Stim Toys and Fidgets Workshop: A Recap

Update: I now have a .pdf file that condenses this post if needed!
You can find it here: Stim Toys and Fidgets Workshop

Now this is the content I signed up for. Allow me to utilize this special interest for the next few hours, friends.

 

A while back, I hosted a Stim Toy and Fidgets Workshop at our local community center for the Autism Society of East Tennessee. (Fun fact: it’s the best place and I love it. Not that I’m biased or anything.)

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A table with a blue cloth over it. It has several different stim toys, fidgets, and other objects used for autistic and neurodivergent people.

Behold: the Table of Stimming.

Okay, it’s not actually called that.  It’s just a table, but I digress.

Before I get into what all these objects are, I have to address stimming first.

Stimming: By textbook definition, stimming is self-stimulatory behavior. It’s repetitive physical movement, sounds, and movement of objects.

By my personal definition: it’s like breathing. It’s calming when I’m stressed, enjoyable when I’m having fun, and it’s just what I do (hence the blog name, of course).

There’s three main reasons for stimming:

  1. Self-regulation.This is when things are just a bit too much. A good example of this is when I’m in a loud room, and start rocking. Now, to the neurotypical person, I look a little ridiculous – a 20 year old girl rocking and flapping back and forth.
    But to me? When I’m overwhelmed, this is what’s going to get me around a meltdown or through it. I’d rather people judge me than put my own comfort and stability at risk.
  2. Sensory Seeking 

    This is probably best described as your kid running through the Wal-Mart aisle and touching every single pillow in sight. Another fun fact: I am the adult who does the same.
    It just feels so great. One of the perks of being autistic (it’s not all doom and gloom, you know) is that stimming is the best. It’s a way to experience the world around you more deeply than others do, and enjoying it even more so. People might not understand why I will touch EVERY fake plant visibly on display (reason #35 why  I can’t be left alone in the craft store), but that’s okay. I’m still going to touch that fake moss and squeak.

  3. Expression 

    The best summary I can give: happy flapping!
    When I’m excited, I always squeal and flap my hands. It’s just a way of expressing my joy about something. Contrary to popular belief, autistic people do have feelings. Sometimes, we may feel things much more deeply than neurotypicals do.
    An example would be when there’s news about one of our special interests. When I received a message from the creator of Babylon 5, I squeaked so loudly, rocked, and flapped my hands for a full five minutes. There was just so much energy and excitement that I couldn’t contain it. It happens.
    Of course, it can go the other way too. Similar to self-regulation, stimming can be used as an expression of fear or distress. My friends have learned to tell the difference between a ‘happy flap’ and a ‘oh no the world is ending please help’ flap.

Now, let’s break it down a little more.

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A view from the table. (Told you the center looks fantastic)

There’s seven main types of stimming. For the purpose of the workshop, I narrowed it down by combining 6 and 7.

  1. Visual: sight
  2. Auditory: sound
  3. Tactile: touch
  4. Taste: chewing and licking
  5. Smell: sniffing
  6. Proprioceptive: knowing where your body is, grounding
  7. Vestibular: movement, spinning, and swinging

Where do stim toys and fidgets fit into all this?

Stim toys and fidgets are objects that are used to help autistic and neurodivergent people focus and cope with the world around them. Sometimes they can be used to re-direct negative/painful stims to something better.

[Pro-tip: in most cases, don’t prevent your child from stimming. Less meltdowns = a happy household for everyone. That said, if the stims are dangerous to either the autistic person or those around, definitely re-direct. Find out what works for them, and encourage safe and healthy stimming.]

Let’s get started! At the end of the post, I will post links for where you can get these types of things relatively cheap, as well as ideas for making your own! (The Dollar Tree is a perfect place for fidgets). Most of these belong to the community center and were donated by an autistic-run business called Stimtastic! The rest are my own personal ones.

Visual

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Pictured are three slinkies, whirligigs, a fidget spinner, two spinning tops, and a liquid movement toy (with the name blurred out).

