This is a list of seven sensory items you may find useful throughout winter, although they can be used all year round. The person who sent this list in is an autistic student who really struggles with the coldness and the darkness of winter, so that is what this list focuses on: finding warmth, light, and sensory joy throughout the longer and colder nights winter brings in the higher latitudes.
SAD lamps, with SAD standing for seasonal affective disorder, are designed to help those who find they have seasonal depressive symptoms which are often due to the darker days in winter. There is some proven efficacy in using a SAD lamp for the treatment of these symptoms, especially when used first thing in the morning and combined with other supports. You should speak to your doctor first as they will be able to best advise on this. SAD lamps are very bright and the individual who submitted this noted their particular sensitivity to light, so they often put it on in the corner of the room whilst they make breakfast rather than be directly in front of it, as this works best for them and their sensory needs.
One cannot make a list about the sensory aspects of winter without mentioning fairy lights! The individual who made this list said, “just put them up everywhere and be happy” and yes, I very much agree with this. They give me so much sensory joy and they are such comforting things.
Earmuffs are ideal winter sensory wear for three reasons:
They muffle noise, so are sensory dampening for sound.
They keep you warm, so are sensory soothing for temperature.
And they are just snazzy accessories to wear!
Glowing Alarm Clock
As the mornings are darker it can be trickier to wake and loud alarms are not the gentlest of things to welcome the day, so alarm clocks with a soft glow can be a fantastic alternative. The creator of this list uses a Casper Glow Light and loves it for its portability. I personally use my Alexa to turn on my bedside light and have it gradually increase in brightness.
Warmies is a brand of lavender-scented soft toys which you can warm (in the microwave), and, in doing so, they smell even more of lavender. They are just fantastic and I am so glad they are on this list as I highly recommend them too (I have a hippo and a shark!). They also do slippers, neckwraps, and hot water bottles!
Fleece Weighted Blanket
Many weighted blankets are, well, just weighted blankets, but in winter having a fleecy weighted blanked seems like a much more sensible choice! Brentfords Teddy Fleece Heavy Weighted Blanket is a good and affordable choice, offered in both pink and grey.
Super Soft Jumpers
Lastly, and importantly to one’s sensory needs during winter, making sure you have a jumper that you like the feel of that is also going to keep you warm. This is extra important if you are like me and don’t really recognise you are getting cold, because if you have something you like to wear that will keep you warm, you are more likely to stay warm!
This list was sent in by an autistic university student living in a country with very dark winters and the post was put together by ally (who is also autistic and also lives in a country with dark winters!). Ally is @pallyallywrites who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.
We recently got a small influx of emails with resources, which is absolutely wonderful! Taking from some of these recommendations, here are five flowcharts for neurodiverse brains.
There is the use of swearing in some of these resources.
1. Why Can’t I Seem to Do An Important Yet Very Simple Task?
An executive function focused flow chart by Sydni from What in the ADHD? because “When we struggle to do The Thing, itcan be difficult to pinpoint the EXACT issue.” So, this flowchart is to help you workout what exactly the issue is and navigate executive dysfunction:
2. You Feel Like Shit: A Self Care Game
You Feel Like Shit is an interactive selfcare guide which goes through a series of questions to break down what tasks to do and check you are looking after yourself. It is designed to be specifically useful for individuals who struggle with selfcare, executive dysfunction, and/or interpreting internal signals, such as hunger.
It’s designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn’t require much judgment… you can even go through this routine as soon as you wake up, as a preventative measure.
3. Anti-Procrastination Flowchart
The anti-procrastination flowchart was posted by redditor studentEnginerd in r/ADHD for feedback from other users, and you can see their suggestions here. The flowchart is colour coded into four stages and employs a range of skills which are from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), such as opposite action. The flowchart goes from the initial realisation that you are procrastinating (red), to planning your work (orange), to overcoming mental hurdles (yellow), and, finally, beginning your work (green).
4. A Flowchart For Getting to Sleep: A Playful Take On Sleep Hygiene
It is not uncommon for individuals under the neurodiversity umbrella to suffer from higher rates of insomnia than their neurotypical peers. Knowing what to do when you struggle to sleep so often can be really tricky, so having a handy and fun flowchart to help with sleep hygiene can be a useful tool! Lindsay Braman, a Seattle-based artist, therapist, and mental health illustrator, designed a fantastic and fun flowchart for sleep you can find here.
5. Am I Having A Brain Problem Or Being A Shithead?
Okay, this flowchart has a history! It was originally a text post by adhd, Private Investigator which was made visual by Life with ADHD who turned the post into a flowchart. Okay, that all seems simple, yes, but wait, there’s more! Much like my own ADHD fuelled rambles, this flowchart seems to go on beautifully for a while! This version is a remake of Life with ADHD’s flowchart by Yuutfa to make things a bit clearer and it is really very wonderful! This flowchart it validating, and although it is ADHD-focused, it seems like it would be useful for anyone struggling with executive dysfunction.
Although these are useful resources and tools for working through tricky things, they are not a replacement for support and guidance from a trained professional.
This post was made from resources recommended which were emailed in by wonderfully neurodiverse individuals, with the exception of the first flowchart from What the ADHD which ally also added. The resources were pieced together to post by ally, who is autistic and had ADHD, and has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes where they write on psychology, neurodiversity, and life.
