Picking a toy because it’s entertaining is probably your gut instinct -- but when choosing toys for autistic toddlers, you must also think, “What are the educational benefits of this toy?” Not all educational toys simply teach numbers or colors, especially when it comes to autism, and they absolutely don’t have to be boring. Cause and effect toys, or ones that show toddlers they can do something to get a reaction, help autistic toddlers by helping them discover their environment and their role in it.
Toddlers with autism don’t quite take in information from all their senses the way their peers do, but practicing and helping them develop their senses through play can help them catch up. Rattles and musical toys are fantastic cause and effect toys for toddlers because they are age-appropriate and teach your toddler that he can shake a maraca, for example, and hear a sound -- just don’t forget to buy yourself some ear plugs as well. These toys also give your toddler chances to practice fine motor skills and simple repetitive movements. Consider maracas, a light-up keyboard, toy drums, sound blocks or sound puzzles, all of which are better than your hardwood floors or pots and pans.
Similar to the way sound toys help integrate your toddler’s senses, light toys improve concentration and hand-eye coordination. You might remember those plasma globes that fire up like bolts of lightning when you touch them, and you likely thought it was the coolest thing in the world -- your toddler probably will think so, too. This simple action teaches the cause and effect that when you touch the side, it creates a light. Similar toys include a light-up bubble gun, fan or spinning top.
Sorting and Stacking Toys
Sorting objects is a part of play that is essential for cognitive development -- in other words, your autistic toddler will be better able to problem solve or learn academic concepts like colors and shapes through sorting toys. Find simple puzzles, such as shapes that need to fit inside a particular hole or groove. Sound puzzles combine the benefits of sorting with the reinforcement of sound -- the board will make a noise when the block is placed in the correct spot in the puzzle. Get a set of blocks of different colors and sizes that he can stack and arrange. Toddlers often have difficulty stacking blocks on their first try, but after some play and exploration, your toddler will be able to figure out how to stack blocks so they won’t fall down, which is again a cause and effect relationship.
While an actual gumball machine sounds like a recipe for disaster with your autistic toddler, toy gumball machines and other similar toys teach cause and effect with a little more action than just a puzzle. You might get mesmerized by watching a dancing competition or sport, but your toddler will have the same reaction from these movement toys. A toy gumball machine allows your toddler to put balls in the top and watch them slide down the spiral path. Ball popper machines work in a similar way, and butterfly spinners require your toddler to push the top and watch the butterflies or other objects spin inside a tube. Miniature amusement parks or car race tracks also provide the cause and effect relationship.