Gift ideas for a 4-year-old nonverbal autistic nephew?
December 3, 2015 5:58 AM   Subscribe

He loves fiddling with switches, buttons, knobs, etc. and taking things apart. He also loves throwing his toys across the room, so whatever I give him should not be so hard/heavy that it breaks windows or injures people upon impact. I've already tried Legos and Lego-like building toys with no luck. Ideas?
posted by Jacqueline to Shopping (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If at all craft, you could make him a fiddle blanket. A weighted blanket, that has all sorts of things to play with- buttons, hooks, Velcro,zips, etc. I think I've seen similar on etsy
posted by Ftsqg at 6:11 AM on December 3, 2015

Would foam work? Foam robots or foam castle blocks or these Wiki Sticks, which are wax-like.

There are also special needs toy shops online if you search.
posted by typecloud at 6:15 AM on December 3, 2015

I'm adding to previous reply- annoyed with myself for getting sidetracked with the autistic bit.

Battat makes take a part toys
Magna tiles are awesome
Knex makes some kits for younger kids. Try to have a look at the size of the pieces, some kits use tiny parts and they can be frustrating
Melissa and Doug make a pretty great tool kit.
posted by Ftsqg at 6:26 AM on December 3, 2015

In line with the fiddle blanket idea, a busy board might work as well...
posted by Jacob G at 6:29 AM on December 3, 2015

This may just be proof I'm a bad parent, but: What about used, older stereo equipment? Like from a thrift store or garage sale? Something heavy enough that he could not throw, but that also is no great loss if knobs get ripped off? Some of that old stuff has switches and buttons with really satisfying tactility and noisy clicking.
posted by mittens at 6:29 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This may be too heavy, but Melissa and Doug have a Latches Board (aka "mommy's little catburglar trainer") that is very popular with kids that age and may suit his interests.

You may be able to find a "busy book" or a "dress me" toy with a lot of switches, buttons, toggles, zippers, etc., that is the same sort of idea but made of fabric. People also make their OWN lock boards with stuff from the hardware store on a piece of wood, which could theoretically be mounted to a table or a wall to render it non-throwable.

This may be a little above his age/skill, but Battat makes these fantastic "take apart" toys where you use plastic screws and bolts and a little power drill with interchangeable tips to build and take apart a vehicle. The plane is the easiest one. At first my kids wanted me to build it so they could play with it and then take it apart, but they got the hang of building it themselves pretty quickly. (The screws and nuts are the same size as the Home-Depot-branded "my little workbench" type toys, so you can get spares that way.) Depending on his spatial reasoning and fine motor skills, that may be a toy for a year or two down the road, but kids who like buttons and switches and like building and taking apart tend to LOVE these.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:33 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just bought a Mr Potato Head for a kid with speech delays due to a different issue because after reading through a bunch of speech therapy blogs, it was the toy that kept turning up over and over as a strong recommendation for children, and lots of the therapists used one in their own practice - it's fun to play with, and can be used for basic vocabulary and in communication involving people, positions, directions and body parts. You can get a big tub of Mr Potato Head that has lots of pieces to go in.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:37 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Small stretchy toys like the whatzit or the Cubebot could work.
posted by Mchelly at 6:39 AM on December 3, 2015

Response by poster: Battat makes these fantastic "take apart" toys where you use plastic screws and bolts and a little power drill with interchangeable tips to build and take apart a vehicle.

OMG, those look amazing! I might get those for all my nephews, not just the autistic one. And I'm sure that my dad would get a kick out of helping his grandsons put them together.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:52 AM on December 3, 2015

My kid loves fidget toys. Here's a few stand outs -> this, these, and all versions of this robot.
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:54 AM on December 3, 2015

How about Snap Circuits? Even if they remain beyond his skill level, a parent could make a circuit & he could play with it/take it apart!
posted by peep at 8:51 AM on December 3, 2015

My nonverbal autistic brother enjoys getting puzzles. Lots of things to take apart and put together.
posted by chicainthecity at 9:06 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

FYI - beware of "stretchy" toys with bits small enough to tear off, for example those balls that have rubber "hairs" all around them. My (autistic) son tears those off and eats them. They are not digestible. They can cause digestive issues. Possibly not a problem if your nephew does not have any PICA issues, but worth checking with his parents just in case.
posted by Lokheed at 9:40 AM on December 3, 2015

How about something from Stimtastic?
posted by Lexica at 10:45 AM on December 3, 2015

I had Bristle Blocks as a kid, and they were brilliant.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2015

You look like you've got a winner with the Battat toys, but next year when you're racking your brain again, I second the Bristle Blocks, I think those would an excellent choice for a five-year-old with the parameters you described. Very satisfying to put together and pull apart over and over (vs. Lego). And don't worry about the ability to create say a helicopter like the linked picture, the child can fiddle with them and create sort of pleasing shapes for a more instant gratification.
posted by dawg-proud at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2015

For a few more ideas, this tube building set and this drill activity center.
posted by pennypiper at 11:33 AM on December 3, 2015

My (now 5) year old got one of those Battat toys when he was 4 and mastered it very quickly. So I think it's absolutely age appropriate and I agree that all your nephews are likely to love them. We have the excavator.
posted by telepanda at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2015

Lego. I was just visiting my sister's family and my on-the-spectrum nephew who was delighted with Lego when he was 5 still goes down to the basement after a stressful day of highschool and builds. He has a truly gia-normous collection now amassed from years of gifts and careful investing.
posted by cleroy at 1:20 PM on December 3, 2015

Seconding the Melissa & Doug latches board. This is one of my kid's favourite toys.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 7:44 PM on December 3, 2015

A marble tower. There are great kits with supports, ramps, etc. that snap together runs for plastic marbles to run dow. It is more interactive than Legos because of the movement of the marbles. Magnatiles are also great.
posted by Casual Quilter at 10:03 PM on December 3, 2015

Response by poster: It's a good thing he's nonverbal or he would have learned a few new words from his Aunt Jackie as I demonstrated how the Battat toys could be taken apart and then struggled to put them back together while my father (the retired engineer whom I'd assumed would be the primary adult playmate for these toys) giggled hysterically at my mechanical incompetence.

But my nephews (both the autistic one and the neurotypical ones) all loved them so kudos to Eyebrows McGee.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:13 AM on January 11, 2016

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