Studies have shown that certain toys that stimulate the senses, may help develop sensory awareness in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Over the years, many parents and grandparents have told us how much their child, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), loves our toys or that they love using our toys to soothe their child with ASD. One of our customers even left a review to let us know that the HEXBUG nano are her grandson’s favorite toys – “My great grandson just loves his hexbugs, he is autistic and takes quite a liking to his hexbugs that’s why I bought extras for him, thanks again!”
So, with it being World Autism Awareness Day and April being World Autism Month, we decided to do a little research and focus on what types of toys may be beneficial for children with autism. However, it’s important to note that no toy can compare with the benefits that love, attention, and support from family, friends, and society can have on the development of children with autism.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Some of you may be thinking – so what exactly is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? ASD is a developmental disability that is characterized by impaired social skills, repetitive behavior and communication difficulties that become apparent in childhood. Because of communication difficulties and mannerisms that can seem strange to the general population, autistic children often face social isolation at a young age. But ASD is a little more common than you might think. In fact, every 1 in 59 children in the U.S are affected by autism in some form (“Signs and Symptoms – Autism Society”, 2019).
ASD Children Play Differently
Children with ASD perceive, process and play differently than neurotypical children. Generally, children encounter sensory integration through everyday childhood activities and play. For autistic children, sensory integration doesn’t develop in the same way (Bottroff, 2008). Children with ASD can have difficulty regulating their responses to sensations, resulting in self-stimulation, such as arm flapping, to help them process sensory information and avoid overstimulation (Wolfberg, 2015).
Apart from interactive activities designed for children with ASD, individual play with toys that stimulate the senses and expose children to sensory input in a fun and safe way are great for engagement. Sensory Integration Intervention has been a popular choice for families who want to address these behaviors since it helps the brain organize sensory input and produce appropriate bodily responses (Pfeiffer, Koenig, Kinnealey, Sheppard & Henderson, 2011).
Recently, the HEXBUG team spoke to a highly structured classroom specialist, Mrs. Kefayati, who gave her endorsement to sensory toys for children with Autism. She said that “anything that will allow them to feel sensory input in a specific and safe environment [is good for them]. Allowing them to stim (regulate their own environment) in an appropriate way.”
Toys That Can Help Stimulate Sensory Play
So what are some of the characteristics of toys that can help develop sensory skills? Experts have been able to make some suggestions:
- Toys that are highly tactile and stimulating to the senses.
- Vibration movement has been theorized to help Autistic children manage behaviors, act as a calming tool, and help improve verbal and social responses (Bressel, Gibbons & Samaha, 2011) (Shabani et al., 2002).
- Toys that introduce concrete concepts and clear instructions that aren’t open to interpretation give structure that eliminate confusion and stress (Mrs. Kefayati, Highly Structured Classroom Specialist).
If you’re already familiar with HEXBUG products, you may be thinking what we thought when we read this – “that sounds kind of like a nano.” Several of our toys use the same vibration technology used by the nano, like the Cuddlebots or nano Junior. Both Cuddlebots and nano Junior are colorful robots that move using the same nano vibration technology, but both product lines are designed specifically for toddlers. This makes them a safe product for children affected by ASD that fall in a variety of age ranges.
But something else caught our attention from that list. Several of our VEX Robotics products, like the VEX ball machines, fall under the category of the last bullet on the list. To make the cranks move, there’s only one way to put it together for a successful robot. Mrs. Kefayati believes that structured toys like this may be beneficial to children with ASD.
The Bottom Line
While we find all of this data interesting and it’s inspiring to think that our toys could provide developmental assistance to a group of children that may need some extra help, we are dedicated to giving children of all shapes, sizes, levels, and backgrounds a positive experience through STEM. By creating toys that engage children, we hope to develop a life-long love of robotics and all STEM activities no matter the child.
Do you have a tip or story of your own to share? Do you know someone with kids who have autism who are HEXBUG fans? We’d love to hear from you! Share your tips or stories in the comments below.
Bottroff, V. (2008). Book Review: Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Different Sensory Experiences—Different Perceptual Worlds. Journal Of Policy And Practice In Intellectual Disabilities, 5(2), 145-145. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-1130.2008.00164.x
Bressel, E., Gibbons, M., & Samaha, A. (2011). Effect of whole body vibration on stereotypy of young children with autism. Case Reports, 2011(apr19 1), bcr0220113834-bcr0220113834. doi: 10.1136/bcr.02.2011.3834
Pfeiffer, B., Koenig, K., Kinnealey, M., Sheppard, M., & Henderson, L. (2011). Effectiveness of Sensory Integration Interventions in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Study. American Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 65(1), 76-85. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2011.09205
Shabani, D., Katz, R., Wilder, D., Beauchamp, K., Taylor, C., & Fischer, K. (2002). Increasing social initiations in children with autism: effects of a tactile prompt. Journal Of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35(1), 79-83. doi: 10.1901/jaba.2002.35-79
Signs and Symptoms – Autism Society. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/symptoms/
Wolfberg, P. (2015). Play and Imagination in Children with Autism. New York: Teachers College Press.
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