Autistic Home Decorating: Make Your Home Autism Friendly
August 23, 2019
You know you’ve entered an autism-friendly home when….
- The toilet paper is not where you expected it to be, and the paper towels are locked up.
- There’s a swing in the middle of the living room, and instead of chairs or a sofa, there are piles of pillows everywhere.
- Instead of family photos, there are pictures of mathematical equations on the wall.
- One room is all white or all beige, and another room is filled with bright, mismatched colors and artwork.
- The bedroom has wall-to-wall mattresses with lots of body pillows and no bedframes.
- A wide range of art supplies, children’s books, musical instruments and educational toys are packed onto open shelving in every available space, making it difficult to walk through the home.
- Everything is labeled with a word and a picture.
- There are rules and instructions posted in the bathroom, dining room and closet.
- There’s a separate room just for the Legos and marble runs.
OK, we don’t have a swing in our living room. We have a mini-trampoline, balance board and a small climbing structure with a slide in the living room, along with a beat-up sofa. But I do know someone who installed a swing/trapeze in her living room and arranged the rest of her home around it.
Families in the autism community do what they have to do to make their homes livable, as stimming, special interests and sensory integration become a huge part of family life.
How can we make our homes accessible to an autistic lifestyle?
Start with The Sensory Environment
A healthy sensory environment provides opportunities for movement, stimulation and lack of stimulation.
Every person has different sensory needs and levels of tolerance. Soft, natural lighting is better for mood and attention than artificial lighting; pillows on soft furniture and quilts on walls absorb and soften sounds.
Research has repeatedly found associations between color and mood – for example, some shades of blue may help with creativity and calmness.
It may be advantageous to have one area of the home filled with bright colors and activities that the family enjoys, including a television and stereo, and another area of the home with blank walls, soft colors, soft textures and quiet activities such as books or puzzles.
Exercise, vestibular input and proprioceptive input are also key to an autistic lifestyle, so space must be made for these as well. If space is limited, a balance board or mini-trampoline can be stored in a closet and brought out when necessary.
One of the most impressive features of autism is the ability to become consumed completely by a preferred topic or activity. In several of her books including “Thinking in Pictures” and “The Way I See It,” author Temple Grandin advises caregivers to use these “special interests” to steer individuals with autism toward academic or career goals.
For this reason, it may be necessary to devote a small area of the home to the pursuit of special interests and goals.
Space for Life Skills
In the past 15 years, studies in the USA, UK, Ireland and Sweden have all found that more than 95% of individuals with autism are unable to live independently as adults – including those with high IQs and those who received intensive early intervention.
If independent living is a personal goal, then it is imperative that lessons in life skills begin early and continue through childhood into adulthood. We labeled and re-arranged our cupboards, shelving and closets so that everything is accessible to our son as he learns how to communicate his needs, do dishes and laundry, clean up after himself and keep track of his own schedule.
We include him in all family and community-based activities, and we break down tasks into simple steps so that he can learn them over time.
Space for Eating
Many children on the spectrum have difficulty with eating new foods and textures. It might be necessary to block out as much outside stimulation as possible in the area where we eat so that they could focus on chewing and swallowing their food.
Try using the dining area only for eating, because you don’t want them to associate the area with other activities. Keep conversation light and cheerful during meals, and have a family activity in a different room after the meal, so that your kids have something to look forward to after finishing their meal.
Space for Rest
Sleep, insomnia and night-waking are hot topics in the autism community. Environmental factors can make a big difference in the quality of rest.
Here is a list of some things that may help your child sleep:
- Blackout curtains
- Paint the bedroom walls a dark color
- Use a weighted blanket
- Get a white noise machine (we use an air cleaner as a white noise machine)
- Buy a mattress that doesn’t bounce and jiggle all night, such as a latex or memory foam mattress – and use a box spring with no bed frame
- Use body pillows to encourage tummy sleeping or side sleeping, which can alleviate nighttime indigestion or certain types of breathing problems
- Try to use the bedroom only for sleep, so that the mind automatically associates the room with rest
- Limit the use of electric lights after sunset, and take a walk outdoors at dusk to boost natural melatonin levels in the body
Honor Special Interests, Talents and Achievements
Many individuals on the spectrum have strong interests in one or more topics. Some of the popular ones are elevators, trains, fans, the planets, buildings, maps, etc. Encourage your child to explore their special talents, however, always encourage them to explore other things as well.
Encourage photos and drawings of their favorite structures on magnet boards and photo boards around the house. Display his school work so that he can take pride in his achievements.
Honor your child’s interests, and encourage lively discussion and language development.
What makes a home autism-friendly to you? Please share your home decorating tips!« 10 Tips for Getting your Autistic Child Through a Haircut How to Help Your Child with ASD Overcome Her Fear of the Dentist and Establish Lifelong Healthy Oral Hygiene Habits »