The BEST Autism Toys and How To Use Them

Today Kelsey and I talk about a frequently asked question: What are the best toys for my autistic child? We go into some great toys as well as strategic ways to structure play to build joint attention as well as language and social skills.

Best Toys for Children with Autism

As always, start with assessment. Play and social skills are built-in pieces of our digital assessment, but you don’t have to stop there. A great way to assess your child is through observation. What kinds of leisure activities bring them joy? What activities are they drawn to? Dumping? Sorting? Peekaboo? You can pick toys and tailor joint activities to match up with these already preferred methods of play to make them engaging and language rich. Toys like potato heads, modified shoebox games, inset puzzles, magna doodles, and fake food are ones that you can make more fun with adult involvement.

Cause and Effect Toys for Autism

Cause and effect toys are great because they often have a purpose that autistic children may find more engaging and easier to repeat or imitate. These are toys like the ball and hammer game, the coin pig, games with magnets, peekaboo toys like Jack in the Box, wind up toys, and even games surrounding magnet blocks or Legos where you knock them down for a big crash!

How to Play with a Nonverbal Autistic Child

The truth is that it is less about the toy itself and more about HOW you play with it. The key is to ALWAYS make the toy more fun with adult involvement. You want the child to use the toy in a functional, language rich way. Make it fun, make it silly, and use the one word three times to pair up language as much as possible. Adding bubbles to any activity can add language and excitement! When you stay engaged in a toy and game together, you create a desire for play and more chances for language, even requesting things like “again” and “more”.

During our conversation, we talk about hands on toys like Play-Doh and the potential for creation and language, as well as getting prepared for pretend play! You might introduce a play kitchen or play sink (Kelsey shares a great functional one), model activities your child already sees you do, and introduce small components at a time! With autistic children, it’s likely that natural play is not just going to start spontaneously. So keep your play area organized and save toys like the ones mentioned in today’s episode for use only with you, another adult, or an older sibling!

How can we help? Fill out our survey at and we can get in touch with the services we have available that will be best for you and your family!

The BEST Autism Toys and How To Use Them


  • The best toys for children with autism.
  • The best cause and effect toys.
  • How to play with a nonverbal autistic child.
  • How to build language and joint attention through play?
  • How to make toys MORE fun with a parent.
  • How to prepare your child for pretend play.


Kelsey G. – Turn Autism Around Podcast Transcript

Transcript for Podcast Episode: 235

The BEST Autism Toys and How To Use Them

Hosted by: Mary Barbera

Guest: Kelsey G.

Mary: This is the Turn Autism Around Podcast Episode number 235. I'm your host, Dr. Mary Barbera. And today we are talking all about toys. And whether you're a parent or professional, I'm sure you've got loads of toys, loads of missing parts, kids who probably have poor play skills, and we're addressing all that today. Kelsey and I are both on the show. We are showing toys, but even if you're listening, it's really not about the toys. It's about the procedure you use. And towards the end of the show, Kelsey shows me some toys that I literally have never seen before that she uses all the time. So you're going to want to stay till the end. And also, we have something brand new. We have a survey to figure out what you need. And then we will let you know if we have anything in our program services courses that might help you. So if you go to, you can fill out a five minute survey and we will get in touch with you and let you know if there's something specific that might help you and your child or clients get to the next level. So let's get to this really great episode on autism and Toys.

Intro: Welcome to the Turn Autism Around podcast. For both parents and professionals in the autism world who want to turn things around, be less stressed and lead happier lives. And now your host, Autism mom, behavior analyst and bestselling author, Dr. Mary Barbera.

Mary: Okay, Kelsey, today we are talking all about toys for kids with autism and toddlers showing signs. And I know you and I both gathered some toys together. So we're surrounded by toys. Hopefully we won't be too loud in the microphone. So thanks for joining me today, Kelsey, and gathering your toys.

