1. Fidget toys. These are usually things actually designed for people to have at their desks in offices, and to play around with as a way to fidget. Not all of these are at all suitable, of course, like things with magnets or breakable ones, but lots are---mushy figures you can push in, Tangles that can be turned in all directions, Kushie type toys, toys with water inside you can move from side to side to see the waves move, things like that. I have gotten a lot of these from office supply sites.
2. Baby toys. I used to resist these, wanting Janey to have "age-appropriate" toys, but lately I've kind of given up on that. Baby toys are pretty cool these days! They have all kinds of textures, they often make noise or play music, they are non-breakable and can't be eaten---in a lot of ways, they are perfect for Janey. She is most interested in electronic ones, like V-Tech or LeapFrog toys, and I've had good luck finding them used.
3. Water toys. Janey, like so many kids with autism, loves water. She loves being in the bath or the wading pool or any kind of swimming. Anything that can stand water is a great toy for her. She loves to toss things in water and see what happens, so it's great to find toys that allow that.
4. Balls. Janey loves to kick or throw balls. She is getting better at it! I try to find balls that are safe for the house somewhat, so she can use them all year round.
5. Stuffed Animals. This is a new category for Janey, because I have a new approach to them. I'd never buy one new unless it was a very special circumstance, but at the thrift store I like, they sell big bags stuffed VERY full of assorted stuffed animals, for usually $4. They have about 15 toys in them! I take these in the car, and hand one to Janey at the beginning of almost every drive. She likes holding them, feeling the textures and exploring them, and every now and then she finds one she gets attached to, like recently a monkey and an elephant. I think of them as disposable, as it's impossible to keep her from sometimes wrecking them or losing them, but at that price, it's okay.
6. Bubbles. Janey has learned how to blow bubbles herself, although you have to watch her pretty carefully so she doesn't spill the whole jar of them the minute she picks them up. She also loves bubbles blown for her.
There are some toys you always see in lists of "Best Toys for Autism" that just don't cut it for Janey. A lot of these are toys that are for higher functioning kids with autism, like Geosafari toys or complicated train sets. Puzzles don't work well, just because she will so often toss the pieces, and I don't have the organizational skills to keep track of them well. Playdoh WOULD be great, as she loves it, but she loves to eat it as much as play with it, and although we've given it second and third and fourth chances, she can't resist. Although I think she likes to draw and paint at school, at home, she doesn't seem to care for it. And she has never shown much interest at all in dolls, which is probably one of my biggest areas of sadness about her. It's my dream, not hers, to have a daughter that loved dolls as I did.
Of course, one of her favorite "toys" is her iPad, but that's a different category I'll write about soon!