What’s in the bag? A look at Mama’s stim kit.

Still life colour photograph, through warm dramatic “vintage” filter, depicting, in foreground: a sequin-coloured oversized pencil case, out of which spills folded “infinity hoops”, a black Tangle, a red-and-yellow stress ball in the shape of a Marvel ‘Iron Man’ helmet, a small three-pointed metallic fidget spinner, a fidget football, pine cone and seashell, a piece of grey foam, and other items partially in view. There is a smaller sparkly bag inside in which can be seen a small bottle of aromatherapy oil and a tin of lip balm. Behind these is a black bullet journal, and a red-zipped pencil case with in a colourful dinosaur print fabric.

As time has gone on since my formal autism identification in 2016, and as I’ve gradually learned more about myself – my autistic self – I’ve got better and better at recognising what makes me tick.

What makes me anxious, overwhelmed, panicked, angry. What makes me calm, happy, blissed out, joyful.

I’m increasingly better at looking after myself. But this ability to look after myself is continually pushed to its limits, and beyond. It seems that the more I learn to cope with and overcome, the more I get another load of difficult stuff shunted my way. By gosh, I still have a lot to learn.

But I’m far more positive in how I address this nowadays.

A couple of months ago, I put together a stim kit. I was sick of having random bits and bobs floating around in my bag, in each of my different coat and jacket pockets, or scattered around the house and on my desk at work. Sick of repeatedly misplacing favourite objects and toys. Things getting rusty, encrusted with grot, scratched or broken.

I don’t always need things to stim with, of course. But having small items to hand makes things easier in a lot of circumstances.

Different strokes for different folks

I wanted to give myself more options – a stim for every mood and every occasion. I’m always looking for things to add to it, but for now I’m quite happy with what I have at my disposal.

(Although yes, some of us do indeed like having things to stroke, and I’m still searching for a nice scrap of velvet ribbon…)

I personally let other people (both autistic and non-autistic) try out the stuff in the bag from time to time. It’s great to see someone get fresh stim ideas or discover something new that really works for them, and also fascinating to see what does and doesn’t help different people. I also like to de-mystify and normalise stimming as a ‘thing’.

You don’t have to share your stim stuff with other people, of course. It’s entirely your choice whether you do so or not. I like to, but we all have different preferences.

Very recently, I put something similar together for my daughter (six years old at the time of writing). Hers has some of the same items, but some variation – there’s more squishy and chewy stuff, which suits her.

I’d recommend that all autistics, and parents of younger autistic kids, consider assembling something like this – it’s great to have positive options for redirecting negative/self-injurious stim urges, calming oneself, promoting focus, as well as for sheer enjoyment.

So what’s in the bag?

These are just things that suit me. Everyone has different preferences, and it can take some time to work out what you might want in a kit, and what simply isn’t worth bothering with.

Here’s a rundown of what I have in mine.

Obviously, the main bag itself is a stim item. It’s an extra-large pencil case covered in gorgeous double-sided “mermaid scale” sequins. They’re fun to look at. Tactile and interactive too. As for what’s inside…

First, the things I’ve purchased with actual money:

  • Infinity hoops/kinetic flow rings: Oh. My. Gosh. These look and feel sooooo good.
  • Fidget spinners: I have two in this bag. One is yer classic plastic dooberry (a bit like this one) which I may or may not abandon, as frankly it’s not very good (it was very cheap); the other a “deluxe” metal spinner by Nomad that spins for aaaaaaages.
  • Fidget football polyhedron spinner: this particular metallic thingummy doesn’t spin for very long and is a bit flimsy (it was very cheap). But it kind of looks cool, and the individual coloured circles make a cool “pwoingy” noise when you wiggle them about.
  • ‘Iron Man’ helmet stress ball: squeezy proprioceptive anger release. Also good for maintaining strength and mobility in hands – something I struggle with because of some anatomical oddities. Plus…Marvel (I also have a Hulk fist on my desk at work).
  • Miniature slinky spring: fun to stretch, run fingers over and hold. The repeating coils are also soothing to look at. This one was from a multipack similar to this one, left over after we’d finished filling a load of party bags for my daughter’s last birthday party.
  • Tangle: one of the first “official” stim toys I bought. An old favourite, but these days gets less outing than some of the other more novel items. One thing that irritates me slightly, given my auditory sensitivity, is the clicky noises it makes when I’m fiddling with it – fine in a busy place, but not so great somewhere quiet.
  • ‘Unicorn poo’ glitter slime: comes in a pot, to keep it safe from glooping up the rest of the bag. Feels lovely and cool on the hands but leaves no mess. Squishy and squidgy. Sparkly.

