50 Best Calming Sensory Toys for Teens & Adults with Autism

functional life skills special education teachers teacher experience transition May 13, 2024
 

When I was in the classroom, I would observe students becoming elevated due to worry, a new or unpreferred demand, a change in schedule, etc., and there were times when it was necessary to be uncomfortable for growth and learning and other times when the student needed strategies to calm back down to baseline.  Since I taught teens and young adult students at the transition level, our staff typically had ample sensory information about effective calming strategies to fall back on.  A comforting calming was never too far away, even when we went on community outings.  However, even with students who were mature in their sensory development, we were never opposed to trying something new to see if we could expand their repertoire of calming toys.  You never know if a new object or device would provide a quicker calm or be more effective.

 

I recall sitting on my computer at my desk after the ESY school ended one day years ago, searching the internet (and probably Amazon) for ideas for a particular student and coming up short.  What I was finding was not age-appropriate and didn't meet their needs.  I created this list with the hope that it will provide some new ideas for those looking for very similar things.  A list tI wish I had stumbled upon that one day after school.  

 

So, if you are special education teacher looking to help a specific student or need to stock sensory rooms with calming toys, an occupational therapist in need of ideas to support special needs students, or a loved one of a teen or adult with a sensory processing disorder searching for resources, this list is for you!  

 

For guidance on choosing the best sensory toys to bring calm during stressful situations, let's review the need for calming strategies.  

 

The Need for Calm:

A state of calm includes being both mentally and physically relaxed. When aiming to calm down, the activity (or toy) of choice should distract the mind from the stressful event and/or bring the breath and heart rate back to baseline.  The baseline, in this case, would be how the teen or adult behaves or presents when there are no demands put on them.  For example, what is their heart rate and physical state as they passively watch TV or listen to music?  Are they typically sitting or standing when they are cal?  Are they verbalizing or quiet?  Stimming or still?  Each perons's baseline will look different and the strategies they use to get back to baseline after a stressful event will also be different.  

 

Feeling calm in their daily lives may be the goal for many autistic teens and adults, many of whom have sensory sensitivities or sensory issues.   Calming toys may be used as a form of stress relief, from increased academic or task demands to social stress or anxiety.   Coping with that stress or anxiety by meeting one's sensory needs can allow the individual to handle their emotions better and may reduce unsafe behavior.  Effective calming toys and strategies can help to regulate after an experience of heightened alertness (post-stress) or maintain calm (keep calm when the environment or task demand is stressful).

 

Much like coping strategies during high-stress times, a familiar and great sensory toy can bring calmness and relief.  Individuals may begin to feel calm when they have a sensory experience that includes different textures, like a weighted and furry blanket or with the soft sound of the waves crashing played through nearby floor speakers.  Again, each teen or adult will have their preferences.  According to research, there are at least seven methods to achieve calmness.  

 

ā€‹Researched-based methods for calming include:

  • Mindfulness Practices- Mindfulness practices include meditation and guided visualization
  • Deep Breathing- Controlled, purposeful breathing to lower the heart rate and refocus the mind
  • Physical Touch- Hugs, deep pressure, massage, and animal-touch therapy  
  • Rhythmic Music- Relaxing, slower-paced music and binaural beats (Click for a sample of binaural beats)
  • Reducing External Stimuli- Putting the phone down and taking in the present world
  • Yoga- The physical movement pattern and mind-body work of yoga practice helps to calm down
  • Nature- Being amongst the trees, water sources, and other natural environments
  • Scent- The lavender scent provides calming effects

 

Speaking of research, I wrote about the 11 best teaching methods to use when teaching students with autism who are nonverbal, which includes lots of links to supporting research!  

 

 

About The Calming Toys List

Why teens and adults?  Sooooo much of what is out there is geared towards the autistic children population (you know, the rainbow bright colors), but as I've mentioned before, the root of the need doesn't change as the person ages.  Therefore, this list is dedicated to meeting the needs of older children, teens, and adults.  There is a variety of calming toys included in the list to meet the many different needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders, including calming toys that include olfactory, tactile stimulation, and auditory input. There are suggestions for individuals with strong fine motor skills and those who prefer gross motor movement, as well.  

 

Calming through the mind and body?  Depending on the type of stress being experienced and the individual's preferred methods for sensory input and skill set, the list is divided into two categories.  Calming through the mind is aimed at distraction-type activities to redirect the mind to elicit a calmer state.  Calming through the body is aimed to bring the physical body back to baseline through sensory integration.   Sensory overload- increased level of alertness - can be caused by a variety of external factors.  Having a go-to sensory experience that can effectively calm the mind and/or body is a great way to provide much-needed relief and a sense of stability. 

