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8 Coping Hacks For the Neurodiverse Baddies

We’ve all had to figure out how to adapt in “uncertain times,” but even outside of these times a lot of us still need tools, support, and ticks for anything from focus to navigating relationships. I’ve spent most of my life masking my needs, exerting far too much effort in blending into family and friends around me. Now that I’m a full adult with a better understanding of mental health and psychology, I’ve taken on the liberty of re-parenting myself with all types of neurodiverse life hacks to make my daily life more livable for me.

Here are some very random items I’ve utilized over the past few years to help me cultivate my best self!


Slime

neurodiverse life hacks: The author's hands, pulling at slime.

I confess that more than half of this article is solely centered around my light obsession with slime. I’m not talking about the green stuff from Nickelodeon or the glue craft we all made in elementary school. I’m talking about gourmet, elevated slime made to look like real food or objects. This first hit American markets right around when TikTok first blew up over here. Because I’m on the mom-craft side of TikTok, I received endless small business slime creator content and got hooked. At first it was out of awe, similar to the reason why people love watching “Is It Cake?” But then it quickly became an ASMR thing. Whenever I would get stressed or even just before bed, the most relaxing thing I could do was watch my girl Jungmin Kang piece together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich only to completely destroy it a few seconds later!

Needless to say, I own a few of her slimes. My current obsession is this clear Dragon’s Egg one because the hard beads make an excellent contrast to the soft, clear slime. You can catch me in any professional meeting playing with this under my desk.


Feelings Magnet

A collection of magnets from the movie "Inside Out" and the Autostraddle Word Magnet kit, on a grey refrigerator

I have a large rectangular magnet with all the emotions from Pixar’s movie Inside Out: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness. It comes with a second smaller circle magnet that says “I feel____ today” and the idea is that you place it over the emotion you’re feeling. Did I get it from the kids section at a Disney World store? I absolutely did. When I open my fridge every morning I’m forced to gaze upon it, which helps remind me to take a moment to ground myself. Since implementing this into my daily routine, I’ve noticed certain feelings showing up more than others. It’s also helped me keep track of any emotional patterns I have, which is something my psychiatrist always told me to do but I never did until I got this magnet.

A very honorable mention goes out to our very own Autostraddle Queer Magnetic Word Kit, which is shuffled all around the Disney magnet. My sister added “neutral” from the word kit to the feelings magnet because she felt there needed to be a nonchalant alternative.


Goat Yoga

neurodiverse life hacks: cutouts of goats doing yoga

A friend bought me this for my birthday last year because we had always talked about going to actually do yoga with goats (but never did, for many reasons). She thought this would nonetheless help with my anxiety and she was spot on. It’s just a bag of wooden goat pieces you can stack on top of a yogi to make crazy poses. The idea is similar to that of a fidget spinner or even the slime: it helps keep my hands busy so my brain can have a break.


Diffuser

neurodiverse life hacks: a circular pink sparkly oil diffuser

This isn’t necessarily a specific hack for neurodiverse people, but I’ve found it to be tremendously helpful in using the placebo effect against myself. Over the course of many years, I’ve collected various essential oil scents, but for really no purpose? I always acquire them with some grand DIY spa idea in my head and then never actually use them.

I recently decided to buy this diffuser so I could, for example, diffuse peppermint to keep myself awake throughout the day (this is a regular, chronic issue for me). I drop lemon in to brighten up the space when I feel dull. Ylang Ylang is great for setting a seductive atmosphere. While I’m not completely convinced that these actually make that much of a difference, it’s a great way to trick myself into actually feeling the things I want to feel and experience.


An Actual Calculator

neurodiverse life hacks: a grey Casio calculator on a wooden desk

A true Gen Z friend of mine once made fun of me for owning a real calculator. I truly thought everyone kept a little calculator with them at their workspace, so hearing him chuckle at me truly opened my eyes as to why I actually keep it within arm’s reach at all times during working hours.

Hm, how do I explain this? I have this slightly obsessive coping mechanism of budgeting, but in a very hyperfixated way. One moment I’ll be reading for school and 10 minutes later I’ve found myself 10 calculations deep in “well what if I took on this random gig, dropped this monthly payment by 10%, moved apartments, and also went to dinner this weekend? What if I made $100,000. What would those daily numbers look like? How many seconds are in two months? How can I split my income into 5 even totals (for literally no reason)? What is the difference between living life in Florida and living life in California (a question that really cannot be answered mathematically given all the factors, but somehow I still try and do)?” Some of this sounds like regular budgeting, but it’s more really more of a survival skill kicked into hypomanic gear. I quite literally will not be able to do anything else until I get to the bottom of whatever non-relevant equation I’m trying to solve.

