15 Sensory-Friendly Back to School Products You'll Want to Add to Your Shopping List

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As summer comes to an end, students across the country are getting ready to go back to school. With the new school year comes back to school shopping. For students on the autism spectrum as well as those with sensory processing disorders, sensory-friendly products can make the school year a lot more enjoyable.

We asked The Mighty’s autism community which sensory-friendly school supplies they’d recommend. Here are their suggestions. 

Just so you know, we’ve selected these links to make shopping easier for you. We do not receive any funds from purchases you make.

1. Retractable Writing Tools

retractable pen

Retractable writing tools can help kids with limited fine motor skills feel more confident when writing or drawing.

“I buy retractable everything,” community member Sheila M. told The Mighty. “Pens, highlighters, sharpies. My son doesn’t have the greatest fine motor skills and we used to lose so many caps and the caps frustrated him to no end”

Buy the retracible pens above on Amazon for $7.44.

2. Scented Pencils

scented pencils

Adding a fun element to your child’s school supplies can help keep them engaged in a sensory-friendly way. Karen R. and Michelle M. recommend Scentos, which makes pens, coloring pencils, rulers, erasers and felt tip pens.

Buy the scented pencils above on Amazon for $13.99. 

3. Monster Pencil Case

Monster ZipIt Pencil case

Staying organized can be challenging for students of all abilities. Choosing items that are both fun and functional can help students keep their belongings in one place.

Community member Karen R. suggests a monster pencil case.

Buy the pencil case above on Amazon for $6.26.

4. Pastel Highlighters

pastel highlighters

Using highlighters as well as color coding notes can help students better understand key words and phrases. If bright colors are too jarring, try swapping neon highlighters for pastel ones.

“A good [product] I’ve heard mentioned is the pastel colored highlighters as they are not so harsh on the eyes,” community member Pandora P. said.

Buy the pastel highlighters above on Amazon for $6.20.

5. Durable Folders

durable folders

Given the amount of handouts and homework students are given, folders need to be able to endure wear and tear throughout the year. Durable folders — especially those made of plastic — are a great way to stay organized and keep papers in tact.

Kelly S. recommends “folders that can take one heck of a beating and still keep papers from crumpling.”

Buy the durable folders above on Amazon for $11.99.

6. Pencil Grips
pencil grips

Sometimes pens and pencils can be too thin, hard or sharp to hold. Pencil and pen grips are “great for helping with fine motor skills and are great for fidgeting with,” Hannah H. told The Mighty.

Buy the pencil grips above on Amazon for $9.00. 

7. Bendy Pencils
colorful bendy pencils

Bendy pencils are a colorful, functional and fun writing tool that can also act as a fidget device for kids with sensory sensitivities.

Buy the bendy pencils above on Amazon for $4.89.

8. Sticky Notes

post it notes

Not only are sticky notes great for jotting down ideas, community member Diana L. shared an ingenious way sticky notes can help kids with sensory sensitivities when using school bathrooms.

“Sometimes an automatic flusher can activate before a child is ready and startle them,” she said. “With a sticky note over the sensor, the child can activate it once they are ready.”

Buy the sticky notes above on Amazon for $11.38.

9. Chewable Jewelry and Fidget Toys

Necklace featuring a neon green alien

Created by Cynthia Kim, a woman on the autism spectrum, Stimtastic is a toy and jewelry company that promotes stimming. Stimtastic sells wearable and chewable fidget tools for both children and adults that are comfortable, fashionable and low-cost.

Buy the chewable necklace above at Stimtastic for $8.90.

10. Wobble Cushion
blue wobble cushion

For some children, sitting still is difficult and moving around on a hard chair can be uncomfortable. Wobble cushions allow kids to sit and wiggle in a sensory-friendly way while improving their posture.

Buy the wobble cushion above on Amazon for $33.48.

11. Writing Board

white writing board

Slanted writing boards provide a stable surface that can help students improve their handwriting and posture. Some boards include dry-erase and portable versions as well as clips to keep papers from slipping.

Buy the writing board above on Amazon for $35.97.

12. Daily Visual Calendar
Daily Magnetic calendar

Visual aids can help students understand and remember schedules. Using colorful boards that students can arrange themselves can help to empower kids and make them excited for the day ahead.

