Twitter "buy this" answer thread, but for adult autism?
May 17, 2021 3:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm an autistic adult (academic faculty) looking for recommendations on what *specific* items I can spend money on to improve my experience of the world (any price level). Specific advice with links (e.g. "pseudo-earplugs like Calmer Flare") rather than general ("earplugs") is desirable.

I enjoy those viral retail-therapy Twitter threads where someone asks for a recommendation and people link to specific items ("what purchase has unexpectedly helped you cope with the state of the world?", "what can I buy for $x that will improve mywork from home experience?"), and wasn't able to find the equivalent for autistic needs (lemme know if you find a thread like that?).

Bonus points if you've tried and appreciated something yourself, or if you have personal experience with autism or related experiences (e.g. sensory overload, dislike of noise).

I have a therapist, meds for related issues like anxiety, supportive friends, etc. so don't need recommendations there. Just want to throw some money at things that could make a small improvement in my life.

Some things I've tried, as examples of what I'm seeking:
* This particular weighted blanket isn't too heavy (I like more weight but it's already hard enough to add/remove from the bed that I don't use it as much) and covers enough of the bed that I stay underneath when tossing throughout the night
* Many types of earplugs (Macks' foam in women's sizing or silicone are okay, but all earplugs seem to work their way out and the creaking sound while they do this slowing waking me up is awful) and ear filters (reduction in sound but meant to allow conversation) like the Calmer Flare I mentioned (which I did NOT like, but willing to try other similar things)
* Sunglasses that hide the eyes really well (looked into poker player glasses, which was a good search strategy because most people don't mind if their eyes are somewhat visible beneath sunglasses) but wasn't sure they were good enough to pay more for?)
* Wearing large headphones (Bose wireless white noise!) or ear protectors so people see a visual reason to not talk to me (lol)

I know autism covers a wide range of experiences, but even if your answer isn't relevant to my specific experience it might help someone else? FWIW stuff that would most help me would address: difficulty following conversations when there is any other sound, dislike of like every type of sound (both ongoing and startling sounds, music at normal levels), people being able to see my eyes or face (managing expressions is tiring), being in crowded spaces, dislike of certain colors/intensities of light and smells.
posted by rollcredits to Shopping (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot recommend highly enough having a hammock or hammock chair swing to cocoon you while providing swinging sensory input. I have a regular hammock, and this chair swing. I hang it from a tree in my backyard and it's one of the best parts of summer for me.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:07 PM on May 17

Higher quality active noise cancelling headhphones have been a sanity saver for me. I'm particularly fond of the Bose QC 35 II. They also make an audio headphone you might want to look at.
posted by drawsablank at 5:39 PM on May 17

Definitely active noise cancelling headphones. I avoided them because all the articles said "They don't filter out speech!" I dunno what they're using, but my partner will stand in front of me trying to talk to me and completely fail to get my attention if I've got my EarFun Free Pros in playing music. Can't hear a thing with those babies on. Maybe if I were in a loud coffee shop it wouldn't work, but it's been great for my needs so far.

For the home environment, soft lights in all my lighting sources. My box says "Relax LED Comfortable Soft White Light." My occupational therapist just gave me one of those therapy bands to tie under my desk to kick my feet against--I haven't set it up yet so can't vouch, but it's an idea. I haven't bought one myself yet but I've wanted a weighted lap pad to use at my desk.

Do you have motor issues? General clumsiness? And/or do you sometimes think about doing a particular series of movements (like buttering a bagel, opening a water bottle, moving stuff off the table) and just go "nope"? Treat yourself like a baby and/or elderly person. Instead of a water bottle (which I ignore because opening and lifting all the time is way too much effort), I use one of those reusable Starbucks cups with a straw shoved in it. Much easier to drink from. A mandolin, those gloves that prevent you from cutting yourself with a knife, a pillow to hold up my head while reading (turns out autistic people often have weak necks), an easy pull-on robe when clothes are too difficult. I'm sure there's more but I can't think of them off the top of my head.

Finally, fidget/stim toys are a must. People think that they're just stuff to use when you're bored in a meeting or whatever, but I find they're incredibly helpful for calming me down in or after stressful situations. I struggle with car rides, and I'm always less stressed at the end when I bring a stim toy. Repetitive movement is soothing to most autistic people, so anything you can move over and over is likely to have a calming effect. My ultimate favorite is this mandala, but I also like this putty, this slow-rising squish toy, and this pop-it toy.

The thicker types of fitover sunglasses are lifesavers. Even if you don't have glasses, the fact that they cover the top and sides as well makes them much better at blocking sunlight than other sunglasses. But I'm not sure if they would feel uncomfortable if you don't have glasses.
posted by brook horse at 7:09 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]

I have a pair of custom-fit earplugs that I've been wearing under noise-canceling headphones for the past fifteen years whenever I travel, they've never come out on their own (when they're in, they're nearly flush with the outer ear), and I love them.

