Not long ago, the best resources for high quality sensory toys were commercial suppliers for occupational therapy clinics and intervention centers. These days, we are living in the golden age of sensory products that fulfill physical regulation needs of children on the spectrum, enhance sensory play areas in the home, and are easily and quickly accessible via online ordering.
The flip side, however, is that it can be overwhelming and time-consuming to sort through the many options available through store websites and online catalogs.
In this article, we will pinpoint the 10 best sensory toys available on Amazon for children with autism and other special needs in the early childhood range (ages 3-8), so you can spend less time evaluating products and more time enjoying them with your child.
We evaluated potential sensory toys according to three overarching criteria:
Sensory toys shouldn’t break the bank. It’s important for families to be able to access a variety of high quality toys that are also reasonably priced. These toys are fewer and further between as you scroll through your search results in your Amazon store app, but they are out there.
Each product on our list is under $100, with most falling in the $10-$50 range.
Sensory toys should address a variety of stimulation needs of your child across tactile, visual, and auditory inputs. For example, an ice cube is cool to the touch (tactile), seems transparent but is opaque if held up to the eye (visual), and makes a clattering noise if dropped into the sink (auditory).
Sensory toys also facilitate play-based exploration of whole-body systems. These include proprioception (awareness of how one’s body moves and is positioned in space), the vestibular system (the sense of gravity and balance), and emotional and physical regulation.
For the purposes of this article, we will not be addressing olfactory or gustatory input of toys (smell and taste), though these are ideal sensory experiences to incorporate at mealtimes.
Sensory toys are not a passing fad; they are a useful and aesthetically pleasing addition to your home as well as fun and educational. The toys on our list are durable and resilient, increasing the likelihood they will stand up to heavy usage and the test of time.
They also meet our criteria for longevity in providing appeal for a variety of age groups, so your child can love them for a long time – but also, so parents and siblings can join in genuine enjoyment of collaborative and social play.
Magna-Tiles provide sensory input across tactile, visual, and auditory channels. Build small and large structures with pieces that are easy to hold and attach to each other, but also provide challenge opportunities to practice more complex fine motor skills via idiosyncratic tile combinations.
Look through the tiles to change the color of the environment, or hide toys inside structures to see how they look different but don’t disappear completely. The tiles also make a satisfying clicking sound when attached, and louder cascading noises when structures are collapsed.
The 32 piece starter set is around $50, and for folks able to spend a bit more, the 100 piece set is about $120.
As for longevity, I bought the 100 piece set for my firstborn in 2012. The tiles have seen daily and weekly use ever since, but still look brand new. They remain a favorite toy for him seven years later, and my second child now joins in on family sensory play time with the tiles as well.
There are also myriad alternative brands of magnetic tile sets available on Amazon in different styles, colors, shapes, and combinations.
Tee Pee Tent or Pop Up Play Tent
Again, you will find tons of options for either style of play tent on Amazon – but the overall idea is to provide a whole-body sensory experience for your child that allows them to engage in extended independent playtime as well as shared leisure time (like reading books together).
Size permitting, these tents can grow with your child from facilitating beginning sensory and cognitive skill building experiences (object permanence, for example) to intermediate play and pre-academic skills later on (prepositions, following directions, and sequenced pretend play, to name a few).
Goodnight Moon Story Puppet & Props
Early literacy for your 3-8 year old can also come to life in sensory play. A compact set like this one is perfect for playtime on the go or in a small living space, but you can also find a variety of puppets in all sizes on Amazon as well as larger felt board storytelling sets.
Sensory benefits of this type of toy include tactile engagement with characters and objects, auditory stimulation through children listening to the adult model the words of the story as well as vocally imitating words or sounds, and multimodal visual input through seeing two-dimensional pictures in the book come to life in 3D.
There’s a reason why potholder looms have been around forever. In addition to their sensory benefits, these tactile close-ended activities also provide opportunities to practice beginning advocacy skills like asking for help as well as frustration tolerance and delayed gratification.
There are a variety of looms available on Amazon ranging from those more appropriate for the very young to lap looms that can continue to provide productive and sensory-fulfilling entertainment well beyond early childhood.
Another timeless classic, the sensory and creative possibilities with clay-based play are almost endless. Modeling clay can be a bit harder to manipulate than play dough or silly putty, but the extra effort required can provide valuable sensory input for children on the spectrum who seek tactile resistance to make sense of their environment.
For facilitated family sensory playtime, download a beginner level stop motion app to your tablet or smartphone and create short movies together by posing your clay creations in component positions that create the illusion of movement – like waving or doing a yoga pose.
For vestibular practice and further proprioceptive input, have your child star in a stop motion movie too, by mimicking the positions of clay creatures as you take pictures of each movement. Then, practice the movements in real time and compare how different that feels.
Boomwhackers are not for the faint of heart, to be sure, as they can produce somewhat loud noises – but they are an excellent auditory and proprioceptive sensory toy.
Boomwhackers can be used to create musical tones when “whacked” against any surface, including arms and legs without causing any pain or injury because they are hollow and so light. Because each tone makes a specific musical note, boomwhackers are also a great way to encourage early foundations for musical awareness and creativity.
These nightlights are a simple solution for comfort needs at bedtime or creating a sensory calming area at home, but that’s just the beginning. Turn on the planetarium projector in a darkened room during the day to provide variety in visual sensory input, or engage in beginner sensory visual play like shadow puppet games or variations on peekaboo and hide and seek.
As children grow, the planetarium projector can provide a jumping off point for scientific exploration and spark curiosity about astronomy. Many of these projectors are designed to be portable so you can bring your child’s calming space wherever you go, either for short outings or longer travel.
One of the most tried and true sensory toys for children on the spectrum is an indoor swing. Amazon has myriad options for sensory swings that are child-focused as well as full-size swings you can install for the whole family to use that will also suit your home’s aesthetic design.
However, these swings also come with the caveat that you will need to spend extra time and money to install them safely, possibly even going into your attic to secure additional 2x4s to existing studs to create a sturdy way to attach your weight-bearing swing.
You can also invest in a freestanding swing stand, but this will most likely drive your costs over $100 by a significant margin. As an alternative, consider a freestanding hammock like the one linked above, which is under $100 and comes extremely well-reviewed. A bonus – it works for adults as well as children, so you and your child can spend quality time together reading or playing with legos in a comforting sensory environment.
Multi-Solution Wooden Puzzles
Multi-solution puzzles such as this one provide opportunities to successfully complete single step problem solving as well as invent new ways to play by rearranging the pieces and testing which pieces will fit where.
These puzzles provide tactile and visual sensory input as well as stimulation for your child from early developmental play to more complex problem solving as they grow. P’kolino puzzles are designed to withstand long term use and maintain their quality over time, but there are lots of 2D and 3D multi-solution wooden puzzles available on Amazon from other brands, too.
Construct and Play Sets
Construct and play sets allow for sensory experiences while building, as well as resulting a toy that can be used on an ongoing basis for additional sensory play – or taken apart and rebuilt as many times as desired. The most famous construct and play sets are Legos.
But today you can find a variety of brands and styles of construct and play sets depending on your child’s preferences and fine motor readiness. In addition to tactile and visual input, these toys facilitate extended play opportunities and can easily be combined during imaginative play with other toys in the home to target the individual sensory needs of your child.