Hand fidgets autism

The 10 Best Fidget & Stim Toys To Improve Focus in Autistic Children

Updated by Molly Shaw Wilson MS OTR/L BCP

If you are on this page, then chances are you either already know what stimming behavior is, or are curious about it and what can be done to help alleviate it.

Before we get into our list of the 10 best autistic stimming toys, let's take a quick look at what stimming behavior is as it relates to autism.

Also, if you'd like to learn more about our top picks for adult sensory products, click here.

  1. What to Know about Stimming Behavior
  2. Stimming for Sensory?
  3. Stim Toys & Fidget Toys
  4. Top 10 Stim Toys
    1. Toys to fiddle With
    2. Toys to shake
    3. Light up toys
    4. Musical toys
    5. Toys to squeeze
    6. Toys to watch
    7. Spinning toys
    8. Something to mouth
    9. Something that buzzes
    10. Toys to line up

People with autism typically have a level of sensory integration dysfunction that causes them to misinterpret, be overwhelmed by, or under-register sensory information from their bodies and surroundings. This sensory dysfunction often drives some stereotypical behaviors that are characteristic of a diagnosis of autism.

For more information on sensory processing and autism, be sure to read Harkla’s article here.

In some cases, people with autism engage in self-stimulation, or “stimming” behaviors in an effort to combat sensory overstimulation, tune-out the extraneous sensory information, and decrease their arousal level. In other cases, the self-stimulation is to provide more sensory information in order to increase their arousal level because their bodies are not appropriately registering the information and they need more input!

These self-stim behaviors are repetitive in nature, can be whole-body movements or movements of objects, and serve a sensory purpose. While it looks like fidgeting, it is something a bit beyond your average fidget.

Common autism stimming behaviors are:

  • hand flapping
  • humming
  • rocking
  • flicking or snapping fingers
  • staring/gazing at objects
  • lining up objects
  • pacing
  • bouncing
  • tiptoe walking
  • twirling (self)
  • hair twirling or pulling
  • verbally repeating words or phrases
  • picking/rubbing/scratching skin

The list of self-stimulatory behaviors is much longer than those we’ve listed, but when you look at the sensory functions of some of these stims, it’s easier to recognize their purpose and perhaps find a replacement that meets these sensory needs in a different way.


Stimming for Sensory

When looking at why people with autism prefer certain stims at different times, it’s important to look at the purpose the movements serve from a sensory perspective. We use our sensory systems to help regulate, focus, interact, and function in our daily lives.

When considering specific stimming behaviors in terms of one’s auditory, visual, tactile, vestibular, gustatory (taste), and olfactory (smell) senses, it is easier to identify the why behind the behavior and to find a replacement, like one of the toys below, if you are looking for one.


Stim Toys & Fidget Toys

If you read our guide, Everything You Need to Know About Fidget Toys for ADHD and Anxiety, you learned about some fabulous fidget toys that support focus and engagement.

Fidget toys can be stim toys and vice versa!

The benefits of both are positive, no matter what the toys are called. That being said, we will refer to the products in this article as “stim toys” because they are often chosen to redirect or replace “stim” behaviors.

For people with autism, the recommendations for complexity and function of stim toys may be slightly different depending on the user’s motor skills, preferred stim behaviors, and reasons for implementing a stim toy. Some parents, behaviorists, therapists, or educators may base their selection of a stim toy in order to provide a more appropriate replacement behavior that is less distracting or less stigmatizing. In some cases, the stim toy redirects what may turn into self-injurious stim behavior.

Whatever your reason for researching stim toys or fidget toys for autism, keep the preferences and sensory profile of the user in mind so you can appropriately match the options to their needs. Remember, we all have multiple tools in our self-regulation toolbox, so explore multiple options!

There is a long list of toys that could be used as stim toys, so we are breaking the list down into 10 different categories under which you can look for stim toys on.

If you have any favorite stim toys that aren't on the list, let us know in the comments! 


Something to fiddle with: shake it, flick it, fidget with it!