Kelsey: Yes, thanks for having me. It's going to be a fun episode. Some of these toys I haven't pulled out in a while. Yeah.

Mary: Me too. Okay. So for those of you listening to the podcast and not watching it, this may be a good one to actually watch. You can always watch the podcast on my website. This is going to be episode 235. So if you want to see what we're doing, but we're going to try hard to make it interesting. Even if you're driving in a car or running or whatever you're doing while you're listening. We're going to know that you can go to that link and you can find in the show notes what these toys look like and how to buy them. But, you know, it's not specifically about which toy to buy, it's which type of toy to buy. And what to focus on is really what we're getting out of here. So don't get too concerned that we're going to give you this whole list of things to buy because it really isn't about buying new toys. It's about using the right toys, depending on your child's or client's abilities. So that's the first point I want to make, is when you say, you know, what toys should I get? I have a four year old or I have an eight year old or I have a two year old with autism. We need to look at not their chronological or real age. We need to look at their language ability and their developmental age. So that's usually a lot lower. I know for my son, Lucas, when he was three years old, he got scores that he was like in the 9 to 12 month level for expressive language and maybe the 12 to 18 month level for receptive language. And those scores are kind of jarring, you know, when you get scores like that, even for older kids who are still scoring in the younger range, it kind of is disheartening. But we need to, you know, eyes wide open and we need to pick skills, pick toys that are appropriate given their developmental or language ability when you are, you know, 9 to 8 month level, you know, think about those kinds of toys. So a lot of the toys we're going to show are kind of baby toys. They're infant and toddler toys, maybe preschool toys. And we can't expect kids to have pretend play skills, sharing abilities, turn taking abilities like board games until they can talk or communicate. They can follow directions, they can touch body parts. There's so much language and joint attention. And so a lot of times we need to start with what we always wanted to start with in a self. No matter what skill we're talking about. And lucky for you all is that I created it last year. In 2022, I created a digital assessment that's 10 minutes long that will give you scores in three areas. We'll give you scores and self-care. And daily activities like eating, sleeping, grooming, dressing and then give you scores and language and learning skills. A little tiny piece of the language learning skills is social skills and imitation and things like that, which are super important, as is language. I think people underestimate the importance of language when we're talking about social skills or play skills. And then the third score you get when you take the digital assessment is problem behaviors, which can often be in the mix. When we're talking about trying to have kids play with toys, they might have problem behaviors because they might want to play with toys a certain way. They might not want to share, they might not have any interest. They might have interest in the baby toys, but not the toys that are appropriate to their age. So all in all, play and toys and social skills are just one piece of this whole big, you know, circular situation we have going on. So cause and effect, toys are really where we want to start. Kelsey, do you have anything to add about what I just said?

Kelsey: Yeah, for assessment, for the assessment piece. In addition to doing the digital assessment, which you should absolutely do. One of my favorite ways to assess toys is kind of following a child and seeing what they're doing when you're not trying to play with them. Maybe they're doing a lot of dumping things and we might get toys where we could dump them. They might be doing a lot of taking apart or putting together, and so we might get toys like that. We also, when we do give them a new toy, say we just give them this and no parts and maybe they start taking it apart. We would know when we introduced this toy. Okay, maybe part of our play with this is going to be first putting it together before we put a ball down it. And so a lot of watching with Toy play just to see what's reinforcing to the child before we jump too far into this is how you play with the toy and you must play with it this way because the most important thing to remember is play is supposed to be enjoyable.