Next, some free stuff (be creative. Look around your environment and see what you can find):

  • Pine cones: Fibonacci spirals! Patterns! Knobbly textured loveliness! Beautiful.
  • Larch cones: similar to above. But they’re also kind of delicate and pretty in a way that pine cones aren’t. More a visual thing than a tactile thing.
  • Seashell: more natural mathematical beauty. Knobbles, spirals, smooth bits, shiny bits, ridged bits. Lots and lots of tactile soothing loveliness. Calming colours.
  • Piece of packing foam: softer and squishier than a stress ball, this nevertheless provides a teensy bit of propriceptive stimulus, but is also fun to fold and unfold, wiggle around, or simply to run one’s fingers over.

As well as all of the above, there’s a sparkly “bag within a bag” (another visual stim in itself). This is for items that either:

  1. Smell and/or are balms/liquid, and would thus otherwise taint the rest of the stim kit;
  2. Are easily breakable (e.g. glass bottles);
  3. Are small and thus likely to be difficult to find in the midst of the main bag;
  4. Might get tangled up with other contents; or
  5. Need to be kept clean.

In here is where I keep:

  • Lip balm: nice to smell (I have a chocolate-y one), and good for keeping lips smooth and avoiding the scratchy feel of dry skin
  • Aromatherapy oils: good for a more intense (albeit only occasionally needed) fragrance hit – especially when there’s a need to block out more noxious nose-irritants. I have a couple of bottles of oil blends: ‘Less Stress’ (clary sage, lemon, lavender); and ‘Energise’ (peppermint, frankincense, lemon).
  • Handkerchief: the holdable soft fabric receptacle for the above-mentioned oils (sniffing straight from the bottle looks weird, makes my nose tingle, and means the cap is left off too long, which has the potential to cause deterioration to the active components in the oils.
  • Foam ear plugs (in a small plastic case): for when I need to dampen down noise, but noise-cancelling headphones just aren’t appropriate for whatever reason.
  • Communication necklace, from SpaceRobot Studio: to indicate to other people – usually when in autistic space – my level of willingness/ability to communicate verbally with others.

What else helps me?

In addition to these items, I always have handy:

  • noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones (plus something to play the music on, of course). Mine are Lindy BNX-60s, at just over £80 – my budget wouldn’t stretch beyond this, but they do the job well enough for my purposes.
  • sunglasses

They’re generally big-enough, frequently-worn-enough items for me not to lose them (thus far, at least…).

The other things that go everywhere with me are my bullet journal (learn more at the official bujo website), and my dinosaur pencil case, full of lovely coloured pens, pencils and fine liners. Doodling is a stim, but bullet journaling is another absolute life-saver in helping me organise my life, stay mindful, and keep as sane as possible.

When at home…

Over the summer, I also had made for me a weighted blanket and lap pad. These have been a revelation. If you want the low-down on why these are so helpful, Princess Aspien’s video on the subject is a good insight. They don’t come cheap (I couldn’t afford one for a very long time), and I recognise I owe my possession of these wonderful items to a certain degree of material privilege.

***

I hope this post is of some practical use to people.

I recognise that some items are more affordable than others, and this means that for some, it can be a struggle to meet your own sensory needs. If this is you, then I wish you all the best with finding something affordable that works, and I hope your circumstances get easier. In the meantime, look around your home. Look outdoors. Pebbles, seed cases, pieces of packaging (cleaned), bubble wrap, pine cones. Wherever you are, keep a lookout for something small and portable to stim with.

For everyone: I wish you well in finding the stims that truly work for you.


[Featured image description: Still life colour photograph, through warm dramatic “vintage” filter, depicting, in foreground: a sequin-coloured oversized pencil case, out of which spills folded “infinity hoops”, a black Tangle, a red-and-yellow stress ball in the shape of a Marvel ‘Iron Man’ helmet, a small three-pointed metallic fidget spinner, a fidget football, pine cone and seashell, a piece of grey foam, and other items partially in view. There is a smaller sparkly bag inside in which can be seen a small bottle of aromatherapy oil and a tin of lip balm. Behind these is a black bullet journal, and a red-zipped pencil case with in a colourful dinosaur print fabric.]

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#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 16: Ooohhh! Deeeetails!

Cartoon Mama Pineapple, full colour. A white female-presenting person with brown midlength hair clipped to one side. She is wearing a pink top, and has her hands clapped together an a lovestruck, dreamlike expression on her face. The words “Oohhh! Deeeetails!” Are written above her, and coloured love hearts radiate outwards from the image.

Autistics like me see, hear, and feel the details. Everywhere. We can’t stop our brains from detecting everything. When we’re vulnerable, tired, stressed, or anxious, or already overloaded, it’s hard to cope.

