Neurodiverse individuals may have sensory sensitivities. They may manifest as increased (hypersensitive) or decreased (hyposensitive) reactions to sensory aspects of the environment. Some examples may include adverse responses to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, and visual fascination with or agitation when exposed to lights or movement.
Too much sensory stimulation for a hypersensitive person may lead to feelings of stress, discomfort, and anxiety. Contrastingly, hyposensitive people may actively seek out these sensations. This may look like running around or spinning in circles, banging objects together, or chewing on things that aren’t edible.
Sensory toys can be used to either calm hypersensitive people down by giving them something to focus their attention on and distract them from overwhelming elements in the environment, or can provide hyposensitive people with the stimulation that they’re seeking.
We’ve curated a list of 10 sensory toys that your kids might like, whether they’ve never used sensory toys before or if it’s something they already love.
Note: Human Health is not affiliated with any of the below products or organizations and does not receive any reimbursement from purchases made using these links.
This one is a classic for a reason – the Fidget Cube has something for everyone. On each of it’s 6 sides, the plastic cube has a different sensory experience to cater to any sensitivity. These include a set of spinning cogs, a rolling metal ball, a flippable switch with a satisfying ‘click’ sound, 5 pressable buttons (some of which are silent), a rotating disk, a joystick, and a meditative thumb groove.
Janja B, a reviewer with ADHD, exclaims that “My cube is never leaving my side, I can fidget in stealth mode (almost all cube features can be used silently) or I can clickety-click when I find the sound comforting. I have sensory issues accompanied with ADD and this is what I needed all along!”
Slime has become a very popular choice amongst kids recently, and as a result the available varieties have quickly expanded. You can now get slime in almost any texture and color imaginable, to appease a wide variety of sensory needs. Some examples include jelly slimes, stretchy slimes, fluffy slimes and crunchy slimes. If you’re looking for a recommendation, Floofyslimes is a neurodivergent-owned and run family business, that sells slimes in many colors and textures.
Lesa, a mom to an Autistic child, says that “Playing with slime sometimes saves our day around here when meltdowns are looming!”
The fuzzy worm is both a sensory toy and a magic trick in one. A clear string attached to the worm’s nose means the worm can ‘crawl’ over your hand, ‘twirl’ in a drinking glass and around other objects, if tied to something like a shirt button. Its soft and furry texture is an added sensory bonus, not to mention how cute they look. They’re widely available in many colors.
Pop-its are another sensory toy that have risen in popularity in recent years. Their soft rubbery texture and the soothing sensation of popping bubbles makes them an easy pick. They’re now available in almost any shape and color you can think of. Some of our favorites include a pop-it wristband you can take on-the-go, this octopus pop-it that’s also reversible (2-in-1!), and this adorable rainbow cat pop-it.
Special education teacher Sarah A Birch reviewed a pop-it online, explaining that “My students who struggle with attention and focus love these! They are able to quietly play with these while listening to read alouds and following along [during] group instruction.”
Similar to the fuzzy worm, the sensory slug is a wiggly creature. However, a sensory slug is usually made out of plastic, so it can provide a different sensory experience than its furry worm counterpart. They also make satisfying ASMR clicking sounds when the rings that make up their body move around.
Sarah Etame bought a sensory slug for her daughter and in a review stated that “My daughter is in love with her slug and takes him everywhere. Helps her focus on homework with her ADHD.”
3D Printcess is a small business that sells 3D-printed sensory slugs which even have magnets in their heads, to which you can add accessories like hats and glasses. Each slug up for adoption also comes with a ‘friendship certificate’.
Depending on your needs, there are different types of stress balls to suit a range of situations. Some have small spheres and air inside that make a satisfying sound when squeezed, and others contain a gel or slime, ensuring a quiet yet still stimulating textural experience. Some stress balls also have multiple layers, so that when squeezed, the material of the ball will ‘pop out’ of the cover, which can be both visually and texturally appealing. They also come in many shapes – including unicorns, cats, and even dumplings.
These toys are crazily calming, with their smooth spinning mechanism and often colorful style. One flick of the finger sets it in motion, and the repetitive movement can be both stimulating or relaxing. Some of them even light-up for an enhanced visual effect, or double as pop-its for multiple levels of stimulation.
Nicholas Stone posted online in support of using Fidget spinners: ”I have ASD and find them helpful. Fidget spinners are absorbing, calming and fun to play with.”
These captivating magnetic spheres scratch both the sensory satisfaction and imaginative creativity cravings. They ‘stick’ together in a way that allows you to string them out and wrap them around your finger, or build a plethora of shapes and structures – including cubes, a ferris wheel, a pyramid, and flowers just to name a few. You can watch this video on YouTube to see how these magical magnets are used.
Rena G reviewed this sensory toy, expressing that “They are so calming and feel so nice in my hands… These help with social anxiety in a way I didn’t know I needed for stress relief! Excellent for the days when my pain level is high and have less ability to be focused on much else. These are wonderful for focus, anxiety, and chronic pain.”
This simple creation is an infinite cylindrical plastic loop that provides endless stimulation by twisting them around the hands and fingers. They have a hard, smooth texture, and come in an array of bright, playful colors. Some variations have different textures, including hard or rubbery bumps, or a fuzzy or furry finish. There are also some glow-in-the-dark and light-up options for extra visual stimulation.
An anonymous reviewer shared that “This product keeps my Autistic son engaged and very calm while at the same time gives his hands something to do.”
These chewable toys are perfect for kids who seek out physical stimulation. Usually made from a gummy material that’s easy on the teeth and gums, these toys provide an outlet for tactile stimulation, and may also improve jaw strength, speech and feeding skills. The gentle vibration adds another layer of sensation for added stimulation.
Carolyn Smith reviewed this toy online: “Used as a calming technique for my granddaughter who is 5 and has Autism. She responds to the vibration on lowest speed by calming her and she likes to choose her color for the attachment… Sometimes it calms her by just holding it in her hand and feeling the vibration.”
We hope this list will be useful to you when choosing a sensory toy for your loved one. If you have found this article helpful, you may like to sign up for The Autism Digest to receive fortnightly updates about the latest research, news, resources and community stories in the Autism space. Click here to visit the Autism Hub and sign up.