Mary: Right. Now, that's an excellent point. And also along the same lines is to have a couple different toys out and see which one they pick. Because I recently did a keynote presentation in Minnesota for Finding Cooper's voice, and I did ten lessons. Ten key lessons. And my number one lesson was choices lead to happiness. And so if you have, you know, this toy versus this toy and the child even reaches for toy A or toy B, you know, that's a preference as beginning a preference assessment. And so it's a really good thing to do if you go into a doctor's office. They probably don't have any toys in doctor's offices anymore, but when my kids were little, they did. Post COVID, they probably locked all that down. But if you go into a playroom, whether it's at somebody's house or in an office, you can also see what kind of toys really are best to start with. But the thing that we really want to start with, almost always, if it's a child with very little language, we have more assessments in our online courses, like a language sample and videos and, you know, assessing if they're at daycare or preschool or what their expectations are. I mean, there's more to it. But I think the number one type of toys we are promoting in our courses is cause and effect toys to start, because even little kids and I should have looked up the age when cause and effect really start. But it's before age one where you know like putting things in and they disappear, making balls go down a ramp, making things kind of disappear is really where most play with toys starts. So let's talk about cause and effect toys. Kelsey, Do you have a cause and effect toy there that you can show and tell?

Kelsey: Yeah, I do. Let's do the hammer and balls. So the one thing with cause and effect toys that I also like is they have a purpose giving kids who don't necessarily have the skills or imitation skills yet to copy you or to model what you're doing with toys. They may not have any ideas, when there's a purpose and there's this repetitive motion that's a lot easier to learn. So this is called Ballbo. You can get the same thing in the store with just balls and a hammer, hammer and ball toy if you search it on Google. And basically all I'm holding is a hammer and I have some balls in my head. I hit the ball, it disappeared. It goes down a little ramp and out it comes. And that's a lot of fun. There's normally four balls. It's awesome. And you hit it again and it seems like we can pair up language with cause and effect toys easily and we'll probably get into more of that later. But ball, ball, ball. We put it back in the ball and we put it back in and then we have our hammer and we can say, Oh, hit it. And it's just really basic. So that's one example of a cause and effect toy other things, even for even really young kids, even though this is an older toy, is you can play a form of peekaboo because that's a really young baby game, but it's a cause and effect game, kind of like a jack in the box where you hide things and you go, Oh, knock, knock open. It's a cow, cow and then we play peekaboo type things. So anything where there's something, there's an action where we can be excited and then there's a product that can help kids, and then we can also build a request from that if they want more of it.

How to Play with a Child with Autism

Mary: Right, right. So a lot of people, when they think of toys and play and social skills, they think of the natural environment. This should just happen by, you know, osmosis. And we buy a toy farm and a toy kitchen and everything goes. It should just be natural. But for a lot of kids with autism, they really need to build joint attention, skills, cooperation, skills, language skills and requesting or manding skills before they can do any kind of play with toys, appropriate play with toys. Kids tend to have autism. And I know I'm generalizing here, but kids with autism who don't have language skills where a lot of language skills, we're talking about kids who don't talk, who talk in short phrases, or maybe even they're talking, you know, in little sentences, but they're, you know, on certain subjects, very wrote those kids. And that's a wide range of kids in terms of age and ability level. And even within that, those parameters these kids really need, in my opinion, a lot of table time, a lot of instructor time, whether that's a parent sitting down with a child at a table or on the floor, especially if you've got a bigger toy like we have big toys that you sit on the floor. But toys with parts are really important when you're talking about trying to pair the toys, trying to get the child requesting. One of my favorite toys to use at the table is Potato Head. I used to call a mr. Potato Head, but now he's just potato head, he or she. And one of the reasons I really like Potato Head is we can keep all the parts. I have a big bin of the parts. You can also keep them in a plastic baggie. All the parts should need to be kept together. This is not the kind of toy I would just have laying around a playroom for a child that, like I describe little to no language or talking and little phrases. But not on Age level. Have the language ability of a 1 to 5 year old, whether you are two, whether you're 12 doesn't matter. You have the language ability of a 1 to 5 year old. These kinds of techniques will work. So the potato head, you know, shoes are really easy or feet are easy to say. You get that build then eyes, nose, mouths, teeth. Those are all one syllable words, which we have covered a lot, is that kids really need to talk in very short syllable words. So we don't talk about length of utterance in terms of words. We talk in terms of syllable length within the words. We had Dr. Barbara Esh on the show recently, and she's the queen, she's an SLP and BCBA D and she's the queen of teaching me a lot of this stuff about syllables within words. So you want to start out at the child's not talking or not talking well or having articulation problems. We want to start out with 1 to 2 syllable words. The other nice thing about potato head's ear. The sign for body parts is touching the nose for the nose and the ear for the ear. And you can get some good cooperation and not everybody's going to love Potato Head right from the start. So we're going to have to do a really good job of pairing this up. And I know once I build a Potato Head with a child and this isn't a fully built one, but let's just say he's fully built, he's got his hat and everything and his arms on, then we might do things like jump, Let's make him jump. Oh, he's tired. He's going to nap. You know, we could cover him with a blanket. We can pretend to sleep ourselves. Always thirsty. Let's give potato heads a drink, you know, and make it fun, make it silly. Also have the child help you get the parts back in the bag. And this can be a really great, you know, 15 minute little lesson about potato head but it's got to be fun. It's got to be reinforcing. I know I've gone to a client's house in the past and they've been like, Oh, she doesn't like Potato Head anymore. Well, we have to make her like a potato head because potato heads are super important. It's even important for older kids who aren't talking yet because labeling body parts, touching body parts is so important. Or telling a parent that they are in pain for indicating what hurts. And that's a complicated process. But the child doesn't know his body parts can't touch them or label them. That's a big concern to me. So Potato Head is I guess it's kind of a cause and effect toy, but that's a little bit of a stretch, I guess.

