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3D Printing for Autism

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April 2d is World Autism Awareness Day. Around the world people will turn on blue lights and wear the puzzle piece, a universal symbol of Autism Awareness.


Autism is a neurological difference that occurs in 1 in 68 people around the world . People on the Autism spectrum can live with a wide variety of differences in social, emotional, and mental areas of their life.

When people say “1 in 68” they are really saying “Autism will happen to someone else”. That denial is comforting, until Autism is diagnosed in your family or child.

The Unknown Friend

Growing up I knew something was different about me starting in the 3d grade. I did not get my classmates sarcasm or body language. I excelled in science and history, but I was horrible at math and art.

I had an unknown friend following me around school. Sometimes this friend was good; it kept me focused in class and helped me impress the teachers. Other times this friend was my own worst enemy; it kept me from understanding why my classmates were bullying me, or helped me break out in fights on the playground.

As I went through school I had always wanted a name for this unknown friend. My path to a diagnosis took many wrong turns in the public school system. It was not until the last week of high school that I finally had a name to put with this unknown friend.

Standing at 6 ft. tall with brown hair and eyes, with strengths in science and history was my best worst friend, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Now that I knew my friends name, I could talk with others and learn everything possible about him.

In the year’s sense the diagnosis I have worked with and around ASD to try and live an independent life. I earned my M.A. in education, teaching science to high school students in Colorado and Alaska.

Working with other Unknown Friends

Along the way I have also worked with students with disabilities. As their teacher I was always looking for ways to accommodate their needs. While some students’ needs could be accommodated, others were neglected due to a lack of resources or funding in the schools. As a teacher with ASD I felt bad when we could not provide an accommodation to a student because it was too expensive for the school and parents.

It was not until I started looking at 3D printers that I really saw a way to provide for many more students.

With 3D printing there is no economy of scale. It cost the same to print one item as it does to print a hundred. Something can be quickly customized to fit the needs of the individual student. If they break it (like all kids do) then the device can be quickly replaced.

The Need – 3D printing for autism

For people with ASD, there is a critical lack of therapy products designed for them. The handful of companies that provide therapy products for ASD charge a high price for their specialty products.

Parents looking for ASD products are forced to scrape and save (therapy products are not covered by insurance), or turn to cheap toys not intended for ASD.

Adults with ASD are left with few options and a workplace that may not accept such products for use. Even worse, many adults with ASD are not employed.


Here is a short list of ways 3D printing can help everyone with ASD

Sensory Diet – 3D printing for autism

A Sensory Diet is a set of activities and items that someone on the spectrum can use to focus during the day. They are designed to help rewire some of the nervous system, and help reduce unwanted sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors.

You can 3D print the following for sensory diet items.

Fidgets – 3D printing for autism

Fidgets (a.k.a. fiddles, stress toys) are small hand held items that anyone can carry with them to release nervous energy. For people on the ASD spectrum, fidgets can actually help them focus in a stressful situation.

Spinner Rings - 3D printing for autism
Spinner ring fidgets.

If you have seen someone play and twist rings on their fingers, then a spinner ring makes a great fidget.

A small section of plastic chain is great for play in both hands.

Fidget chains - 3D printing for autism
Different chains that fit in your hand.

Toys that spin like tops can provide visual feed back. Other spinning items like fans and ball bearings can provide great sensory feedback.

Some of the test pieces you have seen in my filament review blogs (link) have been my own designs for fidgets, which you can order on my Etsy store.

Activities of Daily Living (ADL) – 3D printing for autism

Some people on the spectrum may have problems with ADL. To be independent they may need additional tools in the house.

3Dpt designs.  - 3D printing for autism
Adaptive Silverware Handles for arthritis or other dexterity issues. Bulk orders possible on

Tying shoes is a common problem with people on the spectrum.

shoelace clips - 3D printing for autism
Shoelace Clips, so you don’t have to tie your lace shoes every day.

Instead of struggling every day, you can 3D print some shoelace clips to make it easy to put on lace shoes daily.

For eating, holding standard silverware may be a challenge. You can print adaptive handles to help hold silverware.

Communication – 3D printing for autism

For people on the spectrum who are non-verbal, they may use augmentative & alternative communication (AAC) devices. These digital devices care expensive when purchased from a company.

Matt Reamer designed a 3D printable AAC for his brother Dustin  . At the push of a button, Dustin can send a text message to his caregivers about his needs. Being Open Source, anyone can take the Dustin’s Words file and make a custom and affordable AAC.

As more people on the spectrum are introduced to 3D printing, there will be a growth in products that are 3D printable. These devices will be affordable, and customized to the individual needs of the person on the spectrum.

This April 2d, please learn about Autism. If you are a 3D modeler design something for people on the spectrum, and release it Open Source. 3D printers can print something for a family member on the spectrum.


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  1. Bojan says

    Extremely thankful for this comprehensive explanations, review and information about the 3D printing and the autism. Wasn’t aware that such products exist. As I have a cousin that has autism, will definitely share this article with him. Just want to give you appraisal for such a useful post.

    1. Daniel F says

      I was not aware of the struggles people with Autism faces every day. This post should not be the last one in this area if 3D Printers really could be that useful to those in need. 🙂

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