This has always been the case.
Decades before the assemblage of S and P and D meant anything to me at all (and way before PETA taught me to avoid real fur like the plague), I ran my palms up and down my grandma's fur coats in the depth of winter. I knew each coat purely by touch - the sort-of soft one, the super-soft one, the one I hope she'd wear. When we stepped into her apartment from the crisp outdoor air, I'd peel my gloves off as quickly as I could (to this day I still can't stand the feel of gloves on my hands, but that's a whole other blog post), throw them on the floor, and run my fingertips like paintbrushes up and down her arms. Then I'd lay my cheek and lips against the chilly pelt and nod my head. My grandma, sure that I was just intent on expressing my love for her, would press my face even further into her coat, and between the safety and comfort of her embrace and the cool texture of her coat against my skin, I'd momentarily let my shoulders droop and shut my eyes. And it wasn't that I didn't adore my grandma: her fiery crop of hair, her Yiddish nicknames for me, the way she sang I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck - I did . . . but I loved her even more for her coats.
Fur not, no animals were harmed in the making of this faux fur coat
And even before I was old enough to stand, sick and dehydrated and hospitalized, she and my grandpa placed the much lionized Leo in my arms. This blog is too short and this life is to brief to explain, in proper depth, why the stuffed lion has secured such a prized place in my collection of things, creatures, and people but ultimately, the oval of his dark black velveteen nose served as my first fidget.
Fidgets, I should explain, are toys, tools, or tidbits of anything that help a person with SPD stay calm and focused, or, as we'd call it in sensory circles, regulated. They have a few common qualities.
1. They have a special tactile composition (if they're not soft, they're bumpy, squishy, sticky)
2. They're sometimes weighted
3. They're sometimes movable
4. They're sometimes pliable
This is a fidget:
So is this:
And technically this:
I'm in this last camp of fidgets - the random-soft-furry-palm-sized-creature camp. This is clearly not a traditional fidget - perhaps not even a traditional category of fidgets - but as you may already know, I'm not your traditional gal. I didn't learn about fidgets from occupational therapy or because my parents read some guide to sensory tools when I was growing up. I didn't know that my urge to stroke things and the way that my hands craved touch even had a name. My condition, after all - my differences, really - didn't even have a name until I was 27. And so I quickly learned that running soft and cool things between my fingertips and across my lips helped me calm down. When I was especially sluggish and unable to connect with the world around me, running these same things through my fingers also revved me up.
I would say that my dedicated fidgeting didn't begin in earnest until I came across a folding table lined with little animal statuettes on a childhood family trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Strolling down the boardwalk (or rather, in my case, flinching down the boardwalk while making a valiant attempt to stay proprioceptively connected to my loud, bright, and chaotic surroundings), I was excited to find someone who could help me add to my extensive collection of turtle figurines. After all, I wasn't in possession of a fur-trimmed turtle, and I figured that no collection was complete without one. When I reached out to the pile of turtles to find my newest friend and dug my hands deep into the heap, I was surprised to find that my fingertips were tingling. The urge to flee and hide underneath the hotel box spring melted away. I picked a turtle and we continued ambling along the pulsing, reeling boardwalk - except this time, I had a strange, magical nugget in my palm that kept me feeling calmer and less detached from the fray; better able to face the world.
Meet Birdle, my first real fidget
And the true epitome of "No Hair, Don't Care"
These days, I still shirk traditional fidgets for ones of my own design. My husband in all of his Handler glory is one of my favorite fidgets. Whether I need to stroke his furry arm, play with his auburn beard, or just run my fingers along his back in a fingertip-numbing massage (we both win with this one), he is patient with me. I can easily keep my tactile craving tendencies under control, especially when we're out in the sensory world and toting around a tiny animal friend just isn't socially acceptable. (No one ever notices the subtle stroking of fingertips while holding hands, trust me.) I've been known to fidget with my purse, our couch, and even the plastic velcro strips meant to connect our car's E-ZPass to the windshield. I pet dogs and pat babies. I run my fingers along walls as I stride down office corridors.
That's the thing with fidgets. Once you've made peace with your sensory body's need to engage in such a tactile way, the world is your fidget. Every subway pole and sundae spoon and bendy straw has the potential to become your favorite tool. No bubble wrap is left un-popped. Even the little turtle statuette, the velveteen lining of a teddy bear's nose, the treasured memory of your grandma in her best mink can take their place in your life's sensory pantheon.
Want to read more about my love of fidgets? Pre-order my guide to sensory issues today!