One of the hallmark sensory seeking behaviors is hand flapping and finger flicking, these hand movements provide increased input to the joints of the arms and hands. In an attempt to curb some of these extraneous movements while still providing feedback, check out these toys to fiddle with:

  • Koosh Ball
  • Wood Fidget Puzzle


2. Something to shake

Movements needed to shake the following toys involve those finger and hand movements required to “fiddle”, and then some more - the upper arms and shoulders are involved when accessing these types of toys:

  • Pop Toob
  • Scarves - add different colors or textures for visual interest

3. Something that lights-up

Tapping into the visual system can be calming for many individuals, especially those with autism. Think about the visual effects of a lava lamp, waiting for a slow change.

  • Light up Bubble Gun
  • Color Changing Eggs

4. Something that’s musical (added bonus for some if they light up!)

Tapping into the auditory/sound system is predictable sensory input that can offer a calming effect. Just make sure its a sound that is tolerable to caregivers and adults too!

  • Light Up Maracas or Tamborine
  • Rain Stick - also offers visual input
  • Wiggly Giggly Ball

5. Something to squeeze

These sensory toys can offer fine motor benefits as they tap into hand strength to pull, squeeze and squish. The proprioceptive and tactile systems are engaged when manipulating squeeze toys, both systems offer self-regulation benefits.

  • Spiky, gooey, squishy sensory balls - throw, squeeze, stretch
  • Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty


6. Something to watch

The visual system is engaged when viewing the following sensory toys; it is important to evaluate the toy to make sure it is calming and regulating or alerting and arousing so that it aligns with your goal for the child.

  • Liquid Timer
  • Rain Stick
  • Marble Runs

7. Something to spin

Spinning toys also stimulate the visual system and can have different effects for each individual. For example, using a fidget spinner can be calming for some kids, but watching things like a carousel or a swing elicit a feeling of dysregulation for others.

  • Spinning Top
  • Mini Spinny or Spin Again

8. Something to mouth

Often, kids with autism can be seeking oral motor input, and may do so inappropriately - often ruining clothing, and/or putting non-food items in their mouths. In an attempt to find a replacement item that satisfies the need for oral/chewing input, consider trying one of the following:

  • Spiky slap bracelet
  • Other chewable jewelry like:
    • Sensory chew necklace
    • Munchables dog tags 
    • Bitey Beads


9. Something to buzz

Vibrating toys stimulate the tactile and proprioceptive systems. The constant input combined with some deep pressure can offer a sense of calm and organization. Some toys that engage the mouth (like a vibrating toothbrush) can also have oral motor effects that help with food tolerance or speech development too!

  • Massager
  • Vibrating Snake


10. Something to line up

Many parents of kids with autism report some atypical behaviors when playing with toys at an early age. They may line up cars, organize animals according to size or color, or something that looks like non-functional play. Seeking order is calming for them, and makes sense in their world. From a sensory perspective, the behavior of lining up toys engages both the tactile and visual systems.

  • Cars
  • Blocks
  • Anything!

Takeaways About Toys

Every child and person with autism is different. They have specific sensory interests as well as clearly defined personal interests. The sensory considerations for stim toys are most important when looking at the stim behaviors you want to replace or redirect, not so much the recommendations for products we’ve listed!

These are intended to jumpstart your stim toy shopping by identifying how one toy might be differently used than another.  

Let us know what stim toys are preferred in your home! We’d love to add your ideas to our lists too!

And If you're looking for ideas on ways to help your child at school, you can check out our list of favorite sensory tools for the classroom here.

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Stiming and autism

April 3, 2018

Viktoriya Efimova , candidate of pedagogical sciences, speech therapist, head of the Logoprognoz center (St. Petersburg)

How do most teachers and parents feel about such manifestations in the child's behavior?