So, the calculator helps because it’s something sensory. It’s a game separate from the real game of life on my phone.


Measuring Tape

Again, not specific to my diverse needs, just something that makes a lot of sense with how my brain and body operate throughout a day of sitting at my desk. I keep this very small, cheap, retractable measuring tape right next to my calculator in my desk drawer. In the same way I find myself down a hole of fixation around numbers, I find myself measuring things around me. Some of it is practical, like when I want to buy my 5th Yitty outfit of the month and once again forgot my hip size. Most of the time, however, it’s “I wonder how long this desk is compared to the length of the room?” I’m not doing it with any real goal in mind, all I know is that I HAVE to know before I can move on.


Four Calendars

Two dry erase calendars on a wall, filled with writing and paper attached to them with magnets

I do indeed have four calendars — not because I’m extremely organized — but because I literally need to see everything in front of me in order to remember it. Two of these calendars are white boards right next to my desk. The one on the left is a monthly calendar that only marks down significant disruptions to my daily routine, such as a doctor’s appointment or plans to travel. The board on my right is an income calendar where I write down every gig going on at the moment, what it pays, and when it pays. It’s also where I list out common payment dates such as my doctor’s bills and car payments. Essentially this is what anyone making a budget would do, but I HAVE to physically write it with my hand and be able to see it at all times for me to remember what it is I have responsibilities for.

The other two calendars are online, mostly because I don’t have the wall space for more whiteboards and my gmail links my therapy sessions to my calendar automatically. One gmail cal is for general life things associated with my personal email, such as non-work meetings and deadlines. The other calendar is solely for school deadlines. Why not combine them all together, you ask? Well first, because they’re all made with different email accounts and second, because if I see too much of something on a day I get overwhelmed and won’t do it.


Clear Bathroom Storage Containers

neurodiverse life hacks: a close up of clear bathroom storage containers, filled with knickknacks, stacked on top of each other. The author is making a peace sign in the back.

I own this for the same reason I own so many calendars: if I can’t see what I have, I won’t use it. This is particularly key for my bathroom space because I quite honestly won’t do a morning or nighttime routine unless I see the products sitting there in front of me. Why not just have them all sitting out on the counter without the odd clear contraptions, you ask? Because it will look too chaotic and messy, I’ll get overwhelmed, and then I won’t use any of it. Since purchasing this acrylic storage container, I’ve actually finished multiple bottles of lotions and potions before their expiration dates.

The whole idea of adapting my life to me is an empowering feeling I’ve recently put action behind. I would love to know of any tools, tricks, or routines you used to help you be your best self!


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Em Win

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Em now lives in Los Angeles where she does many odd jobs in addition to writing. When she's not sending 7-minute voice messages to friends and family, she enjoys swimming, yoga, candle-making, tarot, drag, and talking about the Enneagram.

Em has written 28 articles for us.

42 Comments

  1. I love this! Mine is, whenever I get home, as the absolute first thing I do I fully unpack whatever bag I was using, put everything in its home (incl a little old bread tray by the door for keys, travel lip balm, etc) and hang the bag up.

    It’s a Marie Kondo idea that just helps so much; it’s as if I take a moment with, and then pack neatly away, the day outside itself! And this frees me to move unemcumbered into my home space.

  2. massively recommend see-through storage, i actually remember what i own when i can see it! and related organizational tip for those of us who create Piles and Stacks: if you put the Pile or Stack into a fabric bin or decorative basket, it transitions from clutter to decor

  3. The goat yoga! Three cheers for your friend for gifting it and three more for whoever created that set and a further three for you for using it and being creative with it.

    And… oooof, the calculator! I don’t keep an actual calculator on hand, but I *do* keep a similar running mathematical commentary in my head. “Slightly obsessive coping mechanism of budgeting” is such an accurate way to describe it.

  4. Oh this is perfect and I love the little goat yoga blocks!

    Sometimes these hacks are so easy it frustates me that it took me so long to figure out. My laundry basket used to be a mess. Held all types of laundry, and whatever else was around and needed a spot to live. Always overflowing. So after many years of frustration I bought 3 small washing baskets so I can sort immediately and a small basket holds all seperates that need special care. (Bras, woolen socks, etc.) If one of the baskets is full, it’s time to wash on that temperature, and I don’t need to do the thinking. Seriously made my life so much better. And it’s so fucking simple. (Writing this does remind me I have laundry to hang!)

    • That is amazing!
      Not quite the same hack but I often have clothes that have been worn once but aren’t ready to be laundry yet – years ago I finally put a special “not yet” container in my dresser so that those things don’t just sit in a pile on the bed or floor until they’ve been worn to proper “needs washing” level.