But sometimes, details can be delicious. When I’m relaxed, I revel in them. And sometimes, drawing my focus towards one particular detail or cluster of details keeps the rest of the clutter out of view.


[Image description: Cartoon Mama Pineapple, full colour, drawn in felt tip. A white female-presenting person with brown midlength hair clipped to one side. She is wearing a pink top, and has her hands clapped together an a lovestruck, dreamlike expression on her face. The words “Ooohhh! Deeeetails!” Are written above her, and coloured love hearts radiate outwards from the image.]

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation Doodles ‘n’ Scribbles, no. 13: Being an Autistic Parent (PART 1)

A comic strip of four panels, laid out in portrait orientation, and drawn digitally in black and white. PANEL 1: IMAGE: A headshot of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, sweating, shaking, and looking exasperated, with a tear running down her left cheek. TEXT: “Being an autistic parent can be really hard sometimes.” PANEL 2: IMAGE: Mama Pineapple with her hands over her ears, surrounded and overwhelmed by a whole range of loud noises including children’s voices, loud sudden sound effects, and the Danger Mouse TV series theme. TEXT: “The noise can be overwhelming...” PANEL 3: IMAGE: A messy floor covered in Duplo bricks, soft toys, books, drawings and half eaten biscuits. A child’s foot is just disappearing out of view to the right of the panel. A teddy bear is being flung into the scene. The bottom of a switched on TV screen is just in shot at the top right hand corner. TEXT: “...as can the visuals.” PANEL 4: IMAGE: Mama Pineapple looking unsure/worried, flicking the fingers of her right hand by the side of her face. TEXT: “Am I grown-up enough? I struggle to keep myself organised, let alone my small children.”

First attempt at a (sort of) comic. Part 2 (which takes a happier, more positive slant!) coming up tomorrow.


Text description:

A comic strip of four panels, laid out in portrait orientation, and drawn digitally in black and white.

PANEL 1:
IMAGE: A headshot of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, sweating, shaking, and looking exasperated, with a tear running down her left cheek.
TEXT: “Being an autistic parent can be really hard sometimes.”

PANEL 2:
IMAGE: Mama Pineapple with her hands over her ears, surrounded and overwhelmed by a whole range of loud noises including children’s voices, loud sudden sound effects, and the Danger Mouse TV series theme.
TEXT: “The noise can be overwhelming…”

PANEL 3:
IMAGE: A messy floor covered in Duplo bricks, soft toys, books, drawings and half eaten biscuits. A child’s foot is just disappearing out of view to the right of the panel. A teddy bear is being flung into the scene. The bottom of a switched on TV screen is just in shot at the top right hand corner.
TEXT: “…as can the visuals.”

PANEL 4:
IMAGE: Mama Pineapple looking unsure/worried, flicking the fingers of her right hand by the side of her face.
TEXT: “Am I enough of a grown-up? I struggle to keep myself organised, let alone my small children.”

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles no. 6: (h)angry queue stim

A scrappy, scrawled pencil sketch of three people in a queue (line). The person on front waits patiently holding their bag, the person at the back looks at their phone. Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, stands in the middle, stimming vigorously and angrily by tapping a foot and flicking-flapping her hands.

Quick, scrappy one, this one.

I hate waiting for stuff. Whether it’s the (possible) ADHD influence on my autism or not, I don’t know. But I am impatient. If I’m stuck in a queue (a “line” for all you users of American English), I have to stim because I hate standing still. I need something else to focus on other than the fact I’m stuck waiting for something. The situation is made even worse if it’s an eating establishment or food outlet, and I’m hungry. I get very upset when I’m hungry.


[Image: a scrappy, scrawled pencil sketch of three people in a queue (line). The person in front waits patiently holding their bag, the person at the back looks at their phone. Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, stands in the middle, stimming vigorously and angrily by tapping a foot and flicking/flapping her hands.]

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles no. 5: information overload

Black and white cartoon drawing of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, hands clapped to face, screaming. She is surrounded by words, phrases, song lyrics and requests/demands blinded by garish colours.

I drew this for a PowerPoint presentation used in a conference workshop on neurodiversity and enterprise education, delivered with a bipolar friend and colleague from another university back in September 2017.

As an autistic person who is also both a parent of small children and a full time employee and sole breadwinner, I get very little mental, emotional, physical or sensory downtime. My brain so rarely gets a break from all the information I am bombarded with.


[Image: Black and white cartoon drawing, in felt-tip pen, of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, hands clapped to ears, screaming. She is surrounded by words, phrases, song lyrics and requests/demands surrounded by garish, bright colours.]