I remember being about 9 years old and packing my favourite Pokémon figures and my pink Nintendo DS into a tiny pink backpack to go play in the garden. I’ve always been a backpack fan, and I’ve always found ways to sneak little comforts into my day. A very wise occupational therapist once told me that backpacks were a great tool I could use to ground myself, almost like an undercover weighted vest. Personally, I’m a particular fan of medium-sized backpacks, ones that aren’t quite as big as a school backpack, but bigger than a handbag style backpack that’s designed to hold your purse, your phone, and not much else.
My current backpack of choice
I carry quite a lot in my backpack, usually because pre-pandemic I tended to be out in the very wild and unpredictable world for most of the day, and my backpack is usually the difference between being able to enjoy the day, or having to go home by 11 am because I’m overwhelmed.
I always carry at least a couple of fidget toys, usually a tangle toy (I’m a particular fan of the Tangle Pets line from Smyths) and a figurine of R2-D2 that isn’t actually designed to be a fidget toy but is actually one of my favourites at the moment. On really stressful days, like when I’m sitting an exam, I tend to keep a Sylvanian family figure I’ve had since I was a kid in my bag too. I find the texture calming. Recently I’ve also been using a “simpl dimpl”, which is like a pop-it toy, but is much smaller, and can clip onto my sunflower lanyard. Sunflower lanyards are green lanyards with yellow sunflowers on them that signal that the wearer has an invisible disability. It’s a useful tool that signals that I may need longer to process verbal instructions at a till or when boarding the bus, or that I might struggle to make eye contact.
A green sunflower laanyard
Some of my favourite fidgets
I know that I’m very sensitive to sound. Noise bothers me, so I find headphones are super useful. Personally, I’m a fan of the Bose QuietComfort35 headphones because you can adjust how much noise cancellation they provide, but I’ve found that most Autistic people seem to have their own preferences. I always have at least one pair of headphones in my bag, usually my noise-cancelling ones and then a regular pair as a backup. In my opinion, headphones are a useful tool for anyone to have in their bag.
I almost always have my Nintendo Switch with me, along with a couple of games. My current game of choice is Animal Crossing New Horizons, which I find to be very relaxing. I do also tend to rotate games so that I don’t get bored as quickly, and while I really enjoy playing Animal Crossing in the morning after breakfast, I tend to play games that can be played in short bursts, like MarioKart, when I’m out and about. I find waiting difficult, and my Switch has been a welcome distraction in many waiting rooms, but making sure that it’s easy to put the game back down again when the time comes is definitely helpful!
My Switch and the protective case I custom painted for it
I always make sure I’ve packed some snacks or a lunch, because I do have food allergies, and knowing I have food that is safe for me to eat removes another potential stress monster from my day. I’m a big fan of red grapes, apple slices, and the occasional chocolate chip cookie. If I know I have a particularly busy day, I’ll try to organise myself so that I’m eating dinner in the middle of the day instead of in the evening. That said, my autism diagnosis came with a free ADHD diagnosis, so my intentions don’t always match my plan execution.
Aside from all of that, I do carry more boring, less relevant things, like my phone and my wallet, and I enjoy decorating my backpacks with keychains. Overall, I like to think my backpack is pretty well equipped to get me through the day.
Maybe learning more about autism has made you think that you might be on the spectrum yourself. That’s completely okay, and your feelings are valid. The Shona Project is not qualified to give specific advice around seeking a diagnosis, but if you suspect you might be autistic or if you want to learn more about the spectrum, we’d highly recommend checking out our friends at AsIAm. Their website has information to point you in the right direction! ✨
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