Buy the calendar above on Amazon for $19.51.

14. Nesel Pack

sensory friendly backpack

Developed by a team of students at the University of Minnesota, Nesel Pack was designed specifically for kids and teens on the autism spectrum. Nesel Pack includes pockets for weights, making it similar to a weighted vest. It is made of durable fabric and features seams and zippers as well as clips and windows for ID cards, key chains and decorations.

Buy the backpack above at Nesel Pack for $99.99.

15. Senseez Pillows

blue sensory friendly pillow

Created by Stephanie Mitelman, whose son lives with a sensory processing disorderSenseez offers lightweight, portable and vibrating pillows for children with sensory sensitivities. Senseez also offers adaptable products that include a weighted pad, hot and cold pad and vibration device.

Buy the pillow above at Senseez Pillow for $29.99.

What back-to-school sensory-friendly products would you recommend? Let us know in the comments below.

Header credit to Amazon and Nesel Pack.

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U.K. Stores to Hold Nationwide Quiet Hour for Those on the Autism Spectrum

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On Monday, October 2, shops across the U.K. will observe a nationwide quiet hour as part of an autism awareness initiative benefitting shoppers on the autism spectrum.

In partnership with The National Autistic Society (NAS), on that day all 14 of intu Shopping Centres will reduce their lights, music and background noise starting at 10 a.m. Also participating are Clarks and Toys ‘R’ Us stores throughout the country, both of which, have previously hosted quiet hours for shoppers on the spectrum.

While the event starts on October 2, stores throughout the U.K. are encouraged to participate at any point during the week.

According to research from The National Autistic Society, 64 percent of autistic people avoid going shopping, and 28 percent have been asked to leave a public place for reasons related to their autism.

“Like anyone, autistic people and their families want the opportunity to go to the shops and services on the high street. But our research suggests that many find the often busy, loud and unpredictable environment of public places overwhelming and avoid them altogether,” said Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, adding:

“We hope that the hour will provide a break for families in the week and in the long term will help spread understanding so that shops and services are more accessible every day of the year.”

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My Son's Autism Is an Invisible Disability

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My son’s autism is invisible. When I first expressed my concern that Henry was two and had only spoken two words and had stopped saying them months ago, our pediatrician told me Henry looked just fine to him. Yes. A pediatrician. While it’s frightening that a medical professional, one I love and respect, could not see past the invisibility of my son’s disability, I can’t fully blame him. This is human nature. For many of us, seeing means believing. And not seeing, not knowing, terrifies us. We can find the worst parts of ourselves when we are faced with the unknown. I am guilty of the same well-intentioned, yet harmful misconceptions.

Before my son was diagnosed, when I first moved into my current home, there was a man who walked by my house, a lot. Back and forth, he walked past my house. My instinct was to lock my doors. Weeks passed and I began to see the man walking everywhere, all around town. I remained cautious. A few months later, Henry received his diagnosis, and I began to learn all about autism spectrum disorder.

 

One day, as I drove down my street and passed the man pacing my block, it dawned on me. Maybe he is autistic. Maybe his repetitive behavior that soothes him is walking. What if one day Henry finds comfort in long walks? What if someone sees him, misunderstands his behaviors and judges him? What if they are afraid of him? I began to look on this man with compassion; I began to look upon him with the same kindness that I can only pray that others will bestow upon my son. I haven’t seen the scary man surveying my neighborhood in a long time. However, I do see a man who is minding his own business, and enjoys long walks around my neighborhood, quite often.

Autism can be invisible. This fact is a double edged sword. It will help my son in life, and it will hurt him at times. The fact that one cannot see his autism spectrum disorder, will at least impact how people will judge him. It will also leave him vulnerable to misunderstanding and unsolicited judgements. So much of how we deal with situations and people is based on our perceptions. Sometimes our perceptions are born from experience, knowledge and our personal ideologies. But sometimes they are born from fear, misunderstanding and ignorance.

How do we reconcile these conflicting motivations from our perceptions? We can begin ceasing our efforts to identify the disability. Education is wonderful, and I’m all for it. We should all educate ourselves about disability. But even a thorough education can be insufficient in identifying certain invisible disabilities. You could not possibly identify every disabled individual’s personal symptoms, traits, idiosyncrasies, self-regulating and repetitive behaviors. Autism spectrum disorder can be a great example. It is an umbrella diagnosis, meaning it encompasses a wide range of symptoms, and each individual’s coping mechanisms for these different symptoms is unique. In other words, it’s a mixed bag. And they don’t say, ” if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism,” for no reason.

