According to recent studies, approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism. Both children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder often rely on structure and repetition to succeed in day to day activities.
When decorating a new home, many consider decor with universal design in mind to be more inclusive and accommodating to people with mobility issues. However, those with autistic family members need to take extra care when selecting furnishings. Learning more about sensory processing disorder is a crucial first step toward designing a sensory-friendly home.
Understanding Autism and Sensory Processing
Children and adults who fall on the autism spectrum experience daily challenges, including sensory sensitivity. The sights, smells, textures and noises that occur in daily life can be overwhelming to people with autism, often causing a major meltdown.
Designing a space with autism in mind can make both adults and children feel safe and comfortable in their own home. The right furniture and decor can create a calm environment that allows those with autism to thrive. Below are some things to keep in mind when choosing sensory-friendly furnishings.
Children and adults with autism often exhibit stimming behaviors, which are repetitive actions that heighten one of the five senses: sight, touch, sound, taste and smell. When it comes to visual stimulation, people with autism may stare at overhead lights or colored walls. However, lamps that are too bright or rooms that are too vivid may be overwhelming or upsetting.
When selecting lighting for your home, consider investing in warm or natural bulbs. This soft light is not as harsh as fluorescent lighting, which can cause a child or adult with autism to feel uneasy and uncomfortable. For this same reason, it's best to avoid lights that are prone to flickering. An easy way to spread warm light throughout the room and create a welcoming environment is with a set of table or floor lamps.
Another thing to consider when decorating a sensory-friendly home is wall color. Kids with autism feel most comfortable in settings where they can relax. Sometimes, rooms featuring bright and bold colors can be over-stimulating. Family rooms painted in warm, neutral earth tones like rich brown, dark green or deep burgundy are often calming to those with autism.
Likewise, rooms with blue decor are also softer on the eyes and more soothing for autistic children. Rather than vibrant royal blue, opt for pale shades like aqua or periwinkle. Another way to create a safe, serene atmosphere is by decorating with gray shades, both in your furniture and paint selection.
Mess and disorganization can often upset a child or adult with autism. Decluttering your home is another way to make spaces more comfortable. For clean, structured room designs, try furniture such as end tables or storage beds with built-in cubbies or shelves.
Cabinets and bookcases provide easy access to your child's belongings while eliminating clutter. Tables featuring lower shelves offer additional space for electronics and magazines, while ottomans that double as storage bins can hold pillows, stuffed animals or blankets.
Like visual stimulation, auditory stimulation occurs when the noises surrounding a person with autism become overwhelming. From the bustle of crowds to loud music, this overabundance of sounds can be difficult for a child or adult with autism to handle. There are several ways to ensure your home is sensory friendly, such as adding rugs or muting outside noises.
Try to avoid leaving hardwood or tile floors exposed, as loud noises can cause discomfort for autistic individuals. The repetitive sound of paws tapping against wood or the clicking of heels on tile may upset your loved ones. Try placing non-slip rugs in high foot-traffic areas like hallways, dining rooms or dens to silence excess noise as much as possible. Remember to use these mats on kitchen and bathroom floors as well.
Though it's sometimes hard to control the amount of outdoor noise that enters your home, there are things you can do indoors to reduce ambient noise. Heavy curtains can muffle the sounds caused by passing cars, children playing or birds chirping. Placing a sofa against an outside wall is another way to lessen the noise.
Tactile-Friendly Furniture Options
Certain textiles and fabrics impact people differently. What may seem comforting to some can be distressing to those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are some guidelines that you can follow to select the best sensory items for autism.
Opt for pieces that are fluffy and soft rather than rugged or coarse. Supple leather sofas or sleek wooden tables provide smooth surfaces in the living room. Cozy pillows and upholstered ottomans are also useful pieces of autism furniture, as they feel soft to the touch.
Another easy way to create a tactile-friendly space is to decorate with velvet. This plush yet durable material is perfect for the repetitive touching that's often characteristic of individuals with autism. Select a pair of crushed velvet seats for the living room or choose a silk velvet headboard for their bedroom.
Tips for Sensory-Friendly Homes
There are several simple modifications you can make to your home to support a loved one with autism. Designing a sensory-friendly environment goes a long way to ensure that your family member will feel safe and secure. The following suggestions can help you create a home to better suit those with sensory sensitivities.
Build a Sensory Room
Sensory rooms are areas designed to calm overwhelmed children with autism. These spaces provide a sense of comfort after experiencing a sensory overload. Designate a spare bedroom away from the family or outside distractions as the sensory room to help the child relax. Or, use a familiar space like your child's playroom. Try decorating with soft-to-touch furniture, warm lighting and calming toys to keep their focus.
Avoid Harsh Smells
Along with certain textures, autistic individuals can be more sensitive to smells than other people. Avoid purchasing overly sweet scented candles or fabric softeners as well as freshly dyed items that may smell like chemicals. Additionally, switching to more eco-friendly detergents and soaps prevents your home from smelling like cleaning products. These scents may cause headaches and other physical issues for those who find them distressing.
Safety is key when decorating a sensory-friendly space. Individuals with autism are prone to wandering out of sight in public and at home. Indoor gates can protect your child from falling down steep staircases or entering rooms with breakable or unsafe items. Households that have swimming pools should make sure that doors leading to the backyard have sturdy, hard-to-reach locks to avoid incidents.
Keep Rooms Distinct
One final way to ensure your kid feels relaxed in their own home is to keep rooms distinct. Designating a certain wall color to the living room and another to the dining room, and so on, can eliminate confusion your child may experience when exploring your home. To ensure that they recognize their room as their own, try decorating a child's bedroom with beloved cartoon characters, colors or sports team logos.