12 awesome school supplies for kids with autism
These tools can help the neurodivergent learn.
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
If your child has autism or ADHD, the otherwise exciting prospect of making new friends or taking in the smell of freshly sharpened pencils at the start of a new school year can sometimes be a traumatic experience. After speaking to Mary Cunniff, a decades-serving specialist in occupational therapy and special needs education in Massachusetts, we’ve assembled this list of 12 essential school supplies that may comfort those with any kind of neurodivergence on the ASD spectrum. From fidget toys to calm strips, these simple and cheap tools may be just as essential as pens, markers, and crayons.
1. Hand fidget toys, pens, and pencils
When it comes to making the day-to-day activities of school more bearable for children with ADHD or autism, having access to a wide assortment of fidget toys is essential. This highly rated fidget toy set from Austor ($16) features a small marble in a tactile nylon pouch capable of bending, squeezing, twisting, or any other motion that may help your child maintain focus despite their active hands. This pack comes with 20 multi-colored toys, which should include more than enough fidgets to get you through the first few months of the year. For similar reasons, it might also help to purchase a fidget pen, like this six pack from Abhay ($13). You can also get a pack of fidget pencil toppers that add sensory feedback to any standard pencil.
2. A discreet fidget maze
These discreet fidget mazes from Fun and Function are a nice alternative when a smaller fidget toy won't do. Kids who are easily distracted love the sensory-laden fabric and the small weighted marble. The product combines the security of a blanket and the sensory appeal of a small object to help keep kids occupied. There are many versions of fidget mazes available to try, but our experts liked this two pack because it was discreet enough to avoid being distracting during school hours. Children can engage in this repetitive, manipulative task without inadvertently averting attention away from an important lesson.
3. Buzz Buddy for oral stimulation
If you child needs feeding or speech therapy, this Buzz Buddy from Special Supplies can be a great means of oral stimulation to prepare their mouths for talking or eating in ways that may be unfamiliar. This all-encompassing set features a vibrating base and six interchangeable heads based on whatever sensation is most pleasing to the user. Once the head is turned on, there are low, high, and pulsating vibration modes as well. The device even comes with a slick carrying case to ensure its pieces don’t get lost. Buying a standard electric toothbrush might also provide similar benefits in a pinch, but Buzz Buddy is a highly rated product with many happy owners and reportedly great customer support.
4. Lap pad or a small weighted blanket
Weighted blankets are a known source of comfort for children and adults who routinely encounter anxiety, which makes weighted lap pads like this 3-pound version from LakiKid ($50) a smart purchase. Its light weight is comforting but not so heavy that it will make your kid drowsy in class. And, in case the weight of the blanket isn’t enough to reduce fidgets, it’s possible to draw on the pad using a special water pen. It’s wipeable, washable, and capable of keeping your child calm when stimuli might otherwise be uncomfortable. If you think the drawing feature might be too distracting, you can always get a more traditional small weighted blanket ($18) instead.
5. Earplugs or headphones to quiet the noise
People with autism or ADHD may be sensitive to loud noises, making a pair of earplugs a sensible back-to-school companion if they’re about to enter a classroom with as many as 30 screaming children. We’re partial to these Loop Experience Pro earplugs, that fared well in our own accessibility testing. In the context of school, we love that the Experience Pros focus on reducing sound up to 23 decibels without trying to block it out completely. Furthermore, their multi-size, discreet in-ear profile makes these buds far less conspicuous than a traditional pair of noise-canceling headphones. These earplugs offer a more tailored sound-reducing result that won’t break the bank.
6. Lycra fabric or a Lycra body sock
Stretchy Lycra fabric can be a soothing sensory mechanism for those on the spectrum or in need of calm. With that fact in mind, a product like this Sanho Sensory Sock is perhaps best suited for overnight use or wearing around the house to keep your child content during the school transition. In a pinch, it might be just as easy to buy 2 yards of Lycra fabric and roll your kid up in the material like a burrito. As silly as that may sound, the process sometimes offers the precise type of sensory and security feedback some children find appealing.
7. Anxiety coloring pages
Coloring pages are a calming task for younger children to complete, but did you know they can be just as helpful for teens and adults as well? That’s where products like this Anxiety Relief Coloring Book from Magical Planet come in. For just a few dollars, you’ll get a collection of 34 black-and-white prints for your coloring pleasure. Filling in the small, detailed areas with a new hue can be a satisfying and soothing process during moments when a child or adult with ADHD may be feeling insecure. When the outside world may seem troubling, coloring offers a simple outlet for overactive minds to focus on. This book easily slides into any backpack, ready to be accessed at a moment’s notice.
8. Calm strips or Velcro for simple soothing
Back in the realm of simple soothing, Calm Strips are a popular product for anxiety or those on the spectrum who have trouble paying attention in class. For about $10, you can buy 50 of these textured strips to fiddle with whenever your child’s hands are tempted by impulsive behaviors. Some educators even put Velcro strips under a student’s desk, with either the rough or soft part of the strap facing outward based on the type of sensory feedback the child likes. It can be hard to stay calm when the world feels chaotic, but Calm Strips offer an insanely cheap fix that’s very appropriate for the classroom.
9. A means of flexible seating
Coping with autism or ADHD is all about falling into the right routine, and, in school, that might involve finding a comfortable seating method for your kid. Something like this cheap lap desk from ECR4Kids ($23) or a stool could be suitable for any age, while younger kids may be partial to a small Yoga Ball Chair ($20) instead. Since your child will be seated for long periods of time, flexible seating might be the most important part of them making it through a long day.
10. Typing games for simple focus
Most of us likely have fond memories of playing typing games in the school computer lab. In addition to being fun, educational games can also function as an easy means of focus for people with ADHD or kids on the spectrum. There are plenty of free typing exercises for children online, but this double pack includes two bespoke programs suitable for ages 5-12. It may require Windows and a functioning CD drive to use, but users say it’s the perfect gift for school-aged kids who also happen to love Disney. Success at a typing drill requires constant attention, which may distract your kid from otherwise bothersome stimuli while teaching them a worthwhile life skill.
11. Candy or gum for oral fixation
As a child with a disability, I worked with an occupational therapist through my high school years. To this day, she still firmly believes any kind of gum, hard candy, or Altoids function as a great source of oral fixation that may help children focus on difficult tasks or hard lessons during school. She was partial to Dubble Bubble during the ‘90s, but you’re free to purchase whatever product fits best with your kid’s diet. Simply put, a small distraction can go a long way when it’s time to get down to business.
12. Sensory basics: salt, sugar, corn starch, shaving cream, or slime
We started this list with some basic sensory products, so we’ll end there as well. If your child has sensory needs, it may initially be difficult to figure out which feelings appeal to them the most. That’s why certain mainstays like salt ($3), sugar ($22), corn starch, shaving cream, soft sand, or slime may be worth having on hand.
Sugar, of course, has a much softer tactile feel, while salt may be preferred by those who like to touch coarse surfaces. Take these varied sensations for a spin, and you may find even more products on this list that suit your child’s preference. If you’re an educator, designing activities around these ingredients might also function as a means of calming the classroom.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.