If you’re looking for the best play therapy toys, you probably already have a bunch lying around your house, most of which will naturally support whichever play therapy techniques for autism you’ve chosen to focus on. Remember that your goal is to connect and engage with your child, so try to focus on toys your child enjoys. ‘Pretend play’ toys are a great option as they allow you to engage with your child naturally. As you are playing, you can tell your child the name of different objects and ask her to repeat them back to you, ask questions about the toys, role play, etc. These types of toys also provide ways for kids to practice their fine motor skills and learn how to play with their peers, making them a win-win. Here are 10 ideas to consider
Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone
Pretend telephones are a great way to engage a child in back-and-forth communication, and kids who are reluctant to participate in therapeutic play and/or who have difficulty expressing their feelings often perform better when a prop is introduced into the setting. Speaking into a telephone rather than face-to-face can help remove barriers and make a child feel more comfortable.
Whether you opt for a basic baby doll, a classic Cabbage Patch Kid, or splurge on an American Girl doll, playing with dolls can teach kids so many things! From learning (and repeating back) the different parts of our bodies, to teaching WH question (What colour are her eyes? When should she eat lunch? Why is she crying?), to teaching important life skills (dressing/undressing, feeding, bathing, etc.), dolls offer a great form of pretend play that targets so many different skills.
Another great way to get kids practicing their communication and language skills is through a pretend kitchen (or, if you don’t have room in your home for a whole kitchen play set, a collection of pretend food will also work). Practice saying the names of the different food items together, make a pretend meal and engage in a little ‘dinnertime conversation’, and ask where certain items should be stored to get your little one talking.
Learning Resources Helping Hands Fine Motor Toolset
This toolset provides lots of fun ways to help young kids develop the muscles in their fingers and hands needed to develop proper handwriting skills. Setup different sensory stations so they can practice tweezing, scooping, squeezing, and squirting different objects and liquids!
Yoovi Learn to Dress Boards
Teach your child how to zip zippers, button buttons, snap snaps, lace and tie shoes, etc. with these simple, small, and portable practice boards.
Melissa and Doug Wooden
Alphabet Lacing Cards
The best play therapy toys are those that offer opportunities to work on multiple skills at once, and this set by Melissa and Doug does exactly that. While working on your child’s fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills, you can also engage with her and teach her letter recognition and work on her vocabulary skills, making this toy an all around win!
ALEX Toys Active Play Monkey
If your child struggles with balance and coordination, this is a fun play therapy toy to try. You can use it outside or inside, making it a great way for kids to blow off some steam on bad weather days, and it can withstand up to 200 lbs, so you can take turns showing off your balancing skills as a family. Once your child masters how to balance on the board, find other ways to incorporate this into her play to help further improve her gross motor skills. For example, you may have her balance on the board while playing a game of catch.
Kidoozie Foam Pogo Jumper
Pogo jumpers are another way to encourage active play in young kids, and they have the added benefit of developing hand-eye coordination and dexterity while also strengthening core muscles. I love this pogo jumper in particular as it can be used indoors, allowing kids to get some energy out on days it’s too cold or wet to go outside.
Playdoh offers a great way to develop and strengthen the muscles needed for writing while simultaneously developing a child’s scissor cutting skills. The Playdoh Crazy Cuts Set is a fun one to start with as kids will get excited about mixing different colors of playdoh together to create different hairstyles, and they can use a pair of playdoh scissors to cut and style to their heart’s content.
If you’re looking for therapy toys that encourage fine motor development in older kids, Aquabeads is a good option. Kids work with small tweezers to pick up small beads and make various creations, providing endless hours of fun they can enjoy with siblings, friends, or parents, or even on their own.
9 Therapy Games for Children
Whether you’ve chosen to focus on one or more particular play therapy techniques for autism, or you just want some therapy games to use at home with your child, try not to get too hung up on the TYPE of games you are investing in. While the internet is filled with suggestions on the therapy games for children, your main goal is to find a way to connect with and engage with your child so you can cross over into their world and find ways to help them develop whatever goals you’ve set forth. There are tons of games available that double as fabulous therapy games for children, and we’re sharing 11 ideas below that provide ways to play with and connect with your child while naturally helping them work on and develop other skills.
Learning Resources Crocodile
Hop Floor Game
This is a super fun game that tackles a lot of different skills at one go. From color, shape, and number recognition, to problem solving and gross motor skills, this game will help your child blow off some steam while also practicing her skills in a fun and positive way.
Melissa and Doug Turtle Target
If your child struggles with hand-eye coordination, this bean-bag inspired therapy game offers a great way to practice his or her throwing skills. Start small with a little free-throw practice, and then move the ‘turtle’ farther away and ask your child to throw to specific targets.
Sport Beats Paddle Ball Game
Practice tossing, catching, and bouncing with your child with this super fun trampoline paddle ball therapy game! This is a great gross motor activity the whole family will enjoy, and it doubles as a fabulous way to improve a child’s hand-eye coordination.
Learning Resources Conversation
With 36 conversation starters to choose from, these Conversation Cubes offer a fun way for older kids to practice starting and maintaining conversations with others. You can practice at home, or set-up conversation groups within a classroom setting, allowing children the opportunity to practice how to initiate a conversation, and how to listen when others are speaking.
All About You Thumball
Whether you’re practicing social skills at home, or hosting a social group for your child, the All About You ball offers a great way to break the ice, teach kids appropriate social conversation starters, and get them talking.
Osmo Genius Kit
While I’m not really one to recommend electronic therapy games for children, the Osmo system has really captured my heart. It teaches so many important concepts, like letters and numbers, in a fun and creative way, and if you’re looking for visual motor activities that teach problem solving skills, the Tangram game is one of my absolute favorites!
While the more traditional form of Simon Says, where kids are actively following gross motor movements (‘Simon says stand on one leg’, ‘Simon says do 3 jumping jacks’, ‘Simon says hop like a bunny’, etc.) is preferred, the electronic version of Simon says is also a beneficial therapy game if you’re looking for something you can do together with your child. It requires kids to follow directions and pay attention to sequencing, and I like that it provides a way to help sensory sensitive kids tolerate noise.
This game is equal parts hilarious and educational, and can be enjoyed in the classroom or as a family. Players take turns drawing number cards and must remember the growing sequence of numbers until a player pulls a ‘distraction card’. This person must then answer a silly question before reciting the sequence of numbers in the exact order they were drawn. It’s so much fun and it’s one of my favorite therapy games for children as it simultaneously helps develop their cognitive skills in a non-threatening way.
Geared towards older kids, Blurt! Is a fun game the whole family can participate in, but it’s also a great way to teach kids self-control. The premise behind the game is simple – one person reads a definition, and the person to blurt out the corresponding word first wins – and when you organize the game such that only 2 people are playing against one another at a time, it forces the rest of the family to exercise self-control as they refrain from yelling out the answer.
Whether you’re just starting to educate yourself on the different play therapy techniques for autism to help your child, or you’re looking for the best play therapy toys and therapy games for children to help keep your sessions fresh and engaging, I hope this collection of tips and ideas proves useful to you. Remember to choose toys and games that capture your child’s attention, and to worry less about building skills and more about connecting and having fun with your little one, and on the days you feel hopeless and frustrated, remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistency, dedication, and ongoing commitment from parents, therapists, and teachers!