Ezra,  Special Needs Parenting

K’Nex: the one toy that keeps my ADHD kid focused for HOURS

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Ezra received his first set of K’Nex from his grandparents for Christmas 2016, when he was six years old. They went over really great. Not.

While he was generally intrigued by them, the first time he tried to work with them ended in severe frustration. Thus, the K’Nex box sat on the mantle of the un-used basement fireplace for months.

I’m not exactly sure what happened in that little brain of his, but he grew or had a mental leap or something. Because in August, seemingly overnight – he figured them out and started building creations left and right during his afternoon “quiet time.”

Why K'Nex is so great for special needs kids with autism or ADHD | K'Nex is the the one educational building toy that keeps my ADHD kid focused for HOURS

Surprisingly Functional K'Nex Picnic Basket
Surprisingly Functional K’Nex Picnic Basket

Why K’Nex is so great for special needs kids

with autism and ADHD

K’Nex helps with stimming:

Ezra has started manifesting more and more “autism-like” symptoms, particularly in the area of “stimming.” While we are not completely sure if this is officially autism behavior or if it is sensory, he has started doing things to give him stimulation in his hands:

  • Ripping paper
  • Ripping up toilet paper during bathroom times
  • Peeling cardboard off of board books
  • Tearing up foam toys
  • Peeling the paint off of wood trim
  • Peeling the paper off of Crayons – apart from coloring
  • Scratching paint off of pencils
  • Using pencils to poke holes in objects, furniture, wood trim, and clothing
  • Breaking up a wooden puzzle box into tiny pieces
  • Ripping up tinsel into a bunch of small pieces
  • Unwinding an entire box of paperclips

He describes this as an uncontrollable compulsion to feel pressure in his hands.

autism stimming

My understanding is that this is very typical in children with autism and sensory processing disorder, but this is a new symptom / manifestation of this for us! I’m now constantly on the lookout to keep things out of his room that he could destroy that I might not expect. He does find relief through playdough, putties, and fidgets (this is the fidget he likes the most right now), but K’Nex really helps to give him that proprioceptive input and stimulation he is seeking in his hands.

K’Nex keeps the child’s focus:

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that this “toy” will keep him occupied for hours. Most of them time when we do “quiet time” especially on weekends or days he’s out of school (such as summers, snow days, and breaks) we aim for a 2-3 hour time frame while LB naps and I either rest or work on blogging and business.

Ezra occasionally comes out of his room because needs help putting pieces together, but I always try to encourage him to try on his own (which is one of his rules). He will also sometimes come out because he’s just SO excited to show me what he has built.

Why K'Nex is so great for special needs kids with autism or ADHD | K'Nex is the the one educational building toy that keeps my ADHD kid focused for HOURS

We also pushed Ezra’s bedtime from a loose-7PM to a loose-8PM to help with the bedtime struggles. We have maintained our dinner and after-dinner routine, but now give him some free-play time in his room before bed while we are getting LB in bed and Mommy has a few moments to calm down from the witching hour / dinner time / bath time chaos. K’Nex has, of course, filled a role in this time for Ezra!

Why K'Nex is so great for special needs kids with autism or ADHD | K'Nex is the the one educational building toy that keeps my ADHD kid focused for HOURS

And then there are those random nights when we still deal with night-waking or Ezra being up literally the entire night. This doesn’t happen all that often anymore (thank you Ritalin!), but when it does, there’s K’Nex!

K’Nex by the light of the nightlight, at 1AM!!!
Why K'Nex is so great for special needs kids with autism or ADHD | K'Nex is the the one educational building toy that keeps my ADHD kid focused for HOURS
And here we have the finished product! Bow and arrow? Or is it an anchor?

K’Nex provides a highly-structured and organized approach to fine motor development:

As Ezra grows, it is very obvious that he is gifted in areas such as building, design, and engineering. He is a very black and white thinker (if not downright rigid) who prefers structure and order over creativity. And, as much as we LOVE The LEGO Movie, he probably has more in common with Lord Business than the masterbuilders: he always HAS to FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS.

This is one of the biggest reasons we prefer K’Nex over other building toys and games for kids. There are many GREAT options, so I’m not at all bashing them. Ezra got his first Lego set at his 4th birthday party and has spent many enjoyable hours working with Legos, BUT…

Legos and other similar items have brought him a LOT of frustration. There are too many pieces, too many styles and colors of pieces (shades of colors), and the pieces are SMALL. K’Nex pieces are big enough* that they are easier for him to manipulate than Legos, which is good for him and his fine motor struggles and delays. There are also fewer colors and shades of colors to K’Nex.

I can’t tell you how many times I have sent Ezra to the basement or his room to play with Legos only to have him call me back because he can’t find the pieces he needs. I’ve tried to get him to understand that he can swap pieces of the same kind but different color, or just build things off of his own imagination, but this never worked. It often ended with us both being frustrated. I even tried organizing all of his Lego pieces by color to help him find them more quickly and easily (and decrease how much he needed my “help”), but it was to no avail.

*It’s worth noting that there are actually two sizes of K’Nex pieces: “standard” and “micro.” Micro pieces are smaller and we have had some higher frustration levels working with the micro pieces. I was unaware of this before I bought him more K’Nex for Christmas. If you have younger ones, I recommend looking at sets with “standard” size pieces only – we started with their “Imagine” line. This was Ezra’s first set, and still the one he plays with the most. K’Nex also has sets designed for preschool hands, known as Kid K’Nex, which has even larger pieces.

K’Nex gives kids on the spectrum or with ADHD an introduction to STEM:

K’Nex has an educational line of products to be used in the classroom, which is great for homeschooling families or families who use educational supplements at home.

K’NEX Education® sets are designed to maximize student engagement in today’s busy classroom. Sets feature hands-on, inquiry-based lesson plans that help teach STEM topics and are aligned to national education standards. These sets include educational materials (including a companion CD) along with build instructions in their instruction booklets.

I’ll admit it – with a special needs 7-year-old and a toddler, I had to Google what STEM even was. But, Ezra got one of the K’Nex Education sets for Christmas (he has “Introduction to Simple Machines: Gears“) and I was very impressed with all of the materials. He may be a bit on the young side for them, but we will have them for years to come.

"Old Time" Phonograph from Ezra's STEM K'Nex Set
“Old Time” Phonograph from Ezra’s STEM K’Nex Set
Functional Rocket Ship that Spins

And here are a few more AWESOME things about K’Nex

  • K’Nex has a fabulous user-friendly website where you can order sets directly, order replacement pieces, download ALL of the instruction booklets for FREE (as long as you know the item number). (So if your child loses or destroys them, you are not stuck!) Also, as these can be downloaded as PDF, if you have a tech-friendly child, you can put the PDFs onto their tablet for ease of use.
  • The K’Nex website also has FREE bonus-builds available – extra projects your child can do with their existing sets, free to download as PDF files.

Below is a 2-segment video review that we did over on our Facebook page Special Needs Survival:


As promised, here’s the picture of the turtle Ezra mentioned in the video above:

And just because this is probably the coolest diving board and diver I’ve ever seen…

You can purchase K’Nex anywhere toys are sold, including ToysRUs, Target (sometimes does not carry in-store), Kohls,and Amazon – as well as directly from the K’Nex website. (This post contains affiliate links.)

Why K'Nex is so great for special needs kids with autism or ADHD | K'Nex is the the one educational building toy that keeps my ADHD kid focused for HOURS
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Why K'Nex is so great for special needs kids with autism or ADHD | K'Nex is the the one educational building toy that keeps my ADHD kid focused for HOURS
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