Many children with autism love spinning toys. However parents are concerned about giving their children spinning toys because they don't want to encourage self stimulatory behavior. If you've ever watched your child's stare at a fan for an hour it can be heartbreaking.
However, I do feel there is a place for spinning toys and autism. Spinning toys can be great reinforcers in an ABA program. Or spinning toys can be a very enjoyable Christmas gift or birthday gift. When supervised properly spinning toys can actually be helpful for children with autism. For example, having a spinning toy that the child really enjoys in your purse can be really helpful when you need to get some last-minute grocery shopping done. Or letting the child play with the spinning toy may allow the whole family to go out to dinner.
As you can probably tell, I'm from the standpoint that nothing is black-and-white. Anything can be used as a tool to help a child with autism or to help a family make it through the day.
With that said here is a list of my favorite spinning toys for autism:
Light Spinners: spinning lights flicker and change when you hold down the button. There is a large sized light spinner and a small sized light spinner. The large-size light spinner is nice for ABA programs or as a gift. However, the mini light spinner has a breakaway necklace so your child with autism can wear it when you're running errands.
Any kind of light twirler. At National Autism Resources we carry an airplane twirler. (I guess I'm biased because of G’s overwhelming preoccupation with airplanes.)
Light up Mini Fans: Can I just say I love light up mini fans! Just press the button and the fans start spinning and the lights light up. These are also nice for times when it’s hot outside. They can be very helpful for a child who enjoy spinning toys and has to ride the bus when it's hot. Also the blades are plastic so if you touch them they don't hurt. They are also on sale now at National Autism Resources, which is nice!
Tops: there are all kinds of tops to choose from in all kinds of shapes or sizes. Some Tops make music or even light up when they spin.
My all time favorite spinning toy is the Spectra Rail Twirler. Why is it my favorite? I guess for a couple of reasons first of all both my children love it. Once you get it going it's really fun to watch and play with. I myself enjoy playing with it, especially when I'm bored, or watching TV.
So that's my take on spinning toys for autism. With Christmas coming if you're a parent and you feel like your child would enjoy a spinning toy, don’t feel guilty about it! At the end of the day children are children and a gift is a gift. If you feel your child with autism would enjoy a spinning toy I say go for it. It may help you when you're in a tough situation and your child will enjoy it. Also, if you reading this I'm sure you're a good parent. You're trying to figure out what's best for your child. If that's your motivation then I'm sure you will allow your child to use the toy appropriately.