  • Shaking hands in front of face
  • Spinning in place
  • Bites collar corners or nails
  • nine0013 Licks inedible objects
  • Keeps hands in mouth at all times
  • Sniffs objects

It used to be considered right to forbid a child to do this, because such behavior looks abnormal from the outside. However, the prohibitions in this case were not very effective, since the child is not able to control himself for a long time. And even if he can cope with this, at what cost and is it so important to achieve this? nine0003

Not so long ago, books with articles written by autistic adults began to appear, and we learned what incredible efforts they had to make in childhood to calm their hands or feet at the request of adults. They experienced at such moments a terrible feeling of anxiety and discomfort, and then, when no one saw, they still shook their hands or bit their wrists.

The need to make some kind of repetitive movements and enjoy them is now commonly called “stimulation” (from the word “self-stimulation”). Is it so abnormal? Take a closer look at the surrounding adults without a diagnosis of autism: someone constantly shakes his leg, someone taps his fingers on the table, someone draws scribbles during business negotiations, someone chews on a pencil or twists his hair around his finger. And the pathological attachment to a mobile phone and the desire to photograph everything that you are going to eat or drink - is this not stimming? By the way, abroad it is very noticeable that this kind of obsessive behavior is now typical only for Russians and Chinese. nine0003

The peculiarity of people with autism is that their brain much more often requires some special sensations that give them the opportunity to calm down, enjoy and control their mental state. Suppressing this need is quite difficult.

What to do with it? If the child's actions do not harm him or the people around him, give him the opportunity to "stimulate" - this is very important for him. Toys and special items called fidgets (from the English fidget - fidget, fidget), for example, can provide the necessary sensations for the child. Some can be chewed, others squeezed or stretched, and fidgets also include weighted toys that are placed on your lap. Toys must be selected individually, since the sensory needs of each child are specific. nine0003

What if an adult continues to need stimming?

Cynthia Kim, a woman who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 42, started the StimTastic online store. It sells items that autistic teens and adults can use. The store also has toys, but its main feature is fidget decorations made by autistic artists. This is not just jewelry, these are also items for steaming, for example, rings with rotating inserts; bracelets that can be folded and unfolded in different ways; chewable silicone pendants. Although the motto of the store is the phrase: autistics for autistics, a wide variety of people are interested in these items and decorations. nine0003

Cynthia is an author of books and she has her own blog. She writes that autistic children are often prevented from making stereotyped movements in public places, such as at school. And why? Who can interfere with this? Certainly not the child. According to Cynthia, stimming just happens to a person sometimes. And this is not at all something that autistic people choose for themselves and not something that can be easily stopped doing.

Seven tips for toilet training non-verbal children with autism


Psychologists on how to help a child with very limited communication successfully use the toilet

Source: Autism Speaks

We need help in accustoming to the toilet of our seven -year -old child. His speech is very limited.

Answered by psychologists Courtney Aponte and Daniel Mruzek from the University of Rochester Medical Center, USA, which is part of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network. nine0072

Great question! Many children with autism learn to use the toilet much later than their peers. This delay can be due to several reasons.

— Many children with autism have general mental retardation. This means that they learn new skills more slowly than other children.

— Many children with autism find it difficult to give up routine, in this case, diapering. In addition, there are relatively few opportunities for a child to practice using the toilet during the day, as the child only uses the toilet a limited number of times. nine0003

- Communication difficulties, such as your son's speech limitations, clearly complicate things for many children on the autism spectrum.

— It is quite common for children with autism to develop toilet anxiety.

For example, some children with communication difficulties may not be able to understand the question "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" Or they may not know how to answer it, or how to let an adult know that they need to go to the bathroom.

Even non-verbal communication can be difficult for children with autism. In our practice, parents often report that their children do not show the usual signs that they need to go to the toilet. For example, children do not cross their legs, do not hold their hands to the groin, and do not begin to fidget. In other words, some children "do it without warning" and it is difficult for parents to take the child to the toilet in time. nine0003

The good news is that there are several strategies that can help children with autism overcome toilet training problems. Here are our favorite strategies:

1. When it comes to communication, less is more!

Use simple and clear photos and images for a visual timetable or visual cues. Accompany visual cues with simple and clear phrases so that the child understands what you expect from him. For example, point to a picture of a toilet and say, “Time to go to the toilet,” instead of asking, “Do you want to go to the toilet right now?” nine0003

In our experience, the most effective approach is for parents to give verbal instruction along with visual support, and then immediately lead the child to the toilet without further discussion on this topic.