So if we cannot possibly learn how to identify each individual’s invisible disability through self-education, then what can we possibly do? Instead of looking for the disability in others, look for the humanity you share. When you see someone who looks different than you, or even someone who looks the same as you, and you don’t understand them and your instinct is to runaway, or stare, or judge, try not to. It’s that simple.

Instead of looking for someone’s disabilities, look within yourself for what we all share. Compassion, kindness, acceptance — they are all at your at your disposal. There is something even more fundamental than education in life: humanity. Sight can be one of our least reliable senses. Our hearts, however, are fully equipped to see what our eyes cannot. Close your eyes, open your heart, and you will see more than an invisible disability — you will see people, beautiful people.

Follow this journey at Diaper Diaries

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People in Autism Community Review 'Atypical,' Netflix's Original Series About Autism

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This summer, Netflix is launching a new original series about a teenager on the autism spectrum. “Atypical” follows Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), a high school senior on the autism spectrum, and his family as he navigates dating, school and being a teenager.

Ahead of the show’s launch, we asked three people from the autism community — Lamar Hardwick and Erin Clemens, who are on the autism spectrum, and Jodi Murphy, a mother of a child on the spectrum — to review the first episode of “Atypical.” Here are their thoughts.

The Mighty: What does ‘Atypical’ get right about autism?

Jodi Murphy: You can tell that the writer, Robia Rashid, did her research or has a close relationship with someone on the autism spectrum. She writes from a neurodiverse perspective even though most everyone is Sam’s world doesn’t seem to accept that neurodiversity is a good thing. For me, that’s what’s most interesting about the plot as opposed to Sam’s autistic characteristics. I think it realistically shows the tension that comes from living in a world that doesn’t understand or fully accept you.

Erin Clemens: In my opinion, what “Atypical” got right is the fact that, for many on the spectrum, there are sensory issues with touch and sounds, and change is difficult. It also got right the feelings of being at school and the issues I’ve had with the crowds, noises and smells. I think the stimming was right on point as well.

Lamar Hardwick: Overall, I think “Atypical” did a fairly decent job. Of course, my assessment is based on the first episode, but the concept of the show being driven by a first-person account pushes the show in the direction of being more authentic.

Let’s talk a bit about Sam. What did you think of Sam as an autistic character? 

Hardwick: I like that the show gave Sam space to self-reflect and demonstrate his self-awareness. He gets to work through his understanding of self, and the audience has the opportunity to understand how an autistic person views themselves and the world around them.

So often the stories told about autistic people are focused on the world’s view of them. It was nice to see the show focused on how Sam interprets the world around him.

Clemens: I liked how, even though Sam is on the autism spectrum, “Atypical’ shows him as a person with thoughts and feelings like everyone else. He still goes through things that typical teens go through, just in a different way. This is so important for people to remember!

However, I didn’t like how completely blunt Sam tends to be. While I know some people on the autism spectrum can be blunt (I have been myself at times), I also feel that at Sam’s age I was learning to stay quiet. I did this because I knew I shouldn’t say certain things, I just didn’t know what those things were.

I also feel that his character was too openly factual — a major stereotype of autism. He knows facts about things and shares them with everyone he meets. At Sam’s age, I feel like he would have been more aware of this, too.

Murphy: I like Sam and his passion… I won’t give away what that is, but it’s endearing. He’s a really good guy trying to figure life out like the rest of us! He’s going to make mistakes, but I appreciate that he keeps moving forward.

What about the actor who plays Sam, Kier Gilchrist. Any thoughts there? 

Hardwick: There were parts of the episode where I felt some autistic traits Gilchrist displayed were a bit too overstated. While the actor did a pretty good job overall, issues such as lack of eye contact and taking things literally started to feel like a caricature of autism. I’m not sure that an autistic person would always see themselves in that light.

