Update for clarity: As of now, I’m no longer a volunteer with the Autism Society of East Tennessee and the community center is no longer active.
Now this is the content I signed up for. Allow me to utilize this special interest for the next few hours.
A while back, I hosted a Stim Toy and Fidgets Workshop at our local community center for the Autism Society of East Tennessee.
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:
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.
- Sensory Seeking
This is probably best described as your kid running through the Wal-Mart aisle and touching every single pillow in sight. Fun fact: I am the adult who does the same.
It just feels so great. One of the perks of being autistic 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, but that’s okay. I’m still going to touch that fake moss and squeak.
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.
There’s seven main types of stimming. For the purpose of the workshop, I narrowed it down by combining 6 and 7.
- Visual: sight
- Auditory: sound
- Tactile: touch
- Taste: chewing and licking
- Smell: sniffing
- Proprioceptive: knowing where your body is, grounding
- Vestibular: movement, spinning, and swinging
* Note: there is another sensory system called interoception – the most simple explanation I can give is that it involves knowing things like your emotions, how you’re feeling, if you’re hungry, and being aware of internal things.
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.]
Now, let’s go through each of these.
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 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.
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.
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).
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 my friends in my high school’s CDC classroom.
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.
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. Keep in mind that strong scents can induce migraines or sensory overload for some people. As well as that, some people have asthma, cystic fibrosis, and other lung conditions – which don’t always mix well with scents.
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
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?
- Check your local Dollar Tree and get creative! Art supplies (especially things like pipe cleaners and the decorative marbles) often can help make great items to stim with. You can also get supplies to make a sensory bottle with from there, or stress ball balloons ( a tested favorite!)
stimtastic.co – autistic-owned, inexpensive, selection of chewies and stim toys![on hiatus]
- https://www.etsy.com/shop/asenseofself – autistic-owned
- https://www.etsy.com/shop/ruthdoodle – autistic-owned
- https://www.allthingssensoryshop.com – autistic-owned
- https://www.therapyshoppe.com – several stim toys
- https://www.tanglecreations.com/ – Tangles and fascinating variations
- sensacalm.com – weighted blankets and fidgets
- https://www.etsy.com/shop/AutisticRabbit – inexpensive weighted blankets!
- https://www.chewigemusa.com – chewies
- https://www.arktherapeutic.com – sensory tools, mostly oral and chewies
- Another fairly inexpensive option is to check on Amazon. Just be careful of sellers and quality!
- http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2016/08/23/diy-weighted-blanket/ – a list of tutorials to make your own weighted blanket
- http://rhythmsofplay.com/calm-down-sensory-bottles-101/ – Sensory bottle tutorials
- https://patch.com/us/dealtown/buy-or-diy-how-make-squishy-stress-ball – stress ball balloon tutorial!
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.