If you work in an autism classroom, you are well aware of the many sensory needs that there can be. Sensory overload is a real thing and as a special needs or autism teacher, it is our job to help provide calming sensory input throughout the school day.
There are tons of fidget tools that you can try with students that help with many different sensory issues they might have.
I’ve created a list below of the best autism fidget toys that would be helpful for an autism classroom.
Sensory Needs of an Autism Classroom
A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often encompasses a spectrum of sensory sensitivities that significantly impact a child’s daily experience. Sensory needs vary widely, with some being hypersensitive to certain stimuli (like loud noises, bright lights or different textures) while others seek sensory input, sometimes through repetitive behaviors like stimming or seeking deep pressure.
Sensory issues can significantly impact daily life, including learning, social interactions and emotional regulation. In educational settings, accommodating these sensory needs is crucial for creating an environment that supports each student’s unique sensory profile.
Using sensory tools and strategies, like fidget toys, sensory bins, or designated sensory spaces, can provide individuals with a range of sensory experiences, which in turn helps with self-regulation and reducing stress. This overall helps to promote a more comfortable and conducive learning environment.
Sensory Processing Disorder
One specific need that can come up might be Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). It’s a condition where the brain has difficulty processing and responding to sensory information received through the senses. This difficulty can manifest in various ways; individuals with SPD may be oversensitive (hypersensitive) or undersensitive (hyposensitive) to sensory stimuli, or they might experience a mix of both.
For instance, hypersensitivity might lead to an overreaction to sensory input such as loud noises, bright lights, certain textures or strong smells.
On the other hand, hyposensitivity may result in seeking more intense sensory stimulation or having a reduced response to certain sensory input, leading to behaviors like seeking deep pressure, constant movement or craving intense flavors.
Watch Out for Sensory Overload
Children will typically show signs if they are on sensory overload. Some of these signs for the autism community might be stereotypical repetitive behaviors such as hand-flapping, rocking or pacing (these are all signs of stimming), increased meltdowns, heightened sensitivity to noises (maybe covering their ears), withdrawal or becoming more agitated in general.
What is the Purpose of Fidget Toys?
The use of fidget toys provides many different purposes and not all autistic children need the same type of fidget. You have to give students the right support according to their sensory needs and sensory systems.
These little tools can work wonders in helping kids manage anxiety, improve focus and find calm amidst strong emotions like anger or frustration. For children on the autism spectrum, fidgets can be a game-changer, especially during moments of stimming or agitation.
Let’s look at some purposes of autism fidget toys below:
Use Fidget Toys in an Autism Classroom with Sensory Seekers
Sometimes, well a lot of the time actually, autistic children truly just crave sensory input throughout their day. What I have found that works best is to make sensory time a part of their routine and give it a place on their visual schedule. Then students know when it is coming. Sensory play should be part of every autism classroom.
Use Fidget Objects for Stress Relief in Your Autism Classroom
Stress relief is another great use for fidgets in younger children in an autism classroom. Sometimes just squeezing squishy balls or playing with small items can be a good stress reliever when the student is in a situation that might make them more anxious.
Sometimes my students would seem to need more fidgets for stress relief during specials time. That’s another reason I created visuals for specials as well. Specials can be more unstructured than the typical classroom and hard for our autism students.
Use Fidget Tools and Toys with Busy Hands for Tactile Awareness
Engaging kids in using fidget tools and toys can be an incredible way to enhance tactile awareness in the classroom. They not only keep busy hands occupied but also promote sensory exploration and understanding.
For students on the autism spectrum, this tactile engagement can be particularly beneficial, aiding in self-regulation and providing a soothing outlet for their sensory needs. These tools serve as a pathway to supporting diverse sensory needs, ensuring that each learner feels understood and accommodated within the educational setting.
Best Sensory Fidget Toys for Autism
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Sensory fidget toys are a great way to give sensory input into young children and specifically, autistic children. There are tons of different options out there so I’ve done some research on the best ones to try for your autism classroom and have linked them below.
Fidget spinners are perfect hand fidgets! These are really neat because students can build their own using the three rings. Keeps them extra engaged!
These stress balls are my favorite! They are actually filled with water beads.
These are one of the most fun and discreet fidgets. They are super small so not very noticeable, have different textures and allow for your hands to slide and press and stay busy.
These are perfect for the child always on the go who has a more difficult time sitting still. You just slides the loops up the two front legs of the desk. Then the student can quietly kick them with his or her feet while working.
This tool is perfect for helping students get out extra energy. They can use their feet to push on the cushion while sitting and working at their desk.
Pop tubes are great fidget toys in autism classrooms due to their tactile stimulation and calming effect. Plus, they make a fun little satisfying “pop” noise which offers some auditory sensory input as well.
These strings are texturized making them the perfect tactile fidget toy for your autism classroom. You can actually stretch them to 7 feet long!
While this is technically not a fidget, it is definitely a sensory tool to help a child that is not regulated.
This is like a discreet fidget maze. Kids follow along the plastic maze to practice their breathing.
Your occupational therapist will love you for using this. Make sure you get some training on how to use a sensory brush. It’s designed to provide deep pressure to the skin that the child might be craving. Using this is supposed to have a calming effect.
These are awesome because the process of pulling these essentially feel like doing heavy work to students. It should help them feel more calm and centered afterwards.
This is the new version of the pop-it….it now comes in ball form! It is the perfect stress reliever and great for kids from your autism classroom to carry with them in the hallway or to another class if needed. They are quiet and small fidget toys.
These are a visual and calming distraction. These are also very easy to grip.
This is not to be confused with the wiggle feet sensory cushion above. This has air in it and kids sit on it at their chair. Typically one side is smooth and one side is bumpy. This is a way for students to easily get the sensory input they need while working.
Make Sure Autistic Students Get the Right Amount of Sensory Input
Remember that when it comes to self regulation tools, sensory toys and using fidget toys in an autism classroom that the goal is never sensory overstimulation. The sensory experience should give the child just what they need to be able to calm their body to be in a regulated state and move happily throughout their day.