      • Oh yes. The “chair”, I’ve got one of those. I’ve been starting to return stuff to the wardobe if it’s not stained or smelly. If it’s good enough to wear again, it can go back on the hanger. The chair is only (supposed to be) for things I’m taking off and putting back on the next day.

      • Brilliant! My “not yet” items get hung up on li’l cast iron hooks in my closet. They can pile up (even hanging on the wall) but they’re also airing out a bit. Sometimes I don’t even wear them again before putting them in the laundry – they just need some time in that middle zone before their next step becomes clear.

  5. stickercharts!

    also, making as many transitions as possible wave shaped instead of stepshaped. like gradually dimming the lights, and candles for mornings and evenings. looking at the thing i’m gonna work on. then take a break. then do one step on the thing i’m gonna work on, etc. ease in and ease out.

    • why are the sticker charts so goooood!!?! truly no other reward/tracking system is effective for me /except/ filling up a piece of paper with stickers. They can be boring stickers! works even better!

      also ooo I love thinking of that pattern as a wave.

      • Yes! I had been wanting to try a light alarm clock since I heard about it a couple years ago, but they kept being hard to find and expensive. Last year I searched again and there’s one sold at Walmart for like $40, for some reason in their “seen on TV” section instead of with other alarm clocks. Anyway I love it. It has sounds but I turned all the volume off, I just use the light. The sleep function dims down and the alarm function brightens. The dimming at night has truly helped my brain get ready to sleep. It doesn’t work every time, but often!

      • truly – i applied it to light/dark transitions upon realizing my light sensitivity and looking at a graph of sunrise/sunset times across the year. in math nerdery, that graph is a sine wave. and US daylight savings clock changes RUDELY interrupt that gorgeous sine wave with a huge step, which most kids and many adults struggle so much with because our bodies are just not built to ‘wake up an hour earlier’ at the drop of a hat. the light/dark easing has been so wonderful, i am trying to apply it to other parts of my life too. it makes me wonder about the autism stereotype ‘bad with transitions’ . . . what if we just want eaaaased transitions? the modern world draws hard lines where there used to be gradations in so many ways (e.g. country borders, workday start/stops, etc).

  6. The phrase that has really changed how I approach all of this is “the ADHD tax” – paying for things that other people don’t have to. (For instance not using those lotions before the expiry date!) So instead of stressing about doing things the “normal” way and losing money anyway, I spend money up front to make my life better. E.g. with food, I get precut melon and I actually eat it. And I bought doubles of things I kept forgetting to bring when visiting my partner, and those doubles live in a drawer at their place so now all I have to bring is the clothes I want to wear. It’s been a process because I feel silly (“why can’t I just remember to bring stuff”), or like I’m wasting money. But that’s a limiting belief that I’m trying to break!

  7. 1. Keep a WRITTEN LIST of all your personal quirks and hacks, and regularly re-read it to remind yourself! Schedule this into your routine! Put up a visual reminder! Glance over it first thing in the morning, like you might do with a vision board! It hurts to realise the hacks that really work for you have been forgotten and rediscovered.
    2. I have a friend who finds it very liberating to do things on the floor. She recently bought a really nice-textured rug, which has a memory foam layer for Extreme Floor Comfort. I often recover by lying on the floor too, so she’s inspired me to start pulling out my beach towel, to lie on that instead of the landlord’s shitty carpet. It’s much nicer! I also bought slippers this year, and it’s now so much easier to Get Up to do something, since the act of Getting Up no longer involves unwanted sensory input.
    3. The Kondo bag-emptying thing never worked for me, so instead I do the opposite. Besides the normal things like wallets etc, I know, with complete certainty and assurance, that my normal bag will always contain:
    – Four days’ worth of my medications, just in case
    – Sunglasses, for when the light is too bright
    – Earplugs
    – A mini toothbrush, mini toothpaste and dental floss in a travel case – for when the sensation of unclean teeth bothers me
    – A spare lip balm and a little screw container of moisturiser – for when the sensation of dry skin bothers me
    – Sunscreen, hand sanitiser, hair comb, nail file
    – Emergency snacks eg trail mix
    – A jumper, including in summer, since I don’t thermoregulate well, and aircon doesn’t help
    – An little folded-down umbrella
    – A spare mini notepad and pencils, so I can try to help myself think clearly in situations that unexpectedly require some kind of planner
    – A squashed cloth bag to use for extra capacity, to make up for my bag itself already holding so much stuff
    – A tiny ball of thin cotton yarn and a crochet hook – because focusing on counting out a stitch pattern can help me to narrow down what input my brain pays attention to, so that a bright and loud and busy environment no longer registers with so much discomfort. I only worked this one out recently; I think it explains how I used to use reading as a coping mechanism as a child. I can get the same effect from counting a complex stitch pattern in crochet – which weighs less than a book, and won’t deplete my phone battery.
    And having all of that in a cloth bag still doesn’t weigh much at all. There are just enough internal pockets that everything has its Designated Home, too.
    This way it’s easier to drag myself out of the house, because the only brain-coping things I need to locate are my hat, noise-cancelling headphones and water bottle. And I can cope without a hat if I’ve got the umbrella, and I can cope without headphones with the earplugs. So, in a late and disorganised emergency, I can grab an empty bottle, sprint out the door, and fill it at a tap somewhere later. What security! Such freedom! No matter what other things I might forget, I’ve got a full arsenal of coping strategies on hand at all times. It makes life so relaxing.

