Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder (sometimes called a neurobehavioral disorder) that, to varying degrees, impacts one’s ability to communicate and interact. It is also marked by a rigid need for routine and repetition. There is an extremely broad spectrum of the behavioral traits related to autism, and each of these symptoms varies in severity from person to person.
The Basics on Autism
When my son, Will, was diagnosed with autism in 2007, the numbers being published put national autism prevalence in the US at around 1 in 166 US children. Today, the numbers have shifted dramatically, with the December 2018 issue of Pediatrics indicating that number is now 1 in 40.
We know that changing prevalence numbers are impacted by many factors such as diagnosis rates, improved diagnostic tools, and true increases in the number of children with autism. We also know the very definition of autism is changing.
The Old Way: Five Autism Spectrum Disorders
In the beginning, Will was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and of the five sub-diagnoses at the time, he was diagnosed with “Classic Autism” or “Autistic Disorder,” as opposed to Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), or Rett Syndrome.
The New Way: Three Levels of Autism Severity
Under the current DSM-5, however, people receive an autism diagnosis with a Level 1, 2, or 3 categorization:
- Level 1: Requires Support
- Level 2: Requires Substantial Support
- Level 3: Requires Very Substantial Support
Will falls into the Level 3 category. While categorizations and diagnoses are imperative for things like accessing support services and advocating with medical professionals and schools, it’s important to remember that autism is as varied as the people who have it. It looks different from one individual to the next. That’s one reason I’m very fond of Eustacia Cutler’s famous description of her daughter, Dr. Temple Grandin: “Different, Not Less.”
What Kinds of Products Help People With Autism?
Most of the items on the market are either autism safety products or sensory-related products. Many of the safety products center around elopement.
In this context, elopement is the action of fleeing or wandering from a safe space (EG: home, school, care facility, etc.). Given how common elopement is, many of the safety-related autism products for adults and children are designed to help prevent elopement and get people home safely after an elopement.
Autism Safety Products: Elopement Alerts
One of my favorite autism safety products is something many households already include: an alarm system. Will is fully capable of unlocking a door, so while it’s smart to lock exterior doors, it’s not a deterrent for my 14-year-old son. My alarm system lets me choose options for the sound it makes when a door opens. Thankfully, Will is not bothered by the gentle chimes I selected, which give me a subtle alert when a door opens, helping me keep tabs on Will from anywhere in the house. When it comes to home alarms, I learned a few tricks:
- Alarm setup and testing is loud, which can be stressful for people with autism. For this reason, it is a good idea to set up your alarm while the person or people with autism in your home are occupied elsewhere.
- Change is hard, so go slow. Will doesn’t mind the alarm in our house, but I also introduced it slowly. I started with low volume, brief chimes and eventually made them loud enough to be effective.
- Make sure you choose a flexible system. Our alarm system has several modes. For instance, we can set the alarm to “home” and have it sound if a door is opened (great for nighttime). But I can also set the alarm to simply chime when a door or window is opened without the alarm going off, which would cause Will a great deal of stress.
Autism Safety Products: Getting Home Safely
Even with supervision and security tools, elopement still happens. For a child like Will, this is a major concern. In fact, one of the first autism products I purchased in 2008, when Will was three and heading to pre-school, was designed to get him home safely if he eloped or simply got separated from his class.
That product was a medical ID bracelet, and I had no idea how to choose options that would work for Will. I didn’t know if I should buy an autism ID bracelet or autism ID necklace. I didn’t know that some autism bracelets are more durable than others or that I should engrave Will’s baseline status of non verbal. ID Bracelets were foreign territory, and I quickly found I had a lot to learn.
Who Needs Autism Medical Bracelets?
Wearing an autism identification bracelet is not strictly for children with autism, nor is it strictly for people who are nonverbal. Children and adults with autism, regardless of whether they are verbal, can benefit from wearing an autism medical bracelet.
Because people with autism often respond to stressful situations in ways that vary from how neurotypical people might react, an autism alert bracelet can be invaluable in an emergency. Autism ID tags can be custom engraved with the wearer’s diagnosis, emergency contact information, medical information, and treatment considerations. At a moment when even a verbal person with autism might have trouble self-advocating, such as when interacting with first responders after an accident, an autism medical ID may provide a dependable means of communication.
Sensory Products For People With Autism
People with autism often have sensory considerations such as sensory integration dysfunction or sensory processing disorder. While sensory involvement can be a complex challenge, there are some fantastic products on the market designed to provide calming, helpful sensory input.
Products For Sensory-Seeking Behavior | Autism Resources
People with sensory processing considerations may seek out certain sensory inputs while avoiding others. Some of the more common, effective tools that help provide sensory input are the simplest:
- Weighted blankets: Widely available online, weighted blankets can be a huge help with sleep issues.
- Compression clothing: Similar in effect to a weighted blanket, some people with autism find compression garments provide a calming level of sensory input.
- Body brushes: These extremely flexible and short-bristled plastic brushes are often used on the arms and legs.
- Trampolines and swings: Staples for any therapy center, these must-haves are available in scaled-down versions for the home. Supervision and proper safety measures are essential.
Products For Sensory-Avoidant Behavior
A neurotypical person might turn down loud music or dim lights if s/he has a headache. People with autism are no different in their desire to control sensory input. The difference lies in which forms of sensory input people with autism might want to avoid and how they might choose to do so. Here are some of the more effective tools in our sensory toolkit:
- Noise-cancelling headphones: For someone who loves music, these are great. For someone who needs silence, noise-reducing earmuffs may be more appropriate (and less expensive).
- Chew toys and fidgets: We went through years when Will needed something to chew on or fidget with. Both activities were highly calming to him at different times in his life.
- Natural and incandescent lighting: People with autism are sometimes highly sensitive to fluorescent lighting, making incandescent and natural lighting preferable.
- Sunglasses: Some people with autism are highly sensitive to bright sunlight, and sunglasses may help. For instance, Will’s sensory processing issues impact him so greatly that his pupils do not dilate and constrict typically, which makes him exceptionally avoidant of bright sunlight. Sunglasses sometimes help.
Autism Products: Choosing What Works For You
Shopping for autism products can be overwhelming with so many choices on the market. Simplify your searches by choosing one topic to address at a time and gradually building up an autism toolkit that’s just right for your home and family.
Learn more about autism med IDs here.
As Director of Sales, Marketing, and Business Development for Lauren’s Hope, Tara Cohen is often the voice of Lauren’s Hope. Whether she’s writing the Lauren’s Hope blog, crafting a marketing email, or describing a new product, Cohen brings a little personal touch to everything she creates.
Part of the LH team since 2012, Cohen has spent years learning about various medical conditions and what engravings are most helpful for each.
In addition to her years of experience at Lauren’s Hope and all of the research she puts into writing for LH, Cohen draws on her own life experiences to bring a human touch to the LH blog.