When most people hear the words “autism” and “sensory aids” - they probably picture an 8-year-old White boy with headphones and a fidget toy. And because of this, it can feel really scary to use sensory aids in public - for fear of people staring, judging, or having misconceptions about you.
But let’s make one thing clear - there is NOTHING childish about sensory aids. And other people’s opinions should not stop us from using them!
Representation of stim toys is something I really consciously try to bear in mind in the work that I’m doing. Whenever I am doing a keynote talk, I’ll always take my fidget toy on stage with me - because a fidget toy is a part of what an authentically, unmasked neurodivergent person looks like!
As autistic people, we’re prone to sensory overload. Bottom-Up Thinking means that our brains are always taking in lots and lots of information from all of our different senses. And naturally, all of that information can be overwhelming - and make us feel overstimulated, or trigger meltdowns or shutdowns.
So looking after ourselves with things to reduce that overwhelm is a huge part of making a world that was built for neurotypical people, more accessible for us!
Here are some of my favourite sensory aids and how I use them:
1 - Noise-Cancellation Headphones
Sound is probably the sense that I struggle with the most. If there are clashing noises, offensive noises, or just too many noises - it really grinds my gears. A way that I combat this is by almost always wearing noise-cancellation headphones.
You can either get headphones that you can listen to music through (I have the Apple AirPods Max and AirPods Pro), or you can get earplugs that just reduce the sound around you (I have Loop Earplugs). I like to carry both with me for different circumstances but definitely like to be in control of the sound waves that get to make their way to my busy little brain!
2 - Stim Toys
Stim toys, or fidget toys, can be lots of different things! It is basically anything that you can play with, fidget with, or touch that either keeps your fingers busy or helps you to self-soothe.
Some of my favourites are these Spikey Rings (that you might have seen in some of my clips from talks) and these Tangles which are my current favourite! Some people might prefer a more squidgy texture, or something that’s more like a game, or something that is soft and calming. If you’re new to stim toys, I’d recommend trying out one of the variety packs and seeing which type works best for you!
A few jewellery companies now make fidget rings, too. They just look like normal rings but have bits that you can spin, twist, or fidget with. These are a great option if you don’t feel 100% comfortable having a toy just yet - as nobody would ever know that you’re secretly fidgeting away!
3 - Weighted Blanket
If you haven’t tried a weighted blanket yet - DO IT. The weight of the blanket on your body helps to relieve anxiety and it honestly just feels like a nice warm hug 😅
When things get a little bit too much, I find being able to lay under my weighted blanket for a while is the best thing to help me decompress!
4 - Sunglasses
Bright lights are another thing that can trigger sensory overload - please tell me WHO invented fluorescent lighting and why they thought it was a good idea?! Wearing sunglasses or tinted glasses in offensively-bright places like supermarkets and airports can help protect your eyes from those ever-invasive glares!
5 - AAC Cards
If/when we do experience sensory overload, meltdowns or shutdowns - it’s common for us to either go non-verbal or struggle to communicate our needs effectively.
AAC Cards have prompts/messages that you can show to the people around you to clearly communicate your needs without the need to speak. My only complaint is that a lot of them are aimed at children - maybe this is something we as a community can bring up to date for autistic adults!
Remember that using sensory aids doesn’t make you childish, or any less professional, or any less “cool”… It makes you a well-prepared King or Queen who is aware of their needs 👑
The more we all show up with our sensory aids, the more normalised it becomes, and the more comfortable we can all be!