Sunday, December 7, 2014

Gifts for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

I work with kids at a special education school, grades K to 8th. I am a therapist. Over the years, I have had quite a few experts tell me what to use in my play and work with the kids, especially the children on the autism spectrum. Sometimes the experts are right and sometimes they are wrong.  As usual, it is really more productive to learn from the true experts: the children.

These kids let me know what the most popular toys are in any given year.  I have noticed that the kids on the Autism Spectrum tend to gravitate toward the same items no matter how they differ in their behaviors and symptoms.  While most any child (and some adults) would like these gifts, I thought I would share with you the things that are preferred by the kids on the spectrum. While other items have been trendy and have come and gone, this list has been unchanged for the past two or three years. 

Fuse Beads

When I worked with older children and families, I had never heard of "fuse beads".  I came to this school to work and fuse beads were the singular most popular item. It is a great activity for children and adults to do together.  I allow the child to do all of the building of the item while I gather the colors of beads they will need. And clearly, I do all of the ironing.

Fuse Beads Kit photo by Amazon
If you aren't familiar, as I wasn't, let me summarize briefly.  Fuse beads come in many brands. The name brand is Perler.  I have had not good experiences with the off brands, so I stick with Perler. These little plastic beads are placed on a sort of pegboard.  When the design is what the child wants, wax paper is used to cover the plastic beads while ironing over the item. The plastic beads melt slightly and glue the item together.  You flip the item over, use another wax paper

Required items:  The beads, the pegboard, the wax paper that is usually included, and an iron (not included)

Suggestion play (especially with spectrum kids):  I use paper plates as trays to hold and sort the beads.  I ask the child to pick a sample of the needed colors, we name that color, and put the sample on a plate. I pick the colors out while the child uses what I've gathered to make the item.  I always do the ironing and never let the child touch the item while it is still warm.  This is one activity that can help kids learn to loosen some of their rigid play. For example, if a child initially allows only one color on the plate at a time, the adult can test those limits over time by putting two colors onto the plate at a time, and so on. 

Fuse Bead Complete Kit photo by Amazon 


MineCraft is an online and computer game that all of the children love.  I find that my kids on the spectrum, young and old, gravitate to this game even more so than the other children.  The kids play every chance they get. Some of the older children spend time drawing the animals from the game and many of the children have me look up Fuse bead patterns of the characters and items so they can make them.

If your child already has access to the game, consider purchasing the handbooks.  Even our non-readers happily crack these books open and spend a lot of time "reading".

Required Item:  The game and matching game system or a computer to play the online version.

Suggestion for play:  Take time to let the kids show you what they've built or how far along they are in the game. I especially love the animals.  

Mincraft Game for Xbox 360 photo by Amazon

Minecraft Handbook photo by Amazon


There are many sites that have great lists of the Lego kits for sale. Legos seem to never lose their appeal. My children had Legos and I still secretly hope that children will choose the Legos when they come to my office for therapy.  The imagination can run wild with Legos.  And the blocks can help with fine motor skills, dexterity, frustration tolerance, and other skills.  While the large kits can get quite expensive, there are Legos in every price and age range needed. 

Lego with Minecraft Kits  as seen on Toy and Game World

Lego Planes and Helicopter Kits as seen on Toy Treasures

Inexpensive Lego Kit photo by Amazon
Lego Basics Kit photo by Amazon 

Hoberman Sphere

The Hoberman Sphere is a ball of sorts that starts at 9.5" tall and expands to 30" tall ball.  There are latches that can easily be operated by any of the children on my caseload.  They love opening and closing it, latching it open and crawling through.  I have been concerned about the moving parts and little fingers, but for some reason, no one has gotten pinched. 

Hoberman Sphere photo by Amazon 
Suggested Play:  Latch it open and identify a section. The child locates that opening and crawls into the ball.  Then identify a different section and the child crawls out of that section.  Our ball has different colored sections, so we call out a color.   You could just point at the sections if you can't identify sections by color.  If you are brave enough, let the child call the colors as you crawl in and out.

Hoberman Sphere photo by Amazon

Tents and Tubes

The children at our school, especially the children on the Autism spectrum, love small places to hide or to hang out.  They love tubes and tents.  These tubes and tents are appropriate for indoors and allow the children to have "fort" type of play in their room or playroom.

Suggested Play and Use:  sit outside of the "tent" and read to them while they are inside.  Let them "hide" inside in order to discuss things.  Use the tent as a safe place for them to go for "time out".  

Play Tubes photo by Amazon

Play Tent photo by Amazon

The Best Gift of All

Of course, your time and attention is the best gift you could give any child.  That is both my opinion and the opinion of the experts; the children.

Written by Dawn Rae 
Disclaimer: In affiliation with, Dawn Rae is a blogger and content 
writer who may earn compensation from the sale of Amazon products. 


  1. What a wonderful review of toys that children on the autism spectrum would find interesting and fun. I know how important these can be for children in therapy, as my mother worked for many years for a Child Guidance Clinic where children with a wide variety of special needs were treated, including autism. Any child would enjoy these toys you've featured here and it was interesting to read that these are the toys the 'children' chose as favorites. I admire the work you do, Dawn Rae.

    1. Thank you, Elf. And thank you to your mom for doing the work. That's what is great about these toys. Everyone loves them. But my spectrum kids really, really love them. I wish I could post their creations but because of confidentiality, I don't.

  2. Excellent and timely topic on toys for special needs children, Dawn Rae. I especially liked your expert advice... from the kids themselves!

    1. Thanks, Ruth. I learned a long time ago.. I am not the expert. My clients are. Especially the kids.

  3. Thanks for these suggestions. I especially like the idea of the tent or the crawl tube. Have a wonderful holiday season!

    1. The tents and tubes are great. We have those particular tents and tubes. The kids use them frequently.

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  5. Finding gifts that won't frustrate a child who is autistic is actually rather difficult for most of us, so you list is quite valuable. You are obviously uniquely qualified to create this gift list and I am personally grateful for the help and suggestions. Thank you

    1. You are very welcome. It was definitely my pleasure to share the recommendations from "my kids".