Toys for Autism

Kelsey: Yeah. One toy that is a cause and effect and a toy with parts is one of our favorite coin pigs. And coin pig can be done with no sound. For kids who might not like it and won't pick, it can be done with sound. And so you can pick. I don't even know. But anyway. But anyway. Because when you push his nose, he plays songs too. So that can be fun to practice pointing.

Mary: I have a coin pig too.

Kelsey: So that can be fun to practice pointing. But when you have lots of parts, it's important. When you're playing, you want to make the toy. And we're going to get into this. One of the ways to pair up batteries to make the toy more fun with you than without you. Because one thing with kids with autism or those showing signs is they often will find a way to play with this toy on their own. They might line up the coins. They might line up. And that's all fun and good. It's good to have safe things to do. But we want a lot of the main chunk of our toys to be interactive and to be more fun with a person than without. So right now I'm holding all the pieces. I don't just give the child ten pieces and talk to them while they're playing with them. I have all the pieces and I give and I make silly noises or I say mmmm or ahhhh and then I can give it to them. And then when you put them it disappears and it's actually all in here. And so some kids like to shake in it. Some kids just like to open the door and take it out. But there's lots of parts. So that makes this game long and it also makes the child continue to look at you, continue to come to you. And the more we have interaction with the child, the more teaching we can do, even if it doesn't look like teaching. Any interaction we have with a child who tends to shy away potentially from interaction is good.

