As the parent of a special needs child, I well aware of the daunting task that it can be to find appropriate toys and games for my daughter. It feels like we spend so much time researching toys that have the appropriate balance of sensory friendly features without drowning out the “fun” in the toy! I think that most parents faced with the same issue really dread this usually fun task for birthdays, holidays and special occasions; it can be awkward to issue a “list” of toys to extended friends and family who might not understand the reason why only certain toys can be accepted into the home. It is so heartbreaking to me when I have to politely exchange the gift or pay it forward because my daughter doesn’t like it or can’t handle it due to her sensory limitations.

I think it is important that stores make lists of prescreened, sensory friendly toys available to their customers – even if they require specific mailing lists or provide them by request only. You should also consider being open and honest about the specifications that you allow your kids to have in toys, even if they are not special needs children! This will eliminate awkward pauses and conversations during the unwrapping of gifts where an inappropriate gift might be given in place of one that is more suitable for your child’s needs. For example, my daughter cannot handle toys with tiny little pieces (board games, puzzles, etc) – they overwhelm and frustrate her. She always prefers small dolls, art supplies and card games when it comes to toys.

Here is a mini list of some ideas for sensory integration approved toys for that awesome kid who is on your holiday shopping list!

1011 – The classic Spin n’ Saucer by Radio Flyer is a cute way for your little one to zip around and burn some energy in style. Most of the Radio Flyer line of products come in the classic red & white design; however they do make other colors!

2 –Mesh squishy balls are all the rage with most special needs therapists and they make a nice easy toy to give an anxious child before entering a crowded place. They work in the same way as a stress ball with significantly more squishy action.

3 – Finger paints are fun for those inclement weather days when there is nothing fun that can be done outside. Put them in an old shirt that doubles as a smock for them and let them go to town on a blank canvas or large piece of butcher paper. These mini Picasso’s might create something that you want to frame!

4 – Shape It Sand is a cool artificial “sand” that satisfies the sensory needs of many children who love the feeling of grainy texture. The sand sticks to itself, reducing the amount of mess made with traditional sand and never dries out making it reusable.

5 – Play Doh is a staple item for most kids to use in school and therapy for learning, creativity and manual dexterity exercises. The texture, color and thickness make for a great  non-toxic “toy” that appeals to many different kids. You dont need to buy Play Doh brand, there are simple recipes available to make your own and my kids use the generic brands I find in most dollar stores. They leave the containers unsealed so I refuse to keep buying huge quantities that get wasted/lost relatively quickly. 


6- A favorite item on many lists, for boys and girls, are the varied sets of artificial food items used for play kitchens/restaurants/doll houses. There is something about these fake food kits that really inspires social play between children and expands creative imaginative play. I think this set is super cute and goes well with any other that you decide to pair it with down the road.

7- No list is complete without Legos….enough said!

8 – The Fanta aquarium is essentially a peg board much like the old school Light Brite board with a predetermined amount of colored pegs that can be arranged to form an aquatic fish scene. It is a cute spin on the classic puzzle and will keep for much longer without the hassle of having to use puzzle glue to keep it together.

9- The Animals Thumball is a fun way to reinforce basic animal words, animal sounds, colors and play with a ball. My son had one of these in Belgium and it’s a soft ball that is safe for a baby/toddler to use into older toddler.

Since I am not an expert and I am relying on my personal experience with my autistic daughter, I recommend you speak with your child’s therapist, medical professional or teacher to discuss suggestions for what toys might work best for your kiddo. If you already know what toys and activities are suitable, take a look at some of the most popular toys commonly recommended for sensory kids.

Liz Cameo   Liz