2. Change to regular underwear as soon as possible. Don't delay!

We understand that this step is intimidating for many parents. But in our experience it is very important. Let's face it - modern diapers are too absorbent. Children, as a result, do not feel urination at all. Switching to regular underwear helps the child begin to associate “gaffes” with the discomfort of wet underwear. nine0003

3. Don't make a fuss about "accidents"

If a child is dirty, don't comment, discuss, shame, coax, tease, or emphasize it at all. Otherwise, you risk reinforcing this behavior. Just calmly remind your child to use the bathroom next time. Then help the child change with minimal speech and attention. Save all your attention and fanfare for when the child uses or even tries to use the toilet. nine0003

4. Reward the desired behavior

Identify activities, toys or treats that will motivate your child. Save them for your child's success in toileting, and don't give them to your child at other times, just for success in using the toilet. Chances are your child will try harder to succeed if that is the only way they can get what they want.

It is very important to give the reward immediately after the child has used the toilet. Do not wait! The faster you provide the reward, the faster the child learns the skill. nine0003

And don't forget visual support. For example, if you are creating a picture toilet schedule, include a picture of the reward. Or use a two-image now-then board to illustrate the main idea: "Use the toilet first, then you'll get your reward." An example of such a board is below.

In the early stages of learning, reward your child for every little success—even a drop of urine down the toilet. This is a very important behavior that can only be formed during consecutive trips to the toilet. nine0003

5. Use rewards to communicate

Sometimes rewards help you tell your child what you want from them. This is especially important for children who have difficulty understanding speech and “first, then” rules.

For example, your child may not understand the words: "If you pee in the toilet, you can play on the tablet." Perhaps he will understand better if you increase his chances of success and receiving a reward. How to do it? Try this:

1. On the day you are both at home, encourage him to drink more than usual. This will increase the chances that when you take him to the toilet, he will actually urinate into the toilet. Reward every trickle! nine0003

2. Analyze patterns of "accidents" in a child. It is helpful to record the times and places of each such occurrence for several days. That way you can see the pattern. For example, you may notice that after a glass of water, milk, or another drink, the child usually pees in about half an hour. Use this information to guide him to the bathroom at the most appropriate time.

3. Remember that rewards must be immediate and consistent. This increases the chances that the child will understand the connection between urinating in the toilet and receiving a reward. nine0003

6. Develop your child's ability to communicate

It is very important that children with speech disabilities communicate the need to use the toilet. Once your child starts using the toilet when you bring him there, it's time to teach him how to communicate what he "needs" to you.

Consider using visual support, such as a picture of a toilet bowl. Such an image can be attached on a string to a belt or shirt buttonhole so that he can always easily point to it. If your child is using a communication device, you can include an appropriate image that, when clicked, will sound a request to go to the toilet. nine0003

Ideally, you want your child to use these prompts every time they have a full bladder. To do this, you can increase the intervals through which you take him to the toilet without prompting. In other words, you are giving him the opportunity to feel when his bladder is full and also to experience the relief of urinating in the toilet. As we all know, this relief is the "natural" reward for using the toilet.

Once your child begins to feel better that he has a full bladder or bowel, he will show more signs that he needs to go to the toilet. You may notice that he begins to sway, hug himself, vocalize more often, or otherwise show that he is ready to go to the toilet. nine0003

Sometimes the child will simply stare at you or towards the toilet. It is important for parents and teachers to learn to notice these “signs” and immediately prompt the child to use the chosen communication method, for example, give you a card with a picture of a toilet or press the appropriate button on a communication device. Be sure to reward your child for any attempts at communication.

7. Seek professional help if necessary

Parents can often benefit from a fresh look from a professional, especially if your efforts have come to a standstill. If, despite all efforts, the child still has not learned how to use the toilet, then help is needed - a behavioral therapist who specializes in autism, a doctor or another specialist.

Learn more