Mary: And I think that the coin pig toy is one of the best. You can also pair for a child who's not saying anything or maybe they're saying ahh and bah or baba mama. We compare those coins and say, Mama or ma, ma, ma. Use the one word up to three times strategy and then give the child the coin. Whether they say anything or not. Have them put it in and go back. So that would be, you know, the coin pig. I would have that in a bin. I would have a potato head and his parts, either in the parts like a baggie or bin. I would have boys that you're going to work on together with an adult in a big box or closet or a rolling cart with a bin on top. Because what you don't want to do is just have the child, like Kelsey said, play with it their own way, which is not functional, it's not language enriched, and there's no joint attention. And then we kind of have to repair it. And, you know, we don't want it to be negative. We want the child to be introduced to these toys and then to practice with an adult or even an older sibling to make it more language. And I think the language rich part is big. And plus we're constantly working on trying to get the child to imitate, which is such an important skill when we're talking about play and toys. Yeah. So to pair up table time and the pair up toys, you know, because these things might be neutral, like it might be fun to turn on those, those, you know, the pig music and stuff that might help pair it up. But like a toy, like a potato head, you know, it's probably going to be pretty neutral. So we have to be really careful the way we pair this up. But I think bubbles are great. Well, if we consider bubbles a toy, but I would always have bubbles. Always try to pair up bubbles. There's a lot of language enrichment. The child could learn to blow, too. There's also, like things like bubble guns and bubble wands and other bubble related things that you can buy or pair up. I think bubbles are a great idea. Another toy that is great for a table or pairing up or even a group activity is Play-Doh. And play-doh sets where you have, you know, a rolling thing and some some cookie cutter fish and a car, different color, Play-Doh. Scissors to cut the Play-Doh. I find that Play-Doh is an excellent, excellent toy.

Kelsey: Yeah. And the really cool thing about Play-Doh, as you can get cookie cutters of all different shapes, like a car, a dog, and now you're pairing up. Oh, car and dog. And these one syllable words again and you can make it for the child. And that's and that's super fun.

Mary: Yeah. So you also wind up with toys there. Kelsey, you wanna show them.

Kelsey: I do have some wind up toys. So the fun thing about wind up toys is they're quite hard for young kids to use, which meets our requirement of toys. Have to be more fun with them without you or unusable without you. So they need you. So that's a positive and they're super fun. I could only find Halloween ones for some reason, so I have a little zombie. If you can find ones like cats or cars or ones that you can, the child can ask for them on their own. I don't know what I would call this one on, but. But Monster. Monster. And you just turn them. And I don't know if they'll work on my hand, but often they'll walk, they'll flip, they'll do lots of fun things and then, you know, again. And then we can and then we can do it again. And it's a really good way. And so that's short on time. If we are working on other skills and using this as reinforcement, we never need to take the toy away. It just naturally stops and then they need us again and we're in a good teaching position. So wind up toys are so much fun. You can get them at the dollar store, you can get fancier ones online, but wind up toys are a ton of fun. Yeah. One question we get a lot before you jump into another toy is what if you know my child won't play with any toy or won't engage or cry when I try to play with them? Could that be a sign that maybe you're putting too many demands or.

Mary: Yeah, yeah. And I would just go back to them like your point earlier, look for what they do. Like if they, if they rock, if they see them with their hands in front of their face. So rocking. Okay, we could get a rocking chair, we could rock them on a big exercise ball, you know, think about gross motor play too. Like outside play, which we're not covering today, but, you know, physical kind of play, like row, row, row, your boat while they're sitting in a chair would mimic that rocking motion and then say hands in front of their face visually or lining things up. So visually, if they're putting their hands in front of their face, they might like those things where you turn them over and let them.

Kelsey: I go like, yeah, I have some actually I don't have. Yeah, but they're like timers, they're technically timers and they flip them and all the colors kind of make things stand.

Mary: Yeah, like they might like that kind of thing. They might like if they line things up, they might like puzzles that go in a certain order, like if they like letters. So I think when I hear my child doesn't want any reinforcement, doesn't like anything, I think we just have to assess a little bit better. We can start with, yeah, maybe Potato Head's not going to be reinforcing, but maybe they like I remember this one child. I said to the mom, you know, she was like a very hard child to find reinforcers for, especially at the table. And I said, okay, take the table away, Take any restrictions away. If you create a great day for her, where would you go? What would you do? And she's like, She loves roller coasters. And so it was like, well, while we can't go to a roller coaster every day, you know, but we Googled on YouTube and we found a bunch of roller coaster videos so we could have an iPad or a computer at the table or a TV with a remote on, and we could play YouTube videos on roller coasters. So what does roller coasters have to do with potato heads? I had nothing except for the roller coaster movie. It is really the reinforcer. And this building, the potato head and everything is kind of work at this point. Eventually we're going to pair it so much that the potato head becomes more reinforcing and the natural reinforcer. So I would say if they don't want to play with any toys we still need, I'm a big proponent of five reinforcers at the table or the work area. Don't just stick with one. And I think we recently started finishing up by the time this airs, the podcast will have finished our first cohort of Train the Trainer, and we've watched videos, collected videos, done rubrics on the videos. And I'd say the number one thing missing from a lot of the videos is enough reinforcers at the table. And so I'm a big proponent of having bubbles, roller coasters on video, wind up toys, a couple of edibles, and a drink. You know, we want to make this really fun and we don't want to say anything is work even for academic work. We want learning to be fun no matter if it's a toy or academic work.

