making a kid's face light up at the holidays this year. We checked in with moms across the country who have a lot of experience finding the right gifts for kids on the spectrum. Who doesn't want help making our shopping a little easier this year?

Carol Greenburg knows the holiday shopping struggle all too well. Greenburg is editor of The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, and she's also a mom of a wonderful autistic child. She's also East Coast regional director of the Autism Women & Nonbinary 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 great gifts for autistic kids, who are all individuals -- it's important to look for something they will enjoy, Greenburg says, not a 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 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, Greenburg 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, more than the age recommendation on the toy box. Consider what the child is both 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 with autism gave a few ideas for great gifts for autistic kids that have worked for them and their families.

Psst: If you purchase an item from this post, CafeMom may receive a small cut. Each item and price is up to date at the time of publication; however, an item may be sold out or the price may be different at a later date.


  • Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl & Cup Set

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    Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl and Cup Set
    Amazon

    Shannon Rosa, who blogs about her family at Squidalicious, tries to ensure that gifts for her son, Leo, 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 beloved Guyot silicone 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!" 

    Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl and Cup Set ($16, Amazon)

  • Snap Circuits

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    Snap Circuits
    Amazon

    Jean Winegardner, better known in the blogosphere as the mom behind Stimeyland, has a son who was diagnosed with Asperger's. 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!" 

    Snap Circuits ($20, Amazon)

  • Pin Art Tactile Fidget

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    Pin Art Tactile Fidget
    Amazon

    Leigh Merryday, blogger at Flappiness Is... and mom to 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! 

    Pin Art Tactile Fidget ($20, Amazon)

  • Lego Classic Medium Creative Brick Box

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    Amazon

    Lego is 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! This is genuinely one great gift for autistic kids. 

    Lego Classic Medium Creative Brick Box ($35, Amazon)

  • Piano Mat

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    Amazon

    This step-on piano isn't "just" good for people trying to re-create the famous scene from Tom Hanks movie Big -- although that's clearly a very good use for it. It's also great for little sensory seekers, says mom Leigh Merryday of Flappiness Is... 

    Kidzlane Piano Mat ($40, Amazon

  • Gift of an Experience

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    Gift of an Experience
    Shutterfly

    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 to 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!"

  • Guess Who? Game

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    Guess Who? Game
    Amazon

    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. 

    Hasbro Guess Who? Game ($13, Amazon)

  • Gak

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    Gak
    Amazon

    Carol Greenburg's son has limited verbal skills, but he is extremely 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

    Nickleodeon NSI Gak ($12, Amazon

  • Inflatable 'Pea Pod'

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    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! 

    Inflatable 'Pea Pod' ($76, Amazon

  • Sensory Sox

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    Sensory socks are perfect gifts for autistic kids. 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." 

    Sensory Sox ($28, Amazon)

  • Play Sand

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    Kids who are on the spectrum sometimes need a product that will let them fidget -- 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!!!" 

    National Geographic Play Sand ($13, Amazon

  • CALMforter Weighted Blanket

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    CALMforter Weighted Blanket
    Amazon

    The CALMforter Weighted Blanket may 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! 

    The CALMforter Weighted Blanket ($119, Amazon

  • Thomas & Friends Pop-Up Play Train Tent

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    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 welcome respite. 

    "Play tents are nice," says one mom of an autistic kid in her Amazon review. "They can be set up as a place to give kids a sensory 'break,' with pillows, blankets, and books to look at." So cozy! 

    Sunny Days Entertainment Thomas & Friends Pop-Up Play Train Tent ($30, Amazon

  • Sensory Fidget Toys Bundle

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    Sensory Fidget Toys Bundle
    Amazon

    Have a little one who just won't stop fidgeting? A collection of fidget toys is the solution. It might seem simple, but pushing the marble back and forth can be soothing, and the mesh can be pushed or pulled as well.

    Sensory Fidget Toys Bundle ($19, Amazon)

  • Monkey Pod Games Six Puzzle Gift Set

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    Monkey Pod Games Six Puzzle Gift Set
    Amazon

    "Those wooden puzzle games -- the kind where you fit wood pieces together -- are so completely beloved by my son," says Rachel H., a mom in Virginia whose son, Brayden, is on the autism disorder spectrum. 

    Monkey Pod Games Six Puzzle Gift Set ($45, Amazon)

  • Playlearn Bubble Tube Tank Bead Water Tower with Remote Control

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    Playlearn Bubble Tube Tank Bead Water Tower with Remote Control
    Amazon

    "Bubble lamps have also helped my son -- they're sensory calming," Rachel says. If this lamp is too expensive, there are also smaller bubble timers that don't light up and are much less expensive, which is another good option. 

    Playlearn Bubble Tube Tank Bead Water Tower with Remote Control ($134, Amazon)

  • FlashingBlinkyLights White Light Up Fiber Optic Stick Wand (Set of 12)

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    FlashingBlinkyLights White Light Up Fiber Optic Stick Wand (Set of 12)
    Amazon

    "Light-up fiberoptic toys are also great for visual sensory input... they're ideal for when my kiddo has a hard time and just needs a break from everything," Rachel says. We love that this is a set of 12, so whenever one breaks, we'll have another in the drawer ready to go. 

    FlashingBlinkyLights White Light Up Fiber Optic Stick Wand (Set of 12) ($30, Amazon)

  • Little Tikes 3-Foot Trampoline

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    Little Tikes 3' Trampoline
    Amazon

    "My daughter really enjoys things that meet her sensory needs -- a small indoor trampoline, for instance, has been really helpful for her," says Caitlin N. in South Dakota, whose daughter is on the autism spectrum. 

    Little Tikes 3' Trampoline ($48, Amazon)

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