10 Sensory Play Gifts for Autism

Author’s Note: I’m not a sponsor or marketer for Lightahead, although I make a small profit if you purchase items advertised on this site, since I’m registered with the Amazon Affiliate program. The reason I’m choosing mostly Lightahead products (when I can link to virtually any Amazon product) is because I sincerely appreciate their store; they’re my secret shopping lair for sensory play. (updated 6.4.18)

Magical, Dazzling Lights Started with Speakers

I’ve bought one or two sensory decor and toys every year, mostly from Lightahead, for five years or so—since I moved to Fresno—so I knew I loved dazzlingly lit merchandise before my autism diagnosis, like a bird who knows how to find true north. However, it’s taken some time for me to openly talk about how I enjoy gizmos many neurotypical adults would deem immature.

I first found Lightahead because my speakers didn’t survive the move from Anaheim. They were first-generation Creature Speakers, and they’d been griping about their age for awhile. The move was the feather that did them in, more than the hammer; and though I tried to open them up, check their wires, and clean their guts, I couldn’t resuscitate them.

I mourned my Creature’s death for a month or so. To say I get attached to electronics is an understatement.

So as a freshly minted graduate student, bitter at the loss of what I considered a daily friend, I didn’t want to spend heaps of money on replacement speakers—especially because they weren’t Creature. My Creature Speakers were equipped with subwoofers and pixie dust; I was convinced I’d never find a suitable contender. Yet after spending weeks looking, I fell in love with the Lightahead Water Speakers that 2-day shipped to my door. They’re the same speakers I used to make this video:

And this video…

Five years later, these speakers are alive and well; and that’s after my cats have whacked ’em off my desk I-don’t-know-how-many times.

Movements in water, light, and sound have fascinated me for as long as I can remember, so I’m not sure why it took me till my late twenties to invest in water speakers. I’d heard about water speakers, but I loved my Creature Speakers almost too much, and I bought them when I was 19 years old—which didn’t leave much room for further speaker exploration.

Since winding my way to my Lightahead speakers, I’ve found many other inexpensive ($50 or less) items for visual and aural stimming pleasure. Here are five of ’em (because five is a fantastic number).

1—Fidget Spinners ($1 – $20+)

Every autistic child and adult should try a fidget spinner. Actually, scratch that—every person with a cellphone should try a fidget spinner, since they make a good substitute for cellphone anxiety.

And they come as cheap as a $1 spinner, to as fancy as the Rolls-Royce of spin action:

During my brief stint teaching K-12, I felt heartbroken by how many teachers were opposed to fidget spinners. I am so pro these gizmos, I’ll provide the darned things to students, if I think it’ll help ’em. I’m not sure why sitting up, staying still, and shutting up is still an educational practice; we’re meant to move, think, and make conversation, and that’s what fidget spinners help many people do.

Why does it work for you? It’s difficult to not notice the ever-so-slight flux of a fidget spinner between your fingers. In a neurotypical world that blinks and flashes with so many potential sensory stimuli, it helps to have an object that gently, quietly whispers, “Don’t take too much in at once.” If you practice meditation, you could think of fidget spinners as a sensorimotor equivalent of returning to the breath.

This is my favorite spinner, since it doesn’t just soothe via balance, but it provides visual patterns:

Also, it doubles as a cat toy.

Do you like cats? I also have a kitty meow-meow blog.

2—Hose Nozzle ($5 – $30+)

You can transform a backyard hose into an enchanting gardening experience with the right hose nozzle. Plant some flowers and/or vegetables, then seek the rainbow prism of sunlight in a variety of watering patterns: shower, mist, flat spray…

I may or may not enjoy flipping the nozzle to high pressure and firing directly at my toes.

But in fear of wasting water, I only do this if I’m standing in greenery. Also, I only prance around with the hose nozzle every other day. If my vegetables and/or flowers can’t survive the Fresno heat for 48 hours, that just means they don’t have enough wood-chip or tent love.

Do you like gardening? I also have a gardening blog.

3—Strobe Bulbs ($10)

Pick up two of these bulbs, because it quadruples the action…

So you could install a full-blown strobe setup in your house. You could drill walls or prop massive machines on the limited space of your side tables. Or instead, you could screw one of these light bulbs into a lamp, and presto!—instead room full of magical lights. Unfortunately, while these strobe bulbs are from Lightahead, they don’t last as long as the water speakers; I’ve gone through four of them, each with a 3mo. to 2yr. capacity. Even at 3mo. though, we’re talking $5 for a bulb that can bring $5mil in joy. You won’t believe how many different rotations occur simultaneously when these bulbs are lit on.

Also, it doubles as a cat toy.

And triples as a bathroom prank for when guests are about to come over.

Do you like magic and wonder? Consider visiting my Wattpad page to read some of my fantasy & science fiction stories.

4—Light-up Poi Balls ($17 – $100+)

I’ve always wanted a swanky, expensive set of light-up poi balls, like this one…

But practically speaking, you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy the rhythmic pleasure of spinning balls in circles. These are fantastic:

You also don’t need gracefulness to learn the exquisite poi patterns scattered on YouTube.

Spinning poi balls doesn’t have to feel like a futile exercise is fine motor skills, when diligent practice of gross motor skills can still result in successful, scintillating play.

These are not a good cat toy, although your cats may think so. It’s best to practice poi in a clear environment, where you don’t have any chance to knock out cats, people, or coffee mugs.

5—Bubbly Fish Lamp ($100 – $300+)

So this isn’t a $50 or under item…

However, I don’t think a sensory stimuli shopping list is complete with a bubbly fish lamp. I grew up with one, clocking hours of my life per year on my Gameboy, listening to the bubble whir. Now we have another one in the living room, and I flip it on after the sun goes down because it’s a much wilder experience at night, and I’d like to extend its life as much as possible.

The lifespans of bubble tubes are finite, and the motors are loud unless you’re willing to shell out several Benjamin Franklins. But the good news is a) when the lights start flickering dead, you can switch to another color scheme, b) you can replace LED lights when it enters the next stage of wear-and-tear, and c) you can similarly replace the motors.

Do you like to think big? Consider visiting the Launchpad.

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Kourtnie View All →

Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at or

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