Kelsey: Yeah. And I think that's a big mistake. A lot of people think it's a toy, it's reinforcing, it's fun. And that might not be the case, but it doesn't mean it can't get there. A lot of kids with autism are those showing signs that are quite rigid. And so a lot of the time it just takes exposure and a lot of introducing and showing them that it can be fun. But in order to get there, you might have to keep their favorite show playing or play their favorite songs or blow bubbles while you're showing them.

Mary: Yeah, Yeah. All right. Let's talk about two more toys that I like at the table, the other toys are not necessarily at the table only, but in that puzzles are great animals, vehicles. I have shapes here. Keep all the parts in a baggie. We even have an organization system where we label the baggie puzzle one, and then on the back of the puzzle, we put a sticker with number one. So that way we can go with number one puzzle and we can grab the bag in order, you know, be as organized as possible. Because I don't know about you. Like I wasn't a behavior analyst when I was a mom to two little kids. And how many puzzles? Actually, we had all the parts like very few. It was always a mess. So really keep your puzzles. And the puzzles need to be language enriched. So it's a star. Star Circle don't want to start with colors and shapes and numbers and and letters necessarily, unless the child is very reinforced by these things. And you definitely want to be very careful with colors because we don't want to teach it too early. So, yeah, I like in set puzzles, have a variety, have at least five inset puzzles, and you might say, Oh, but my child already builds like small jigsaw puzzle. So this is too babyish. Not so fast. Because remember, everything we're doing is language enriched and cooperative is, you know, eventually maybe maybe the jigsaw puzzles are independent free play. And these are more with an adult until the child can set. I mean, if the child can say, you know, triangle and heart and. You know, maybe it is too babyish, but don't start with the premise that it's too babyish unless your child is talking and talking. Very warm.

Kelsey: Friendly is nine now and he still loves insect puzzles. We use them, we hide them. We've taught him prepositions with them, how to find the pieces. We've taught him how to sort by category with puzzles. You know, there's just so many ways you can use a good puzzle. So it's one of the best things to do.

Mary: Keep them organized so you don't lose the parts because that's okay. And then another toy that I really like is a magnet doodle. I have done a lot of work with, like, I draw a circle and if I can pair circle, circle, if I can get the child to say circle, that's awesome. And then I make eyes. So I say his eyes and then I draw the eyes. Eyes so I can draw Smiley. This magna doodle has some stamper, so dot, dot, dot that, you know, it's great for imitation language enrichment. We can draw a house with a roof, we can do parts, we can have the child learn to draw, which is really a great skill. We can have letters, numbers, we can write the child's name. There's so many things we can do. We can say, you know, Old Mcdonald had a farm and then draw eiei oh so many things you can do with a magnet. You also recommend a magna doodle.

Kelsey: So I know one toy that I'll share that pretty much every kid I've worked with has loved. We don't talk about that much because it's kind of an open ended toy that maybe an older learner might play with. An older learner can, but they're magnet blocks. I like these ones that are full because they're easy to stack as towers and they don't fall down. And you're not necessarily building anything like blocks. They're blocks, but they're magnets

Mary: Things that can make into cubes and like Legos. But they're magnet.

