The NAS EarlyBird team has compiled a list of toys, books and play equipment that many parents have found to be popular with children with autism.

EarlyBird is a three-month programme for parents and carers of young children with a diagnosis of an autism. It works with parents and carers to help them understand their child's autism and develop strategies for encouraging communication and dealing with challenging behaviour.

Toys which are visually interesting

Children with autistic spectrum disorders tend to prefer toys that involve visuo-spatial skills such as shape and colour matching, jigsaw puzzles or constructional materials.
L. Wing, The autistic spectrum: a guide for parents and professionals

Here is a short list of some of the sorts of toys children with autism may enjoy:

  • bubbles (bubble blowers)
  • colour torch (available from Early Learning Centre)
  • shape and colour matching, or sorting, toys
  • formboards and jigsaws
  • jack-in-the-box or Tomy's 'Pop-up pirate'
  • Duplo, Lego and other construction toys
  • 'marble run' from the Early Learning Centre
  • train toys (especially Thomas the Tank Engine): from push 'n' go versions to full train sets
  • drawing, colouring and painting: this includes toys such as Magnasketcher
  • picture or word lotto
  • videos, especially Thomas the Tank Engine, Pingu and Disney.


Rather than just a book with plain text, try looking at some of the following for variation:

  • board books
  • books with flaps
  • books that encourage readers to touch and feel different textures and fabrics in them
  • word books (often with pictures or photos of familiar objects)
  • Usborne's First 100 words and First 1,000 words books
  • Dr Seuss books
  • factual books
  • puzzle books.

Physical activity toys

It is useful to encourage physical activities that are enjoyable without the need for imagination and understanding or use of language. Physical exercise is reported to diminish inappropriate behaviour and such activities are also helpful for improving problems of motor co-ordination.
L. Wing, The autistic spectrum: a guide for parents and professionals

Here are some ideas about physical activity toys which children with autism may enjoy:

  • swing
  • slide
  • trampoline
  • rocking horse
  • climbing frame
  • football
  • toys which children can ride: bicycles, toy tractors, etc
  • paddling pool
  • sand pit
  • basketball net.

Remember that, as for most activities, supervision is important. This is particularly true with activities like trampolining and climbing frames.

Games to play with other people

It is worth trying to engage children in simple games. Some children reach the level at which they can play picture-matching games or board games, such as Ludo or Snakes and ladders. Some of the most able learn to play chess and do well because of their excellent visuo-spatial memories. Board games give the opportunity of teaching the concept of winning or losing.
L. Wing, The autistic spectrum: a guide for parents and professionals

Some games which children with autism could play with other people include:

  • tapes/CDs of singing and dancing games
  • picture lotto games
  • Snap!
  • Whot!
  • skittles
  • Connect 4
  • Guess who?
  • Snakes and ladders
  • Ludo
  • chess.

Many of these games are available from the Early Learning Centre; tel: 08705 352 352 or visit

Computer software

Computers and computer games are particularly fascinating but can become a dominant obsession so parents should, from the start, impose clear limits on the time allowed.
L. Wing, The autistic spectrum: a guide for parents and professionals

Some suggested software for children with autism includes:

  • character software such as Pingu, Dr Seuss or Disney Magic Artist
  • factual software such as Microsoft's Magic School Bus or the online encyclopedia Encarta
  • software to develop vocabulary such as the Talking animated alphabet (Sherston:
  • software for young children such as Make it happen: jump ahead toddler (Knowledge Adventure).

Written by Dr Jane Shields

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