By Brian Wu, M.D., Ph.D
If you have a friend or family member who has ADHD, autism or other neurodivergent condition that causes a person’s brain to work a bit differently, you might be wondering what products, and holiday gifts, have been created with this population in mind. Below is an introduction to some common items available to help with the sensory challenges that many different learners face.
Fidget spinners are perhaps the best known of the fidget toys and the product that started the fidget trend. These spinners can help those with autism who are experiencing sensory overload, but are also ideal for those with ADHD or anxiety issues. There are styles for both children and adults, and a wide range of colors and materials are available.
Sand, Slime and Putty
Sand, slime and putty all provide important sensory stimulation but also help to develop fine motor skills, which can sometimes be lacking in neurodivergent children. These substances can be used by themselves or as part of other games or activities. They come in different colors and scents to further engage a child’s senses.
This new term describes items that can provide important oral stimulation for teens and adults with ADHD, autism or other sensory issues. The products allow for that stimulation in a way that is discreet or socially acceptable. Chewable jewelry is made to be stylish or fashionable and can be constructed from a variety of materials, including silicone and braided cloth or rope. These chewables help to deal with sensory overload or to relieve boredom or anxiety.
Popper toys can also provide opportunities for sensory play for adults, teens and children. They are portable, easy to clean, and are not too loud for those who are noise sensitive. People with autism or ADHD or other conditions can find the popping, squishing motions relaxing. There are many colors and styles to choose from. Amazon.com carries a wide variety of these toys.
Weighted Vests and Blankets
Weighted items such as vests and blankets are becoming increasingly popular, often recommended by therapists and special education teachers across the country. These items provide what is called “proprioceptive input” — which helps a person understand where their body is in space. Weighted vests and blankets provide deep pressure to a person’s joints and muscles, and can be calming and relaxing for many with ADHD and autism. Studies have also shown these products help with mental skills like focus and attention — something many neurodivergent individuals struggle with. People use compression vests, which provide deep pressure but without the weight, for a similar purpose.
These mats come in a wide range of textures. Children are able to explore them with their hands or feet. The textures are meant to help neurodivergent children engage their senses in a playful and relaxed way. The mats also help special needs children manage sensory input in an acceptable way.
Similar to sensory mats, but smaller, portable and more discrete, these stickers come in a variety of textures. They can be stroked, scratched or scraped to provide sensory stimulation — without it being noticeable or distracting to others. These are inexpensive, come in a variety of styles and colors, and often have affirmations written on them to further induce a calming effect.
There are many toys and sensory items that can help people deal with symptoms of their ADHD, autism or other neurodivergent condition. These items can help relieve anxiety, provide sensory stimulation and improve concentration and focus. They are great ideas for meaningful gift-giving.
Below are some resources offering more information on some of these sensory gifts. (These are only a handful of possible resources; ADHD Online does not recommend products and is not compensated in any way for providing this information):