Does your child with autism fixate on certain toys and refuse to play with anything else? Varied play is crucial for teaching your child play skills and communication skills. The answer to toy fixations? Rotate your child’s toys with my toy rotation plan.
In my practice, I’ve seen children who frantically cling to one or two small items keeping them from wanting to play with something new, children who won’t leave home without a giant spinning toy or loud musical book, kids who hit and bite their moms because it’s time to move on to a new activity and children who push their siblings over if they so much as touch their favorite item.
Why is fixating on one or two toys a problem for you and your autistic child?
- Being too focused on one or two toys can prompt meltdowns if you need to take the toy away for some reason, the toy breaks or you forget it at home.
- If your child is playing with only a handful of toys, you have limited opportunities to teach new vocabulary in your games.
- Repetitive play can start out as relaxing, and even essential for your child, and quickly become stressful and obsessive.
Understanding (and respecting) toy obsessions
It is clear that children with autism tend to think in a way that is more black and white than other, neurotypically developing children. They tend to fixate on one or a few items and interests.
Although it is natural for children to have a favorite toy or two, if focusing on a particular item becomes stressful and problematic for your little one, it is time to do something to help.
If you are just starting to realize that your child has become passionate about a particular toy or topic, know that your child’s new interest in trains or spinning objects is great! Go with it, use these items as reinforcers in your home program or share in this new activity when playing with your child on the floor.
The toys only become problematic when going without them starts creating meltdowns, anxiety and even agressive behaviors like hitting or biting.
What is a toy rotation schedule?
A clear schedule you follow to make certain toys available while others are put away for a certain amount of time. As time goes on, you rotate the toys so that your child continually has access to “new” and interesting toys.
Free Bonus Printable : Download and print out your Free Printable Toy Rotation Workbook
Why rotate toys? What are the benefits of having a toy rotation in place at home?
- Less clutter and mess in your home.
- A decrease in meltdowns and frustration that comes from obsessively focusing one just one or two toys.
- Easier transitions between daily activities.
- Increased interest in new toys and regained interest in older toys.
- More learning opportunities to build appropriate play skills and learn new vocabulary and communication skills.
Who is a toy rotation for?
All young children can benefit from having a toy rotation in place at home. In this article I am exploring why having one in place is crucial for a child with autism. If you have an older child or adult with autism living at home, a toy (or favorite items) rotation schedule can be beneficial too.
Signs it’s time to start a toy rotation for your child
- At the beginning of a home or center session your child clings to one or two toys and won’t let go.
- Your little one screams when it’s time to go out and refuses to leave the house without a giant musical toy, train track or other favorite item of the moment.
- Your floors at home are covered in tiny toys, trains, cars, balls, pompoms – you name it.
- You bring home new items to use in your child’s home program and he refuses to look at or touch anything new.
The best way to organize toys at home
Whenever I work with a family create a home program for their child with autism, we start by creating an adapted space in which their child can learn happily and harmoniously. If you’d like to create your own adapted space, sign up here to learn to create a progress nook at home.
I recommend dividing toys into clear categories and keep like toys together in bins that have a photo label.
Any toys that are not currently available to your child, will go in boxes and be put away. You can keep these toys in a closet, basement or attic, or wherever you have space to store toys. Just make sure they are not available to your child. You need to be the one to decide when your child will have access to each item.
Why Toy Rotation is the Perfect Solution for toy fixations and the obsessive behaviors that go along with them
A toy rotation schedule is such a fabulous tool to help you and your child have increased learning opportunities at home, to decrease frustration and increase family fun!
Once you start rotating toys, you will never look back.
Decreased access to certain toys will make them more interesting and reinforcing in the future, which means that your child may find new interest in items that seemed long forgotten.
Limiting access to toys that you child has started fixating on, will decrease repetitive and obsessive behaviors that can lead to anxiety and aggression and create space for new learning and fun.
Having fewer toys out at once, make it much easier to clean up.
Having a clear toy rotation schedule gives you a system to go through toys and toss and donate as needed on a regular basis.
The stress of raising a child with autism can be compared with the stress of soldiers in combat, therefore, reducing stress where you can is crucial.
Free download : Free Printable Toy Rotation Workbook
How to put a toy rotation in place at home
Step 1 : Gather all of your child’s toys and sort into categories.
This can feel so overwhelming at first, but I promise it will be worth it! You need to gather every single toy or learning material of your child’s to get started with putting in place a program to rotate toys.
Once you have collected all of your child’s toys and learning materials from all over your home, divide them into the following twelve toy categories :
- Sensory toys – any toys that you use for sensory play, such as the items on this sensory play list. Think play dough, play dough mats, cotton balls, containers of dried beans and chickpeas, water and sand toys.
- Fine motor toys – items you are using to build fine motor skills with your child, such as tweezers, beads, and more.
- Puzzles – all of your child’s puzzles.
- Books – all types of children’s books.
- Pretend Play – puppets, dolls & accessories, Barbies, dollhouse accessories and pretend play foods.
- Art Supplies, Coloring Books & Sticker Activity Books – all activity books, markers, pens, colored pencils, paper, glue, tape, glitter and stickers.
- Gross Motor Toys & Sports Equipment – any balls, ping pong sets or other items.