  8. Genuinely curious: what is meant by “neurodiverse baddies”? i see the notion neurodiverse popping up more and more, and would like to understand who is under that umbrella.
    from what i read linked to the word, it seems to me like that would be many many many people, all who are just trying to get by, like Em states in the intro (which i fully cosign).
    i feel it is kinda being used synonym to “human” – bec isn’t diversity the default? isn’t it normal to have different needs and approaches, oh so many different concepts of being human and tackle daily adversities aka life?
    maybe i have difficulties grasping the US American need to separate and put labels on everything…

    • “maybe i have difficulties grasping the US American need to separate and put labels on everything…” – YES, in my experience as an american it is very similar to queerness, where variation in how and who humans want to love each other, have sex together or not, partner, etc is very common throughout human history. BUT because the extremely narrow heterocis norm, which has been violently imposed on us, has been so strong, the many of us who fall outside of need words like gay and queer to find each other, validate each other, and organize and tell our stories and make our spaces. Dr Kim TallBear does a wonderful explanation of how US colonialism depends on categorizing people to manage us (on an episode of All Our Relations, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/decolonizing-sex/id1454424563?i=1000432391795). I id as autistic and ‘neurodiverse’ bc it helps me re-access ways of being and basic needs that unfortunately I was consistently scolded for and steered away from in school and by some of my family. my experience ‘coming out’ as autistic had a lot of parallels w coming out as queer. other ppl who id as autistic sharing their experiences is incredibly helpful for me. Autism as a concept came into being at the height of eugenics, coming from 1) Asperger who was working with Nazis and 2) Leo Kanner who was doing pediatric psychology in the US while the US was kidnapping and institutionalizing (and similar to Nazis, tattooing numbers on the arms of) indigenous children. . . it is helpful to remember that homosexuality was in the US ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)’ until recently and only replaced “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria” in 2013. This is the same set of institutions that forced women who disobeyed their husbands into confinement under “hysteria.” The DSM continues to have categories that are used to marginalize, control, and withhold support from esp black, brown, and poor people. In all of this pathologizing and institutional violence, neurodiverse is a reclaiming and empowering word. i also like to use the word ‘neuroconforming’ to describe ppl who are not appear to be neurodiverse,. . . if you are curious about more about how these psychology and diagnosis categories dovetail with other oppressions i highly recommend the book “All The Weight of Our Dreams: on living racialized autism” edited by Lydia X. Z. Brown, A Ashkenazy, and Mor’enike Giwa Onaiwu. It includes several pieces by queer people, and I especially love “we autistics, we villages, we humanoids” by Jen Meunier (Gzhibaeassigaekwe), who is two spirit. They pull together ableism, colonialism, racism, white supremacy, antiqueerness, and environmental destruction very clearly. the book is NOT academic, it has poetry, lists, reflections, and visual art.

  9. This piece and comments are great! I have PTSD and a lot of sensory issues and I scored wey low on many executive functions when I took a survey on them (time management, emotional regulation, planning & organization, etc).

    So I have so many systems to meet my needs and keep me on track!

    I love the comment about keeping needed supplies in the bag at all times. That’s my system too, and it includes my as-needed anxiety meds, lip balm, lotion, and the list goes on and on.

    I just got a really deluxe expensive Phillips sunrise alarm clock and started using it a few days ago. Still working out the details and it hasn’t woken me up yet but it wakes up my husband who then wakes me up, lol. It totally did not wake me up today when my husband was on a work trip and so there’s that. But I hope that I will start to get used to it and that it will wake me up so nicely because I get up at 5:15 am for my school social worker job.

    I just got a Panda Planner to help me with certain work tasks that I avoid, and to help me focus on positive things and reduce how triggered I get from my bosses’ micromanaging.

    I wear the same Keen Oxford shoes pretty much every day because they have a wide toe box and keep my feet dry without overheating and they fit my orthotics.

    So many systems!!!! I could go on and on and on and…

  10. This article totally inspired me to buy a second calendar that I hang on my wall in full view, so that I understand that this day is in a week in a month in a year! I use it to take note of fun stuff as well, and it has kittens on it!

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