Kelsey: Yeah. And they're really easy for kids who have fine motor issues. They just pop on. And the funny thing is, they also just break really easily. So we build a nice little tower that we can, you know, put things in as well. Now this is a box. We can put our wind up Toy in it right now he's stuck and then you can just. I'm not going to crash it because it will make a noise. But you can crash it. Oh, no, crash. Let's build it again. And kids like to line them up and just hold them. And so they're an older kid toy where you can pretend to play, but you can also just click and swing them together. And they're very visually stimulating for kids who like to put things in front of their faces and you can crash with them or build your car. Yeah, I like the ones that are filled. You can get ones that just have magnets around the square and they are empty in the middle. The ones that are full are much sturdier. Cool. Yeah. So those are some of my favorites.

Preparing an Autistic Child for Pretend Play

Mary: So let's move into real quick how to get a child ready for a more pretend kind of play. So Kelsey's got a sink there, right? Actually filled with water. And so the child could, you know. Wash the dishes and that sort of thing. And you may want to talk, Kelsey, because I don't think yeah.

Kelsey: So I'm hoping I'm holding up the sink, which is basically just a box and you put water in it and you can turn the faucet on and off. It works like a real faucet. It comes with cups and plates and stuff. So we can actually one of the first pretend play skills that that kids do developmentally is do a scene that happens in their everyday life, whether it's eating or drinking or dishes, because I'm sure they see mom and dad or their caregivers doing dishes. And the nice thing about this is it has water, just a little bit of water play. And one of the skills Mary's probably going to talk about now is, when you're starting with pretend play, one of the most important skills is imitation. And so before jumping into something like that, what would they need to teach very much?

Mary: Well and just be familiar with item names, you know, like what is a plate or a spoon? Because one of the most important skills in addition to imitation is requesting. So we want to be building the skills to request a spoon, to request a drink, to label a cup, to ask for the red cup eventually versus the blue cup and that sort of thing. So that's called a wash up kitchen. And who makes that just so I mean.

Kelsey: This one's by puzzle toys, but if you just type pretend sink in on Google or Amazon, I think yeah, a lot of companies make it.

Mary: I think I saw it on love every. Yeah I think sink like that too so I think in preparation like yes get a doll house, get a farm but don't have it just laying around don't have the parts laying around for the child to chew on or to lose or to come up with some ritual that makes the toy just kind of not functional. So what I like to do. At the table actually are those of you who have watched or listened to me in the past. No, I am a big fan of the table and I'm also a big fan of a shoe box, a shoe box program, usually with a small slit into it for pictures of mommy, daddy, you know, reinforcers. But you can also take a box, a shoe box here. I have a shoe box here with a big hole in it, or an oatmeal container with a big hole in it. And then we can start to pair. You know, I have an apple, a knife, and I played all pretend plasticky things. So I compare the words Apple. Apple. So a 3D item and the child and put it in cause and effect in the shoe box knife, knife. And I probably should have a spoon because that's what we're going to be giving a child first. Not a knife but a knife. So plate you can do the same thing with your toy animals again once they go in the box. And you know, if that's going to be kind of what you're working on now, that's fine to keep them in the box. Just don't have them scatter. Here's a horse, play horse. A pig. Pig. Remember, one syllable, two syllable words are the best. If I have a choice between a pig and a I don't even know if this is a tiger or a Jaguar. Like, we don't want to teach kids harder words before they go with really easy words. Dog, cat, pig, horse, cow. Those are all good words. Here's a little fake food. And it's like French fries. Hamburger. Popcorn. Little drink cup. So when we think of if you have these kinds of things laying around, you may want to bag them up into bags, get a different shoe box, cut a bigger slit into it, or an oatmeal container, and start paring that up. Not to say that we can't take the fake food over by your toy kitchen. And also. Play with the child, pretend play. It's just usually from from my experience. Now we're working on 25 years since Lucas started to show signs of autism. So in my experience, kids need more than just a little. Like, put everything out. Like, they're not going to learn social skills, language skills without some direct teaching. And a lot of times that's going to involve many trials of saying the word pig or many trials of. You know, building potato head. It's not just going to be like you buy it and then everything happens. So I think that is a good point to make is like you don't have to go out and buy all this stuff. You know, this look around your house. Ask your neighbors or friends if they have, you know, toddlers or preschoolers and they're getting rid of of toys, go to yard sales. The goodwill around my house, I've gotten some really good things. Go on mommies groups and free market sites. And when in doubt, look for these kind of toys. It doesn't have to be exact. You know, we've worked with people from over 100 countries in our online courses. So sometimes like they can get potato head or they can get, you know, okay, just use a magna doodle. Oh, you don't have a magnet at all. Use a piece of paper. You know, use the things that you have. And it should, you know, we just don't want to expect a child to have pretend play, to have cooperative turn taking to be able to play board games without these basic autism toy skills.