Visual stim toys are often ones that we sit and watch. Similar to sitting in the living room and watching the ceiling fan, it’s just soothing and enjoyable.
Let’s go through the picture here. You’re most likely familiar with the fidget spinner: watching it spin can be mesmerizing for some people. Another example is the old favorite slinky. Watching it move back and forth like waves can be very stimmy. Spinning tops and whirligigs also have a similar effect (for the record, you can get these at the Dollar Tree).
My personal favorite types of visual stim toys are liquid and glitter movements. In the picture, I only have one example. When you turn it upside down, the liquid moves and bubbles.

Other visual stimming suggestions:
Kaleidoscopes, lava lamps, glitter jars, glow lights, I-Spy tubes: all of these are really nice and stimmy. I recommend glitter/calming bottles – especially as you can make them yourself!

Websites sometimes can be very good for visual stimming as well. Your kids may already be looking at videos of slime or gifs of bubbles/other things on YouTube, tumblr, or even Instagram. I like to put on videos of fish swimming in reefs and hook up my laptop to the television. It’s really nice.

Auditory

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Pictured are a soft cloth bag containing glass pebbles, pop tubes, and a Jacob’s Ladder.

The first one shown on here is the bag of marbles, as I call it. If the name doesn’t give it away, it’s literally a glasses bag filled with glass pebbles that I bought at the Dollar Tree. It makes a very nice rattle noise that I’m fond of. The red pop tubes are very noisy, but the sound is fun to listen to. I have a blue one of my own that I like to maneuver into different shapes. The Jacob’s Ladder is fun to watch as it descends when flipped. (If you haven’t seen one of these in action before, look on YouTube. It is the best.)

Other auditory stimming suggestions:
Beans/rice in a can, clicking pens, meditation/ambient noises, mp3 player/repetitive music, music boxes, stim toys that click. These are all different examples that are also considered auditory.
Alternatively – if you or your kid isn’t fond of noise, noise-cancelling headphones are always a bonus. I use mine sometimes, and it’s great. (If you’re worried about being judged: no one important will care. If they’re judgmental, you don’t want them around anyway).

Tactile

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Pictured are several different tactile stim toys. A puzzle ball, Silly Putty, red tangle, Play-Doh, fuzzy catepillar, a fuzzy duck, marble fidgets, spiky balls, poppers, a bendy alien, two soft pandas, a blue packet of gel beads, and a stress ball made out of flour and a balloon.

The tactile stim toys are some of the easiest to find, hence the large amount here. Play-Doh and Silly Putty both have a similar purpose, and are nice to fidget with. I prefer the Silly Putty myself, because it doesn’t leave a residue. The puzzle ball is good for both stimming, as well as being a slightly less infuriating version of a Rubik’s Cube. The red tangle is nice for when you’re stressed and your fingers are extra fidgety. If I’m using my tangle, I’m probably very stressed.
The orange fuzzy catepillar, yellow fuzzy duck, and the spiky balls are all really helpful if you like  that certain texture. The spiky balls are a bit more solid, and may not be the best thing to step on without shoes. These and the poppers are also actually useful for dermatillomania and trichotillomania (skin picking and hair pulling/plucking), which can be common in autistic people – myself included. The green alien and the marble fidgets are good for manipulating with your fingers, and are nice for practicing your fine motor skills (especially as mine are kinda awful).
The squishy pandas, stress ball balloon, and blue packet all have a similar purpose for fidgeting. There’s a little resistance when squeezing, but not enough to frustrate you.

Other tactile stimming suggestions:
Fluffy/fuzzy socks or comfy blanket, heated soft toys, spinner rings, slimes. Be creative!

 

Bonus picture: the stress ball balloons I made for the CDC self-contained classroom that I volunteered in during high school.

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Several different balloons with silly faces and ribbon bows. If you make these: remember to make sure no one has a latex allergy!

Taste

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Chewable  jewelry: a flower and a mushroom.

These are my own personal chewing stim toys. I have a significant habit of chewing on my shirt collar all the time. These have been very helpful in keeping me from ruining shirts! The biggest concern with these is keeping them clean, and making sure that the material is non-toxic.

Other taste stimming suggestions:
I like to keep sweets in my bag – especially peppermint or spearmint. It’s actually rather calming. I also keep crackers/pretzels with me, but that’s due to a medical condition. Remember that choking hazards are a concern, and if that’s a big worry for you, supervision is definitely necessary. There’s also flavored chewables, but I don’t have experience with those.

