Parents often ask me, “What are the best toys for my child? I usually respond with, “What do they like to do?”

No child is the same, and parents and caregivers often make the mistake of assuming that all children with autism, developmental trauma or sensory issues are going to be drawn to particular toys.

Wrong.

What I do suggest is providing children with a range of play experiences that foster their curiosity and support their emotional and social development.

The following toys are ones that I have found to be enjoyable and accessible for all children. I recommend them for they encourage that magical back and forth engagement and play with you or another partner in play.

Art and Craft Materials:

Create a beautiful gift basket with age appropriate art materials. For younger children, this may include the thick wax crayons and a selection of paper or a small easel. Older children can explore paint and collage materials.

Clay:

The sensory nature of play allows children to release tension and provides them with a visual way to express their understanding. Some children may resist the texture and prefer play-doh. I have introduced children with sensory issue to clay by first placing bubble-wrap over the clay. It feels wonderful!

Dress up:

Costumes, think capes, hats, tails, wings, or a magic wand to make a wish and items that will inspire movement and provide children with inspiration for dramatic play. Check the quality of the fabric to be sure that the material is going to be comfortable on the skin. Older children may like a full costume in their favourite animal, or character.

Puppets: Puppets are another wonderful way to extend your child’s dramatic play and foster their communication. I always consider the child’s favourite animal or creature. Children who are shy may identify with a creature like a turtle. You can bring the turtle in and out of the shell to engage your child. Again, choose quality. Folkmanis make beautiful puppets that appeal to the tactile preferences of many children and they feel beautiful.

Happy playing!

Olivia Karaolis MA (Special Education/Early Intervention) teaches at the University of Sydney Faculty of Education and Social Work. She was Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Early Childhood Education, Santa Monica College, California.

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