Clemens: I thought Gilchrist was great, but… some of the stereotypes portrayed were frustrating. He got the stimming part down well, though. I loved how he fit that in, and it seemed to be at the correct times. I would be very interested to see how the actor would portray a meltdown or a more overwhelming situation that is too difficult to handle.

Murphy: Gilchrist does a great job at portraying Sam, one person with autism. But we need audiences to know that everyone with autism isn’t a carbon copy of Sam.

I am a bit disappointed that Sam isn’t played by an actor on the autism spectrum. There are many autistic individuals who are great actors and should be given the opportunity to audition and play such a role.

What about Sam’s family? What did you think of the Gardner family dynamic?

Clemens: The family dynamic was very interesting! I thought Sam’s sister was very nice and protective. The mom’s concern for Sam was completely accurate in my eyes, and I appreciate that the dad is like the rock in the family. I really liked the scene where Sam and his father were together. I think this [was one of] my favorite parts. The only aspect that might be missing is that some families tend to be in denial that there are any issues at all.

Murphy: I wasn’t fond of the family dynamic. I thought it was a bit cliché and it could have been so much more interesting if they were quirkier and happier. 

I had major issues with the mother, perhaps because she’s so different from me. I think she comes from a place of fear and I don’t think she fully accepts her son. She seems sad, somber and tired. Rather than worry he’s going to fail or not fit in, I’d be busy finding activities and groups where he feels comfortable and included. I really hope my first impression of her is wrong and I grow to like her after watching more episodes.

Hardwick: My one major concern about the episode and the series, in general, is that Sam and his family fit a stereotypical understanding that autism only impacts young white males and their families. With diagnostic disparities between white children and minority children still being a significant issue, this may unintentional reinforce an image of autism that is inaccurate.

Based on what you’ve seen so far, would you watch the rest of the series? 

Hardwick: Despite a few concerns, I did like the episode and would want to watch the entire series to see how, and if, the show works through some of those issues.

Murphy: I’m not emotionally hooked to these characters yet, and I can’t quite figure out why. I’m not drawn into their lives and don’t feel compelled to binge watch all the episodes. That said, I am excited that Netflix and the writer cared enough to look at life from Sam, the autistic protagonist’s point of view. That alone makes me want to continue to watch and see what happens.

Clemens: I would want to watch more episodes to see what else they might touch on that relates to the autism spectrum. While I don’t quite agree with every aspect of the autism spectrum that they portrayed, I really appreciate Netflix for trying to create more autism awareness. Plus, I’m definitely interested in seeing if things change for Sam or his family, or maybe see how they portray a meltdown.

You can watch all eight episodes of “Atypical” starting August 11 on Netflix. 

Erin Clemens is a 28-year-old woman on the autism spectrum. She is also the author of the book “I Have Asperger’s.”

Lamar Hardwick is a husband, father of three boys and a pastor of a church located in Lagrange, Georgia. Hardwick was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2014 at the age of 36. 

Jodi Murphy is a mom to a son on the autism spectrum and the founder of Geek Club Books, 501c3 focused on innovative, entertaining autism education. 

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6 Tips for a Successful Trip to the Beach With a Child on the Autism Spectrum

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Planning a trip to the beach sounds like a lot of fun. But it can be a bit stressful when you’re planning for your little one with autism. I live close to the beach and frequently take my 3-year-old twins; one of them was recently diagnosed with autism. I figured I would share a little bit of wisdom (insert laugh here) to those of you planning your beach vacation. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Safety First.

If your child is an explorer (other wise known as a wanderer), take steps to ensure his safety. Call the local police station to let them know you are coming. Send them a picture of your little one. You could also contact the local Autism Society of America (ASA) chapter ahead of time to get the skinny on local policies and phone numbers.

There are also stickers and bracelets you can purchase with your contact information. If your child lets you, you could simply write the info on their leg with a permanent marker.

2. Location. Location. Location.

Consider taking your family to a calm beach without the big waves. This way, your family can enjoy the water without worrying about the rough surf. We live a mile from the ocean front, but we never go there. We visit the bay.

You may be thinking, “What’s the beach without the waves?” or, “I don’t think it will be fun enough.” My older kids love the calm water. Instead of surfing, they paddle and skim board. They can also take floats in the water and relax. You can’t do that with big waves.