Kelsey: Yeah and I would agree with that Mary and and making sure you don't put too many demands on toys and do this, do this, do this, do this and kind of see you know, one of the reasons I originally got magna blocks because Brantley loves to break things just he loves it and it was away like and that was one of the first things he imitated was knocking things down like he wouldn't imitate anything. I remember and I remember like he'll never imitate, but he would knock things down. And so finding things that your child does and starting there with imitation or with all these skills and finding toys that can fulfill the need of maybe something they're doing that you don't love. Yeah, Yeah.

Mary: So we have other shows. We have a video blog on imitation We can link in the show notes. We have a previous show on social skills so we can link a couple of those shows, but I don't think we're going to link each toy because we've shown so many toys. But also when your point about the magnet blocks, you know, they are similar to Legos and like if your child likes Legos, your child likes little Legos versus big Legos. Yeah. I mean, you have to think about choking hazards and all that stuff. But Lego is one of the best toys for all ages because they make big Lego and then multiply, you know, building your own, which is a great skill. And one of my clients, I mean, he was only six or seven and he was building Lego sets for a 12 year old, you know what I mean? But he was very impaired language wise. But that's a great toy to pair up, make sure he's safe, and then that's a leisure activity. Also, Lucas does puzzles as a leisure activity like jigsaw puzzles, 250 piece puzzles, 500 piece puzzles. In our keynote presentation, I showed a picture of him doing a puzzle, and we got this idea from one of my cousins, not in the autism world, but Shutterfly and places that make photos. You can send in a photo and they make a jigsaw puzzle out of it. So that's a great idea too, for those leisure activities with toys. So it's a process. Over the years your child or clients will change and their interests will hopefully grow. And, you know, we're constantly looking for toys that we can engage with and toys that they're safe that they're happy with that can become leisure activities.

Kelsey: Yeah, Yeah. I think those are all really good points. And a good way to wrap up this episode on what to play with.

Mary: It turns out to be one of our longer ones.

Kelsey: And actually, Mary, we do have some of these toys linked at

Mary: Okay cool. Yeah we have some of those toys that are excellent. All right. Well, we're going to wrap it up. Hopefully you all found that to be exciting happen over to watch and to get all the resources and I'll see you right here next time next week if you're a parent or professional and I have listened to this whole podcast episode and perhaps many of the podcast episodes, I am here to tell you that your next best step is to most likely join our online course and community. We have a course now for toddlers and preschoolers. We also have a course to help older school aged children who are still struggling with talking tantrums, picky eating, sleeping, potty training and so much more. The courses have very similar modules, very similar themes, but different case studies, different examples, different success stories. It is 60 days access in eight weeks. You can literally turn things around for your family or at your school, in homes, helping families. Either way, it's an amazing community filled with parents and professionals from over 100 countries. I hope you check out all the details at and I hope to see your introduction in our community today.