 

Are there calming toys that can be used in settings outside the classroom?  Absolutely!  Teens and adults are bound to spend more time outside the classroom than in it, so the list includes ideas for autism toys that can be used in the home, recreation, community, and work settings.  

 

How accessible are these calming toys?  While Amazon and Etsy are where you can find most items on the list, because Free Shipping is pretty great, some toys are linked to independent websites for purchase.  And, while animal therapy is great for calming, this option isn't typically as accessible as toys that can be used on-demand.  

 

Do you have any gift ideas?  This whole list would be great gifts for teens and adults with autism, as long as their needs and preferences are considered before purchasing.  For example, does the individual prefer gross motor movement to calm?  Do they have strong hand-eye coordination or fine motor skills to complete an art project to support calming down?  The best way to know is just to ask them or a primary caregiver.  

 

Do you have any other ideas for sensory toys?  For other sensory tools (more than just stress ball and spinner fidget suggestions), check out the list of 101 Sensory Toys for Teens and Adults and 101 Fidgets for Teens and Adults blog posts.  The Fidgets blog post has specific sections for infinity and silent/quiet fidget toys, which may help meet individual or environmental needs.  

 

Consult a physician before use.  Some of the calming toys listed below include vibration and massaging elements, common strategies for calming the mind and body.  Consult a licensed physician before use to ensure user safety.  

 

 

 

50 Calming Toys for Teens and Adults

 

                  

Calming Through the Mind

 

Slow Infinite Moving Visual Picture Frame (Jellyfish)

 

Wireless Speakers with Rhythmic Calming Sounds

 

Portable Soothing Sounds Machine

 

Breathing Necklace

 

At Easy Therapeutic Eye Glasses

 

Diamond Art Simple Project

 

Wireless Pillow Speakers with Bluetooth for Sound

 

Sleep Mask Headphones

 

Large Pick Pad

 

Guided Meditation Audio via the Calm app or Healthy Minds Program (free option)

 

Rain Cloud Humidifier

 

Blue Shell Windchime

 

Calming Slow Motion Videos on YouTube (art creation and factory assembly line videos may also be appealing and calming)

 

Mandela Paint Pens on Wooden Board

 

Milo Hands-Free Clip-on Walkie-Talkies (Support calming conversation without being physically next to someone, ideal for learning a new calming routine in a new environment)

 

Superspace Forts for a Separate Space to Calm

 

Connect the Dots Drawing Book or Mazes

 

Calming Liquid Globe

 

Calming Ball

 

Calming Breathing Tube

 

Calming Orb with Guided Audio or Wearable Touch Therapy Band ($$$)

 

Mindful Breathing Pebble Lamp

 

Pocket Size Kaleidoscope

 

Desk Size Ferrofluid in a Bottle 

 

Scribble Journal Prompt Cards for Drawing/Doodling

 

 

                  

Calming Through the Body

 

Lavender Pillow & Fabric Spray

 

Lavender Stress Balls (available in different colors)

 

Motion Fidget Oil Diffuser

 

Deep Pressure Massage Ball and Vibrating Massage Ball

 

Long Tactile Dry Body Brush

 

Weighted Pillow ($$$)

 

Weighted Blanket (Available in a variety of colors and weights)

 

Felt Wall Touch Sensory ($$$) 

 

Calming Comb Fidget

 

Sunset Projector Lamp

 

Color Changing Dimmable Light Bulb

 

Head Rest Pillow for Sitting

 

Massage Mat with Heat and Vibration

 

Soft Large Blanket for Petting (Available in other colors)

 

One-Person Plunge Pool (Water can be any temperature to use)

 

Sand Garden with Rolling Stamp Spheres (or a Bubble version or Kinetic Sand Zen Box for Adults)

 

Bluetooth Beanie Hat and Scarf

 

Volcano-Like Essential Oils Diffuser

 

Bear Hug Deep Pressure Vest (Available in Large and Extra Large sizes)

 

Sound Reducing Sensory Hoodie

 

Inflatable Tumble Mat (For bouncing walks, also available in a smaller circular mat)

 

Headphones with Internal Music/Audio 

(Use an SD card to add personalized audio or music for easy listening without cords or other devices necessary)

 

Soft Pillow with Handles for Easy Manipulation

 

Stretch Fidget

 

Lavender Calm Slime and Calming Foam

 

While this calming 'toy' is a wearable shirt/vest, it's pretty cool (and incredibly expensive at about $5,000 a vest)!  I think of all of my former transition students who couldn't self-identify times of stress and, therefore, couldn't initiate calming strategies independently.  It's encouraging to think that discreet wearable technology (i.e., NOT uncomfortable heart rate monitor arm or chest bands) may one day be able to help autistic individuals recognize their body's needs more naturally.  

 


   

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