Smell

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A roll-on bottle of essential oils with a pink sticker that says “Peace” on it.

I actually got this from an Essential Oils workshop that we had at the community center. Now, this isn’t always going to be great for autistic people – especially with scent sensitivities. Some of us love smells and others loathe strong scents. I like this one, but I can’t smell it for too long. It’s nice to smell when I’m getting a little stressed, though.

Other smell stimming options:
Candles, scratch-and-sniff stickers, aroma diffusers, scented markers, and other things. Remember to use caution with scents, as inhaling smells for too long (or smelling the wrong things) is not a good thing. Breathing is far better than sniffing candles. Always use discretion and be safe!

 

Proprioceptive and Vestibular
(Yes, it doesn’t match the other headings.)

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Image contains a weighted wrap, a weighted hacky sack, and a weighted lizard, crab, and butterfly.

The main objects shown in this image are more focused on proprioceptive/pressure stimming. The three weighted animals are helpful to carry around, as they’re relatively small. The hacky sack is fun to switch from one hand to the other, and can be comforting.
My favorite is definitely the weighted wrap, though. I take it with me to classes, and also took it with me when I travelled internationally to visit my fiance.

Other proprioceptive and vestibular stimming suggestions:
For proprioceptive, one of the best things I can recommend is a weighted blanket. I’m underneath mine as I’m typing this! It’s very comforting. For vestibular: swings, trampolines, spinning chairs, and crash pads are all really nice things that can be nice. I can’t really handle vestibular things as much due to medical reasons, but I know my little brother loves it.

So where can you get these?

 

Hopefully this can be a helpful resource! If there’s anything that’s missing or misspelled, let me know. (It’s two in the morning, which I didn’t realize.)

As always, just keep stimming. ❤

Diagnosis Story Time!

Getting a diagnosis. Seems fairly straightforward, right?

You take your kid in to see the doctor, the doctor refers them, and then – voila- diagnosis time!
At least, that’s what people always assume. Me, not so much.

I was always a “weird” kid growing up. I took things literally, constantly asked questions that everyone somehow already understood, and was bullied often.  My lack of social awareness was obvious, but it was just marked as being “quirky” or “a little different.”

Of course, my literal brain made for some laughs growing up.

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Younger me (about 5 years old) being angry at a gunfight re-enactment because I thought they were actually hurting each other instead of “solving their problems like grown-ups”. The actors are a bit too amused to keep in character.

Well-versed in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog, Underdog, or whatever else I was stuck in, I was always happy to share information I had gathered. My classmates, however, were a bit less than thrilled. My social skills difficulties became more obvious as I got older, as other girls seemed to be surpassing me in that department. Furthermore, I didn’t care about my appearance like other girls did. I wanted only comfy and sensory-friendly clothes, hated doing my hair, and honestly didn’t care at all.
My social problems became a bit more obvious when I hit middle school, especially when I only ever talked about Doctor Who and other science fiction.  I honestly didn’t know when it was acceptable to talk in groups, and often interrupted people simply because my brain had trouble keeping up – something I still struggle with.

After my brother was diagnosed with autism during that time, that also became a special interest. I delved deep into what the autism spectrum was comprised of. I read up on IEPs, studied different types of therapies available, and tried to be as knowledgeable as possible. Ironically, I didn’t realize I was autistic; I occasionally questioned the possibility, but put it away because I assumed diagnosis could only happen as a kid. I was wrong.

I’ll spare you the smaller details and go forward to age 18.

It started with my friends and my college roommate, who pointed out that I might be on the autism spectrum. I was intrigued with the idea, as I hadn’t really given it too much thought. As I met with a new therapist at the time, they suggested that I may very well be on the spectrum. Therefore, we continued treatment under the assumption that I was. I acquired a weighted blanket, began using stim toys, and started learning new ways to cope. However, I was often deterred from getting an “official” diagnosis. There are a lot of barriers to getting evaluated as an adult, ranging from financial situations to significant bias based on gender, race, and common misconceptions about autism. I was also told that there was no point to me getting evaluated, as there were no resources really available for me and I was too old for it to matter anyway.