 

3. Timing is Everything.

Holiday weekends seem like the perfect time for a beach trip, unless your little one is on the spectrum. A crowded beach can be overwhelming and can present more of a danger for your explorer. Weekdays and “off weekends” tend to be less crowded.

My family loves to visit the beach in the late afternoon/early evening. Benefits include less heat, less packing and less people. Sunscreen is optional, and the beach is gorgeous around sunset. Consider going to the aquarium or doing some other indoor activity during the heat of the day.

4. Bring Reinforcements.

No, you don’t need to pay a nanny. Just bring anyone who has a helpful attitude and loves the beach. My best friend’s daughter is 10 and she’s been helping me for years now. Having an extra pair of eyes and hands will give you piece of mind and enable you to relax a bit.

5. Be Flexible.

I always (try to) say, “Mind over matter.” If you’re flexible and positive, you’ll enjoy yourself no matter what challenges may come your way. If your kiddo has a meltdown at the beach… just head over to the ice cream spot. For us, problem solved! It’s vacation. There are no rules.

6. Some Crucial Items for Your Packing List.

Make sure you pack enough shade. My little one doesn’t do well with the heat, so we always pack a few umbrellas. If you don’t feel like lugging them around, you can probably rent them right on the beach. There are also delivery services that bring them right to you.

Baby pools are awesome for water play in the shade. You can pick up a blow-up pool at any beach store.

I’m a huge fan of Puddle-Jumpers. They’re a cross between a life jacket and arm floaties. No matter how my kiddos wade (or fall) in the water, their head seems to stay on top! Of course, they’re not fool proof, but they give me peace of mind.

I would love to hear what tips or tricks you’ve learned while taking your child on the spectrum to the beach!

Follow this Journey at Not an Autism Mom

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My Daughter's Autism Diagnosis Didn't Break My Marriage, Ignoring It Did

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This is the story of a single mum raising her 3-year-old daughter who is on the autism spectrum.

At the age of 1.3 years, my daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. My husband, at the time, did not believe it. He thought the diagnosis would wreck our daughter’s future and that if we “ignored the label” she would be better off.

I refused to give in to his plan and decided to take her to all the possible (limited) therapy programs provided in the country we live in. I took her to various occupational therapies, speech and even ABA sessions. The articles I read on The Mighty by parents who put the time and effort to share their stories for people like me, made me more hopeful and more accepting of everything related to my daughter’s condition. It taught me that it’s not something we should hide away as if it’s something to be ashamed of.

My husband refused to participate in anything related to her well-being or even daily routine. Which just prepped me and gave me more time to practice being the single mum I currently am. The autism diagnosis didn’t break my marriage, ignorance did.

All those nights of me listening to the negative comments of how my daughter can never be “normal” and “isn’t acting like children her age” made me stronger and more determined to focus on her, and only her. I devoted all my free time to being the only caregiver and to support her in every possible way.

My daughter is now 3 years old and her speech and social skills are improving dramatically through the continuous sessions she is taking.

 

As parents, having a child on the spectrum is challenging because of the stages we have to go through.

1. Acceptance.

Accept autism is not something to “swipe under the rug” or something to be ashamed of. You have to realize wishing it away won’t help, it’s there and it will not go anywhere. We gave birth to miracles and they stand out more than anyone else and that to me is something to be thankful for.

2. Acknowledging our work can be twice as hard as other parents handling toddlers who aren’t on the spectrum.

It’s never ending, the routine could break us down at times, but we manage to get back up again. We believe no one else can do the job better than us and this is what keeps us moving forward. Our kids can see those invisible capes behind each of us. Just know you are fit to do it.

3. Patience.

Our kids’ behaviors are not “on purpose,” our children are not spoiled as many people tend to think. And you know what? Who cares what anyone thinks! Jump in that bubble with your child and live there.

4. Our kids know.

No matter how young your child is, they can feel us, and they know how we are feeling even if they don’t show it. My daughter can be the most affectionate and the best at showing it through those random hugs and kisses that she tends to surprise me with.

For all those single parents of children on the autism spectrum: hang in there, it’s doable. Focus on all the good moments you share with your child. Those moments count. Take it one day at a time. It’s better to focus on your miracle than give in to the denial of a spouse who thinks ignoring something might make it go away. We are all our children need, and we are enough.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by shibanuk

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