I love toy stores, and I love getting interesting toys for my kids. However, I've found over the years that the toys I like to get are not always the toys the kids like to play with. I've bought about a million blocks since I've been a parent, and they have barely been touched. I've bought several beginner baby video game type systems for Janey, all of which overwhelm her. I've gotten her many dolls, most of which end up as chew toys. William was the easiest to buy for---anything Thomas the Tank Engine or Brio got heavy, heavy use. Freddy always preferred electronic entertainment. Janey---well, it's very hard to get her interested in a toy at all.
What has worked? The best kind of toys for her seem to be what are called fidget toys. They are ones you can hold and move around in your hands---things like squshy balls, Tangles, stress balls, textured baby type toys, things like that. She also likes musical toys---ones with buttons to push to play music. She has always been interested in Play-Doh, and I'd very much love to get her everything Play-Doh that exists, but she eats it, always. Yesterday was a little bit of a breakthrough in that she found some I had hidden and actually played with it for about 15 minutes without putting it in her mouth at all, so maybe that is getting better. She rolled it into a log and a ball, making me very happy. Lately also she likes pouring water or beans or something from one container into another.
The thing that's hard to do is not think age-appropriate, but much lower than her chronological ages. It's so tempting to me to get her things I would like her to like, like Polly Pockets or Barbies or dollhouses. I have to tell myself that she might like them some day, maybe even into her teens or twenties, but right now, the best kind of toy for her is probably aimed at about a 1 year old, and there are lots of neat toys out there for that age.
I've searched a lot for web resources for autistic kids and toys. As I often find, most are aimed at higher functioning kids than Janey. Lots of Thomas, lots of games that she would in no way understand. It seems like someone recommends a toy for autistic kids, and then that just gets copied by everyone, whether most autistic kids would like it or not. I'd love it if there were a site just for lower functioning kids with autism, with toys they can't choke on, that will actually hold their interest. I see some great things sometimes in school or therapy catalogs, but they are priced for those kind of budgets, not mine. Another cool thing I'd like is if some autism agency would lend good toys, like a toy library for autism. I'd be happy to pay a monthly fee to have access to some of the great toys I can't afford. It would be another of those services that would help people like Janey much, much more than another grant for research.
Meanwhile, I'll just continue limping along getting the occasional toy that's a hit with her. I think toys are a huge, huge part of childhood, and it's one of my biggest frustrations about autism parenting---that there is so little to give her that will engage and interest her.