Although autistic burnout is something that is not well researched in academia, it is something that has been reported by many lived accounts of autistic individuals. However, a study published last year in the journal Autism In Adulthood titled “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout, highlighted that is is in fact a very real problem that many autistic individuals face, and they defined it as stressor(s)/pressure(s) causing expectations of an individual to outweigh their abilities to cope leading to:
Loss of Skills
Reduced Tolerance to Stimulus
They also describe overall general negative impacts on their health, capacity for independent living, and quality of life that accompany autistic burnout and highlight the following as tools in recovering from it:
Greater Acceptance & Social Support (they highlight lack of empathy from neurotypicals as a problem)
Taking Time Off/Having Reduced Expectations
Doing Things in an Autistic Way/Unmasking
Building on this incredibly useful study, we (five autistic adults here) have compiled our own tips on autistic burnout to share. So, here are five tips for navigating autistic burnout.
Tip 1: Taking Preventative Measures
It is super important to recognise the things that can cause burnout. There can be big triggers which you can’t always prevent, but, at least some, you can prepare for in gentle ways, such as visiting a new school, college, university or place of work before you start there to help ease the transition. There can be lots of small things too which all add up, such as lots of social demands and uncomfortable sensory input, so it is important to take regular breaks to do what makes you feel comfortable and safe too.
I use noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses to reduce how much information my brain needs to deal with when I go out and it helps a lot.
Tip 2: Unmask If & When You Can
Masking can be an automatic response that is hard to let down as it can encompass such a big part of some autistic individuals’ social lives, and their is also a safety aspect to it, so it might not always be something people want to try to put down, even when it is so taxing. However, if and when you can, letting yourself unmask can be a great way to avoid or reduce burnout as masking is a chronically demanding and fatiguing tool.
I’ve been trying to learn to not mask so much for a while now and I feel so much happier and energetic when I don’t need to do it, when I can just be me.
Tip 3: Look After Your Stimming & Sensory Needs
Meeting your sensory needs is an important part of selfcare, and ensuring you can stim in ways that work for you is important too. This could be anything from making sure you have time to move and stim freely (a secret dance party, if you will) and cultivating creative outlets as preventative strategies, to going under all the soft and weighted blankets and having very soft sensory lights on for calming visuals and just cocooning up for a while to heal when burnout gets too much.
I do this thing I call nesting, where I just go under all my blankets and set my light to a soft moving blue and I am just under all this comfortable soft blanketed pressure and it feels safe. I also like to listen to my favourite docuseries whilst nesting too which is about my special interest.
Tip 4: Setting Healthy Boundaries
A key trigger for autistic burnout is when the demands presented to us outweigh our current ability to cope, so being able to say no to new tasks before you start to become overwhelmed is a good skill to avoid things continuing to mount up and becoming far too much to deal with. However, sometimes things just are to much on their own, and that is okay too, you can ask for help from those you know and trust if you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed.
I do work that I am very passionate about and I also am very passionate about routines. I combine this now, although it has been harder than one might think. So, when I finish work for the day I no longer respond to emails or requests, I may still work on projects but no work communication after 5.30pm, that is a boundary.
Tip 5: Recharge with Some Alone Time
When experiencing autistic burnout, the world can just seem so very overwhelming and alone time can be a really valuable tool here to recharge and feel better. Spending some time engrossed in a special interest or cocooned in your favourite weighted blanked or playing that one piece on piano over and over again until everything feels gentler again, for example, is totally valid and okay. However, do remember to access the support of those you trust around you and of mental health professionals too if it does all get too much, as sometimes burnout can last and it can be hard and you don’t have to deal with not being able to deal with things alone.
Don’t wait until you’re experiencing burnout to start looking after yourself- it’s no secret that the world is capable of being a rough place, and you deserve just as much as anyone else to be kind to, and gentle with yourself, and you don’t need to be actually burnt-out or nearing burn out to justify taking some time alone to recharge. Don’t let anyone tell you that self-care is unproductive, because it absolutely is productive! When I’m needing time to myself, I’ll usually watch gentle, low-energy YouTube videos in bed (if time allows), or I’ll listen to Jimi Hendrix, Motorhead at high volumes- for some reason I find loud guitar music soothing.
It’s also okay if you need to take alone time away from socialising (where applicable), good friends should be respectful of your need to take time to yourself, and by looking after yourself, you’ll be able to socialise more readily and you’ll get much more out of the time you do spend with friends and/or family!
Remember that you deserve kindness- you deserve kindness from others, and you deserve to be kind to yourself.
This article was pieced together by ally, who is autistic herself, and has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes where they write on psychology, neurodiversity, and life. The content post was co-authored by ally and four other autistic adults who all have a range of lived experience(s) of burnout: Finn, Xander, R., and Mark. Finn and Xander actually helped in the initial construction of Practical Neurodiversity before ally, Finn, and Xander all experienced burnout themselves to different degrees and had to put the project on hold. There is an irony that this was one of the only posts from their initial drafts months ago, finally being published, and it is a wonderful thing to be able to finally bring it all together to post.