You can get earplugs that are custom-fit to your ear canal, so that they are neither uncomfortable nor can they work their way out, and the earplugs have removable/swappable filters so that you can choose whether you want -9dB global reduction or frequency-specific or etc. The process for doing this involves having an ear mold created by an audiologist, which they do by using a certain kind of goo that solidifies once poured into your ear, and so they pour it into your ear and then remove it a few minutes later. (Please don't DIY this.)

If you discuss headphones with the audiologist while you're doing this, when I last did this, many professional earphones can be fit with custom molds as well; make sure to discuss with them before purchasing as there can be tradeoffs, but once you have the molds it's easy to make multiple things from them.

(The only thing I would add on lighting: make sure all of your lighting is 90+ CRI, if at all possible, no matter what color temperature of light you enjoy. It makes way more of a difference than it seems like it would.)
posted by Callisto Prime at 7:43 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]

Macks' foam in women's sizing or silicone are okay, but all earplugs seem to work their way out and the creaking sound while they do this slowing waking me up is awful

I think this is ear-specific, but I haven't had trouble with this Flents line of ear plugs falling out (they're short and non-tapered; you roll them, lift your ear up and back a bit, and stick them almost all the way in).
posted by trig at 12:45 AM on May 18

I have sensory issues, including a lot of problems with noise.

I use Bose QuietComfort 20 wired earbuds on the train. They're isolating and also have active noise cancelling, and the shape of the earpieces means they stay securely in my ears, unlike every other set of earbuds I've ever wasted money on. The noise cancelling reduces the noise of the train itself to a bearable level, so that I arrive at the other end calmer than I otherwise would. The sound isolation means I also can't hear people talking at a conversational level, or music leaking out of other people's headphones, or sound effects from people's games, or people making horrifying wet mouth noises as they eat, etc. (I'm realising right now how much I do *not* miss commuting.) If the ticket inspector is standing next to me asking to see my ticket, I will not hear him or her. (So I need to be a bit more alert to my surroundings if I'm using them.)

If people are shouting, or playing music really loudly, or a big group of people are all talking at once, that's too much. The earphones can't block that out, and the music I'm listening to ends up competing with it and making everything worse, not better. At that point I have to move to another carriage.

I don't find the earphones helpful if I'm not actively listening to something. They don't filter out all the noise, and they add a hiss that I find a bit oppressive if it's not obscured by a more enjoyable sound. Fortunately I enjoy listening to music quietly, if it's music I've chosen to listen to.

For a while, I had to work in an office with an exceptionally loud air conditioner that could not be turned off. That sort of noise is one of my worst triggers -- it interferes with my ability to think, and is tremendously stressful to boot. I found it unpleasant and distressing to the point that I would have to flee the building at a run after an hour or so. The earphones were a godsend. Playing an album of birdsong over running water on permanent loop made it possible for me to stay in the office all day, although I'll admit I got most of my work done on the days I worked from home.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:44 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

An option for cheap earbuds is these JVC marshmallow buds, which use a bit of memory foam for the buds. Again I think comfort and effectiveness depend on your ears, and they only partly block noise. But for the price they're very good, and with music on I generally can't hear anything else. I haven't tried these ones yet, but they seem similar.

These sleep earbuds are relatively comfortable for listening to music while resting your head sideways on things and they are slightly noise dampening.
posted by trig at 4:12 AM on May 18

I have issues with noise, mostly.

I use the Mack's silicone plugs but ignore all the warnings and shape it into a pointy cone and mash it into my ear so there's a little bit in the ear canal to help it stay in place. It will harden into shape a bit and they can be removed and reinserted without reshaping and stay in place without needing to be super sticky.

I got a pair of etymotics earplugs like ten years ago and they're uncomfortable to wear for a long time but good for concerts and filtering out enough background noise that it's easier to hear conversation in loud places. They're also not super obvious to others when they're in if you have hair that covers your ears.

I've been playing youtube ambience videos (e.g., library with a fire, snowy cabin, rain on a gazebo) a lot on my laptop screen while I work on the monitor for background noise to cover other sounds and for something soothing / darker than my work screen to look at.

I also eat menthol cough drops now and then for sensory input. I had a TA who did this and now I get it.
posted by momus_window at 11:17 AM on May 18

I use I Can Breathe masks to deal with smell irritants. Totally worth it. Great quality.
posted by saveyoursanity at 4:23 PM on June 2

This gel eye mask seems so-so as an eye mask but has been satisfying to play with as a fidget toy of sorts (which is why I bought it when I noticed it at Walmart—the gel beads seem similar to what I’ve seen advertised online as fidget toys/stims.)

I also like things with somewhat “sharp” tactile input, like: hard plastic spiky massage ball rolled around on a bare foot, spiky metal massage rings (I had to stretch them out a bit first so they were big enough not to be uncomfortably tight.)

In what feels like a similar vein to sharp tactile input, when I use vinegar to help deal with smells (like other people’s cooking smells that leak into my space), it’s mostly to try to neutralize, but when I catch whiffs of it, grabbing onto the sharpness of a scent that *I’m* choosing is also useful.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:17 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]

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