Finally, at age 19 / almost 20, I somehow managed to get an appointment with a neuropsychologist. As many autistic adults know, this is not an easy feat. It can be difficult to get referred when you’re an adult, and even more so when you’re female-presenting. While I was mostly there due to cognitive issues (three mild TBIs can complicate matters a bit), the doctor also decided that he wanted to evaluate me for autism. If I hadn’t been there for other medical reasons, I may have not gotten the chance for evaluation at all!
I was in testing for over 7 hours, and was so exhausted and overwhelmed. I also learned that I had to wait a month to see my results, which caused a significant amount of anxiety itself.

Fast forward to January of this year. My results were sent to my university’s Disability Services, as I was overseas visiting my fiance during Christmas break. I went into the office and quietly asked for my paperwork to make copies of. As I had no idea what was on them, I waited anxiously for the staff member to bring back my copies. As I was handed the intensely detailed report, I tried to hide the mixture of anxiety and anticipation that was building up. I went outside the office and nearly squealed as I read the report. I did a checklist in my head as I read each result.

PTSD? Yeah, that’s accurate. Already had that diagnosis anyway.

Mild Neurocognitive disorder? I guess that explains a lot. 

Persistent Depressive Disorder? Oh, this replaces the MDD. Good for accuracy anyway.”

And then- my heart started racing.

“Autism Spectrum Disorder”

With three little words, you wouldn’t think they would have such an effect. I mean, I had already referred to myself as autistic. I was already mostly convinced I was probably on the spectrum. I had even written a previous blog post (since deleted because I didn’t like the format) to detail my realization of being autistic.

Yet, three little words on a piece of paper made me stop in my tracks.

My first instinct was to flap my hands excitedly, as I had waited so long for this moment.

Nearly 20 years, I had constantly thought I was broken and weird. I had several days where I thought I was simply useless and somehow defective. After my original discovery of considering being autistic, I had so many days where I wondered if I was just a terrible person – and everyone was wrong about me being on the spectrum.
Seeing it on a piece of paper gave me so much validation, and I felt almost vindicated. All those times I was called derogatory names, told I had no common sense, and that I was a “social idiot”: I was not those things. I was autistic, and it was my own normal.

My second instinct was actually anger. I was angry that it had taken so long for my neurodiversity to be properly noted, and that I spent my entire childhood struggling when I could’ve had more. I was frustrated that both of my younger brothers were diagnosed at 2 years old and that I had somehow been missed. I was angry that I had spent so many years in therapy and yet they just thought I was “quirky” and “a little weird.”
I was distressed that society wanted to ‘cure’ me of my differences, and that the world did consider my neurology a burden. I was upset at myself for not recognizing that I had it, and for not pursuing the possibility when I had the occasional thought that I might be on the spectrum. Most of all, I was afraid that this could be used against me in the future. I’d heard horror stories of autistic parents having their kids taken away only because they were autistic.

My third instinct is probably the most important one: relief and the feeling of belonging.

I felt so relieved to know I had reasons for being the way I was. I often get discouraged, especially in social situations, sensory overload, or when I go non-verbal due to stress. I was so pleased knowing that I wasn’t alone in what I was dealing with, and knowing that I could be able to find local resources. I realized that I did belong to a larger community, and that maybe everything would really be okay. I went back to my room and immediately started researching groups and organizations.

Fast forward to today:

I’m preparing for my third year in university,  and I’m back to making my spreadsheets. There’s a cat sleeping on my toes. My room is once again covered in post-it notes, reminding me to eat and brush my hair.

Papers are everywhere, as I now have a volunteer position with the Autism Society. I have been appointed as the Teen and Adult Social Scene Coordinator, which is very exciting for me. It was a bit of a surprise, as I had only went originally for an adult support group! My autistic nature makes it difficult sensory-wise, but it has quickly turned into a special interest in itself. One of the perks of autism is the hyperfocus on something I am way into. Community service is something I love to do and being autistic, it seems a perfect way to make a difference.

I have realized that my ability to get an official diagnosis is actually a bit of an oddity when it comes to adults, especially in groups that are often underrepresented when we talk about the autism spectrum. There are so many variables that impact the ability to get a diagnosis, and I am quite lucky to get diagnosed. So many others never actually get that chance.

As for myself, I’ll just keep stimming.