While none of the items on this list are specifically designed for students with autism, they can all be used to motivate students with autism to engage appropriately with games and toys, play with peers, and develop skills.
The key thing to understand about the materials listed below is that the focus is on teaching skills and encouraging interactions with other people. There are many materials out there that focus on addressing sensory needs or are highly reinforcing for students with autism, but do not meet those two criteria of teaching skills and encouraging interactions.
If there are other toys and games you have successfully used that meet those two criteria, please share them in the comments section!
Parachute – Really, who doesn’t love parachute games? I wrote about how I use parachutes here. For early learners with autism, I frequently am able to teach the child’s first mands (or requests) by using the parachute. These mands may be as simple as “go” or “swing,” but the parachute can also be used to teach more complex mands, such as “put it on the floor” or “wrap me up.”
CooCoo the Clown by Blue Orange – This, like many of the toys and games listed below, includes a cause-and-effect relationship that draws students into the game. I went into further detail about CooCoo here. In a nutshell, it’s a simple game to follow and be able to play, but involves enough strategy that kids can learn a lot about size, weight, and balance while having a great time.
Marble Run – Marble runs were one of the first toys I ever wrote about here at TeachThrough. And it’s one of the few toys I can actually say I’ve had 100% success with in using it for students with autism. It’s a great toy for teaching mands because kids are typically very motivated to get the marble, build the set, and try different things with it. There’s also a huge variety of marble runs out there. It should be noted that this is one of those toys that adults frequently seem to enjoy just as much as the kids do.
Red Rover – This game is unique in that it offers two levels of play and an element of interaction with the toy dog, Rover. I wrote about it here. This game includes highly motivating materials, and is a fantastic option for including peers and siblings in play.
Eeboo Build A Robot Game – One of my favorite things about this game is that there are a lot of materials that are easy to modify based upon your student’s skill level. It can also be used to practice a variety of skills, as described here. This is another game that I’ve had a high success rate with a wide variety of students.
Stacking Robots – As described in this post, there are multiple products similar to the stacking robots I’ve had for years. Many of my students are motivated by these materials and it allows me to join in building activities with them, as well as to practice many skills.
Thinkfun Roll & Play Board Game – There are few games out there for preschoolers that are as well designed as this one. I already wrote quite a bit about it here, but this is one of those games that I buy for every relative who turns two. It’s incredibly easy to modify, motivating for most of my students, and another great game for increasing peer interaction.
Quercetti Saxoflute Build Musical Toy Set – This is a toy I haven’t gotten around to writing about just yet, but I will in the near future! This is a relatively inexpensive set of tubes that can be used to create unique musical instruments. It is another of those rare toys that 100% of my students are motivated by. You can use it to teach imitation skills (putting together the same instrument), practice adjectives, practice intraverbal skills by comparing and contrasting two instruments, discussing volume, and much more. This is another toy that I also frequently use to include siblings and other peers or parents. It can be broadened by including other instruments if you have access to drums, tambourines, triangles, maracas, or other simple instruments.
Felt board sets – There are multiple felt board sets on the market. I have several: some related to songs (such as the characters form Old McDonald), some related to stories (such as There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly), some related to scenes (such as those sold by Lakeshore that include the pieces to create restaurant, scuba diving, or other scenes), and others related to practice with numbers and letters. These materials are great for practicing language skills, especially because they can be easily changed from session to session.
Candy Land Castle – I hesitate to even add this to the list because it is no longer available for purchase. If Hasbro would re-release it, it would be at the top of my list! This game, which I bought four years ago for $30.00, now goes for anywhere from $50-$100 because it’s impossible to find. It easily integrates cause-and-effect with matching, scanning, and color identification skills. I have yet to introduce it to a preschooler who doesn’t love it. Hasbro, hear my plea! Please start making this game again! It’s incredibly difficult to find games that practice essential skills while simultaneously being highly motivating for students with autism.
And that’s it for this list, but keep an eye out for upcoming lists for older students.