Kinney Autism & Support

Kinney's Favorite Things 2021

If you have a loved one with autism on your gift list this year, consider these sensory-friendly gifts recommended by Kinney Center experts.


by Kinney Center


  • Fluorescent Light Filters: For classroom and office environments, fluorescent light filters are a must! These cloth filters easily attach to classic fluorescent ceiling tiles with magnets, and reduce harsh glare and flickering associated with fluorescent lighting. I use these filters in my office to provide a more sensory-friendly environment for students. 

    Mary Ann Newell, MS, LPC, NCC, Assistant Director of College Support
  • Pop-It: Fun fidget toy for all ages! Can help ease anxieties and keep hands busy, while improving fine motor skills!

    Theresa McFalls, LSW, Director of College Support
  • Zen Garden/Mini Sandbox: A zen garden is a tiny, table top sandbox that typically includes small rocks, figurines, and rakes. It can be very soothing to rake the sand and place the small rocks and figurines if you are feeling stressed. I keep one on my desk for students to use while we meet each week so that they have something to fidget with while we chat. 

    Alli Gatta, MS, LPC, NCC, Assistant Director of College Support
  • Color by Number Mystery Mosaics: Color individual boxes, referencing a color-number key. The picture slowly takes shape, and the artist eventually finds out what they are coloring! It is a great mindfulness resource for all ages. 
  • Lego Sets: Sometimes, you have to go with a classic, relaxing, Lego set. Legos are a great STEM activity, and are perfect for children and adults to create something meaningful to them. Personal recommendation is the new Lego Mario/Luigi Starter courses, as they have a mobile app that creates immersive play, and who can say no to a talking Mario! 

    Robert Haftl, MSW, Assistant Director of College Support
  • Tangles: Tangles are portable fidgets that can be brought anywhere and help with focus and managing anxiety. They come in different varieties and sizes depending on sensory preferences and are fun to fidget with. 

    Ali Flukes, LCSW, Assistant Director of College Support

Programs Team:

  • Calming Cuddle Ball: With the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, as a professional it has been a very interesting experience with assisting participants with navigating sensory overload and touch when we all are required to social distance. As a result, I have found the Calming Cuddle Ball a great cost effective tool for youth. This ball allows young participants to slip their hands in the ball and give a nice socially distant squeeze in order to self-regulate and achieve a similar sensory experience that they would typically have with a clinician. Not only is it soft, when it begins to get soiled, clinicians and caregivers can throw it in the wash and air dry it for use the following day. I highly recommend it for an individual who yearns for a sense of comfort and secure transitional objects throughout their day. 

    Jessica R. Joseph, PhD, BCBA, Director of Programs
  • Sensory Mat: Sensory mats are a great gift for individuals with ASD of all ages. A sensory mat responds to people walking on them. The slime inside moves with the pressure of the individual's body. The Kinney Center's sensory room has a few of these mats and I notice our clients utilizing them daily. It is a great way to relieve some sensory overload.

    Hannah Tomkovicz, BCBA, Associate Director of Programs
  • Sensory Wobble Cushion: Sensory wobble cushions can be placed on the floor or on a chair - for flexible seating anywhere. Durable vinyl cushions are specially designed to let students wiggle and wobble while they sit which help children focus as they move. 

    Alyssa Hernandez, BCBA, Associate Director of Programs
  • Magnetiles: Great multi-use item that allows learning through play. These magnetic and colorful tiles are a hit for kids all over and help them to develop math, science and spatial learning skills. 
  • Chewelry: If you have a kiddo who loves to chew, these safe chewy necklaces can be really helpful. Because they are worn around the neck (with break away necklaces) or wrist, it is less likely that the chewy will end up on the ground or mixed up with another child's chew. This can also be helpful in decreasing the risk that your child might pick up an item not meant to be chewed. In the time of COVID that can be a huge relief (plus they are easy to clean). Not to mention...they look super cool!

    Emily Haindl, BCBA, Senior Associate Director of Programs
  • Rainbow Mesh Stress Relief Ball: These balls are filled with bright colors and even glitter squishable orbs that pop out between the mesh. A great fidget to relieve stress and frustration. The best part is that the rainbow mesh stress relief ball is great for all ages. 

    Jackie Gally, Associate Director of Programs

Executive Team:

  • Pop-It: They are a molded rubber formed into raised circles. You can push the center of the circles until they pop into a raised circle on the other side. I have seen them as very large and multicolored. They come in all sorts of fun shapes and designs (unicorns, squares, etc.) I have also seen them small and discreet. I have a smaller one at my desk and I use it to keep myself focused when in meetings. They are great for kids and adults!

    Angus Murray, Executive Director
  • Sensory Tent: A sometimes overlooked option for a sensory toy is a simple tent.  Many children and adults engage in repetitive sensory activities in an effort to gain control over their environment and/or to regulate and simplify their sensory and environmental input.  A “sensory tent” can be as simple as a tent that provides the child with an opportunity to go and sit without unnecessary visual distractions.  For this purpose, the tent walls should be dark and thick enough to block out most visual distractions.  You could also get a tent with even thicker walls which serve to dampen sounds.  Or perhaps the child already has sound reducing headphones or a tablet (e.g., iPad, Android) on which they can play their favorite calming music or watch their favorite show while in their tent.  After initial use and exploration, the tent could be placed in a corner of the child’s bedroom or another comfortable space for the child to use when they wish.  You could also get them some stickers or other decorations of their favorite cartoon or movie character, in case they might want to use those to decorate the inside of their new personalized space.

    Joseph McCleery, PhD, Executive Director of Academic Programs

Bonus Items

Looking for more? Kinney’s favorite sensory-friendly things is an annual tradition. Check out our lists from 2020, 2019 and 2018