Toy Aisles Made More Friendly for Kids With Autism

Gift-givers have more options than ever when choosing the perfect toy for a child with special needs, thanks to advocacy efforts in recent years to make toy stores more inclusive.

Gift-givers have more options than ever when choosing the perfect toy for a child with special needs, thanks to advocacy efforts in recent years to make toy stores more inclusive.

Children on the autism spectrum often have a harder time picking out a toy, whether due to speech difficulties or just a lack of interest in the toys. Crowded and loud toy stores can also be overwhelming for kids with sensory processing issues. As a result, increasing numbers of parents and other advocates for autistic children have launched efforts calling for a redesigned toy shopping experience, and major toy manufacturers and sellers have enthusiastically responded, according to an AP news article.

In response to comments from customers and employees pointing out that kids with special needs may not intuitively know how to play with certain toys, Hasbro Inc. created the Toybox Tools website with videos and downloadable instructions for its popular games and toys. This initiative, which was designed in conjunction with The Autism Project, provides caregivers with “supporting tools to help enhance kids’ playtime experiences” with toys and games like Mr. Potato Head or Jenga.

Melissa & Doug, another toy company, allows website visitors to peruse its selection of toys, games, and puzzles according to a child’s skills and special needs. It also features categories of toys that help develop social-emotional or language skills, which are common challenges for children with autism. In recognition of these efforts, advocacy organizations like Autism Speaks and National Autism Resources have included the brand’s products on their lists of suggested toys.

The process of toy shopping has also become more sensitive to the needs of children with autism. The Autism Speaks website listed the quiet shopping events hosted by Target and Toys R Us stores as 2 of the 10 most inspiring autism-related stories of 2016. During these events, the stores turned their music and intercom announcements off, dimmed their lights slightly, and designated quiet zones to make the shopping experience more manageable for autistic children. Toys R Us, which has offered these events in its United Kingdom stores since 2014, held its first US event this year and has announced plans to expand the initiative.

Aside from these major toy sellers, small stores specifically catering to families affected by autism have become more common. These shops, often opened by parents with autistic children, provide a welcoming environment where kids are free to test out the toys before buying, according to the AP story.