A graphic showcasing four toys for young neurodivergent kids: rainbow glitter play dough, a set of sensory mats, kid's noise cancelling headphones, and a making faces magnetic set.
Credit: From Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Land of Dough, Lakeshore Learning, Amazon, Manhattan Toy
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The Best Gifts for Young Neurodivergent Kids

updated Nov 7, 2023
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“Neurodiversity is the idea that there’s natural variation in how people’s brains work and how people experience, understand, and interact with the world,” says Evon Mucek, M.Ed, DT, a developmental therapist and parent coach. She says while there’s plenty of negative language around the “inflexible” or “obsessive” nature of neurodivergent kids, our children’s special interests can actually be one of their strengths.

Mucek says that to help little ones thrive, parents and caregivers can find different ways to connect and engage with their neurodivergent kids in meaningful ways. One way to do that is to have games and toys on hand that inspire just the sort of play your kids are interested in — whether that’s sensory or creative play.

Quick Overview

What To Look For In Toys for Neurodivergent Kids

When shopping for young kids with special interests, Mucek reminds us that “Neurodivergent children are all dynamic in their own way and it’s important to not categorize them as all having the same interests.” You won’t find a one-size-fits-all toy, but there are still some shopping tips to keep in mind. Mucek recommends the following: 

  • Pay attention to sensory needs. If your child is sensitive to loud noises, for example, choose toys with volume control. 
  • Take a cue from your child’s natural motivations. Don’t suppress their interests, build upon them. 
  • Keep your child’s developmental needs in mind and choose items that not only meet them where they are but are also developmentally appropriate. 
  • Spark a conversation. Don’t shy away from asking little ones what they like — and even flipping through a toy catalog to gauge their interests. 

When it’s time for Mucek to discover new toys and playthings for kids with special interests, she leans toward items that support a child’s social-emotional needs and have less emphasis on following the rules. When it comes down to it, she says, it’s all about growing that bond between you both and inspiring fun and playfulness — no matter what toy they choose to play with.

Sarah H., a mom to a 9-year-old boy, says the toys that work best in their home all have one thing in common: they’re open-ended and can be manipulated and enjoyed in numerous ways. “He likes toys that don’t have specific rules to follow in order to enjoy them,” Sarah says. “He spends the majority of his day struggling to conform to the ‘rules’ of society and I think he likes playing in a way that doesn’t have limits.” 

17 Toys and Gifts We Love For Neurodivergent Kids

All children have their own interests and needs, so don’t expect to find a toy that appeals to every little one on your gift-giving list. If you’re shopping for a neurodivergent child, consider this guide a good starting point. Below, you’ll find 17 of our favorite toys, organized into four main categories: fidget toys, sensory toys, social-emotional learning toys, and toys for creative play.

Fidget Toys and Gifts

1 / 4
Ark Therapeutic
$15.99

Available in six colors of the rainbow, these necklaces feature a two-inch medical-grade silicone unicorn on an adjustable cord necklace which can be used to help kids self-regulate and manage anxiety and stress. Caregivers can customize the strength of their unicorn, ranging from items meant for mild to avid chewers.

2 / 4
Fat Brain Toys
$12.95

A larger-scale pop-it — featuring all the same irresistible qualities — this toy is made for endless poking. With bright colors and food-grade silicone, the Dimpl will become a toy your child reaches for over and over.

3 / 4
Fat Brain Toys
$24.95

Colorful, chewable, and endlessly fascinating, this set of three silicone spinners uses suction cups to adhere to non-porous surfaces for tons of play.

4 / 4
Amazon
$6.99

These plastic magnetic balls are designed for children aged 5 and up, and according to one company, provide “beneficial and satisfying pressure.”

Sensory Toys and Gifts

1 / 5
Lakeshore
$59.99

Sold as a set of 10, these colorful rubber mats provide a raised surface, each with its own unique textured designs meant to stimulate your child’s senses. Each set includes 5 large mats and 5 small matching mats.

2 / 5
HearthSong
$34.99

Designed to soothe children who have sensory processing disorders, this stretchy yoga swing holds up to 125 pounds and also works to strengthen core muscles, improve flexibility, and build better balance. (We also really love this indoor hammock swing.)

3 / 5
Amazon
$12.99
was $14.00

This colorful toy mimics the sound of falling rain and works to soothe and engage little ones through their sense of hearing.

4 / 5
Lakeshore
$39.99

Soft, cozy, and machine-washable, this 11-inch ball invites kids to slip their arms inside for a soothing hug.

5 / 5
Amazon
$15.99

For children who have auditory sensitivities, a cute and comfortable pair of headphones can make a practical gift. This durable model slips easily over your child’s ears and comes in plenty of colorful and playful designs.

Social Emotional Learning Toys and Gifts

1 / 4
Manhattan Toy
$33.00

A mix-and-match magnetic set like this kit encourages kids to dream up their own facial expressions. Perfect for creative kiddos, the faces double as natural conversation starters to talk about feelings.

2 / 4
Maisonette
$49.00

Encourage little ones to talk about the way they’re feeling with this adorable wooden emotions dial that doubles as a sweet and simple puzzle.

3 / 4
Lakeshore
$95.50

There are eight full-color books in this set of social-emotional learning books. Each of them makes use of straightforward, simple language to teach basic social skills, such as taking turns and listening to others.

4 / 4
Amazon
$20.95

Play this adorable board game with your child (ages 3 and up) to explore all the ways friends and neighbors can extend a helping hand. This cooperative game helps build your child’s understanding of emotions, and all the ways in which we interact with others every day.

Creative Play

1 / 4
Fat Brain Toys
$49.95

Twenty-seven blocks with clear, shatter-proof acrylic mirrors make up this stunning set for young builders. With a variety of shapes and sizes, kids can build to their heart’s content — and then stow everything neatly away in the wooden storage box.

2 / 4
Target
$14.99

Let kids get a little messy with these deliciously scented (and gorgeously designed) play dough cups. Each one is a fanciful delight and perfect for mixing, rolling, and creating in limitless ways.

3 / 4
Maisonette
$23.95

Who could resist adding a splash of color to the bathtub? This set of seven natural beeswax crayons is made with food-grade ingredients and invites a little creativity into bath time.

4 / 4
Target
$10.00

Snag these paint sticks for kids who love to flex their artistic side. These paints are easy to grasp, spread on like a glue stick, dry quickly, and wash right out of skin and fabric.

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