- Reinforcers – these are all of your child’s favorite items that you use to reinforce behaviors that you are teaching during home sessions. Reinforcers may include light up toys, musical toys, sensory balls, stickers and books. These are you child’s absolute favorite things. (This may be your most important box!)
- Vocabulary building tools – flashcards, visual aids, sequencing activities and memory games that you use during your home table sessions.
- Building toys – legos and blocks.
If your child has a larger collection of certain items such as dolls and accessories, or pretend play kitchen foods and tools or dress up clothes, you may need to divide this category into more than one box, bin or basket.
Step 2 : List each item on your toy inventory sheets
In your Free Printable Toy Rotation Workbook, you will find your toy inventory sheets. Use them to write write down the toys in each box, according to their category, so that you will easily be able to find the items you have put away in each box.
Step 2 : Get the materials you need
Once you have decided where you will be keeping the toys and materials when they are “put away” or not available to your child, you will need to choose boxes, bins or baskets that will hold everything in a neat and organized way.
I recommend having 12 large boxes, bins or baskets for all of your child’s toys and learning materials. In addition to one box for each category, have an additional two boxes on hand, just in case you end up needing more space for a certain category of items.
In addition, you will need 2 large bags for items you would like to toss or donate.
Step 3 : Label the boxes
Label each box using a marker or the labels I have included in the Free Printable Toy Rotation Planning Bundle.
Step 4 : Put the items in the correct boxes
Now it’s time to put everything in its place. Sort all your child’s learning materials by category and put them in the corresponding box or bag.
Toss any broken toys.
Set aside anything you plan to donate in the donate bag.
Step 5 : Keep everything you will use with your child right away.
Now that your child’s toys and learning materials are clearly organised by category, you can simple look at each box and take out 2-3 items per box that are essential to your child’s current home program.
Step 6 : Decide how often you will rotate toys
How often you rotate toys will depend on what you are working on with your child, how quickly he learns new skills and needs to switch learning materials and how long it takes before he tends to fixate on a particular item or completely lose interest in a toy or learning material.
I generally recommend rotating toys at least once every 2 weeks and possibly once a week. You can also just feel for when it’s time to switch things up based on your personal family situation with your child.
When you are ready to rotate toys, just choose 2-3 items from each category.
FAQS : The Most Common Questions I Get Asked about Toy Rotation and my Answers for You!
Over the years, as an autism parenting coach, and the owner of my autism center here in Paris, I have used this system myself and taught hundreds of families to put it in place at home too.
I get asked the same questions over and over again.
Below, is a list of questions I get asked frequently followed by my answers :
- When rotating toys, how many toys should I have out at one time?
- What counts as “one toy”? Is a kitchen accessories set one toy?
- What about bulkier toys like a dollhouse or play kitchen?
- What should I do with toys and activities we’ve received as gifts but that are too difficult for my child?
- What should I do with toys and activities that are too easy for my child to use now?
- What if my child keeps asking for a toy that has been put away?
- How should I organize the toys that are currently available to my child?
- What if a toy fits into a few different categories?
When rotating toys, how many toys should I have out at one time?
A good general rule is to have 2-3 items per category, so approximately 30 toys.
What counts as “one toy”? Is a kitchen accessories set one toy?
Yes, you can count a kitchen set, lego set or group of zoo animals as “one toy”!
What about bulkier toys like a dollhouse or play kitchen?
Don’t worry about hiding a play kitchen or dollhouse! That would be way too complicated. Instead, rotate out the accessories that go with each bigger item like the pretend play food or dollhouse dolls and accessories.
What should I do with toys and activities we’ve received as gifts but that are too difficult for my child?
Keep these aside for later for when your child progresses to the level of being able to learn from them.
What should I do with toys and activities that are too easy for my child to use now?
In most cases, I recommend keeping it! It’s crucial to go back over learned skills with children with autism to keep them from forgetting what they have learned. This is called a “maintenance program” and it is essential for your child’s home program.
What if my child keeps asking for a toy that has been put away?
If your child is completely obsessed with an item that you put away, it may create some frustration at first. This is part of the process and you need to keep moving forward. Offer something else that serves the same function. If you child is missing a sensory item, replace it with another sensory item.
How should I organize the toys that are currently available to my child?
Follow the instructions in my free progress nook course to learn how to organize your child’s play/learning space at home.
What if a toy fits into a few different categories?
Don’t worry too much about it. Just choose a category and add it to the corresponding box!
Download your free printable : How to Set Up and Maintain a Toy Rotation for Children with Autism is Your Home
I’ve put together a free printable Toy Rotation Workbook to help you get started rotating your child’s toy right now. It includes the exact steps you need to create the toy rotation system at home, the toy rotation categories, two toy rotation inventory sheets so you can keep track of which items are in each category and even cute and colorful printable labels for you to use.
This is how you can get it now :
- Download the free printable Toy Rotation Workbook here.
- Print out the workbook. Optional : laminate the box labels.
- Use the workbook to rotate toys at home.
- Refer to the inventory sheets to keep track of all of your child’s toys and learning materials and their categories.
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Do you have any questions or tips to add? Do you currently use a toy rotation system at home?
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