According to Autism Speaks, approximately one in 54 children in the US are on the spectrum. This is nearly double the number of children with autism in 2010. We have learned a great deal about autism spectrum disorders (ASD) over the last couple of decades, including how our homes can impact those with sensory and other disorders. Whether you have a child of your own or plan to foster, read on for autism-friendly home ideas.
First, let’s look at the way some people on the spectrum hear and process sound. The Mighty’s Lori Sealy describes sounds as loud — always loud. For her, ASD means hearing and processing every noise in a room at the same level. This, she asserts, is unsettling and confusing. Some children, especially, can become overwhelmed at the overabundance of auditory stimuli.
Because noise is a significant concern for some children with sensory disorders you might consider outfitting your home with implements that help reduce auditory sensations. This can help them cope and keep them from becoming distracted and overwhelmed. Using Noise-canceling earbuds, a white noise machine, and acoustic panels could help dampen some sound sensations. You can also hang heavy curtains in rooms closest to the source of external noise.
Some children on the spectrum lack the executive functioning skills to remain neat and tidy of their own accord. Others have an extremely refined sense of organization. No matter which end of the scale your child is on, keeping things organized is essential in an autism-friendly home. This is because the visual clutter of disorganization and chaos can be as overwhelming as sound.
To create an autism-friendly home, clear out unnecessary trinkets and large or brightly colored decor. Your organizational strategy should follow the tenets of “less is more.” You’ll want to keep your home organized, including your bookshelves. MakeSpace offers several suggestions on how to keep your home library looking its best. As an added benefit, keeping your books in a specific order will make them easier for your child to find. Even if they are not big on reading, simply being comfortable around books is a positive for all up-and-coming learners.
Safe Sensory Spaces
Because children on the spectrum might become overwhelmed with sound, clutter, and tactile sensations, such as being touched by cold hands or sitting on a hard chair, some families find it helpful to have at least one area in the home sanctioned as a safe sensory space. The Chaos and Clutter blog explains that a sensory room is helpful and it can help children feel safe and allows them to control their sensory input. An autism-friendly sensory space may even help your child build their tolerance toward external input that they cannot control.
Sensory spaces can be tailored to your child and may include floor pillows, a curtain partition, customizable LED lights, and a bucket of fidget toys — the latter of which is shown to improve focusing abilities while expending restless energy. Make sure to stick with soothing colors, not just in the sensory area, but throughout your entire autism-friendly home. For some, avoiding stark contrasts, which can overwhelm the senses, can help.
When outfitting your yard with play structures, it is crucial that you consider your child’s safety as well. If you do not already have one, it is a good idea to install a fence around your property’s perimeter to prevent wandering. Instead of searching for “fence installation near me,” you can find reputable and well-reviewed fencing professionals on sites like Angi. The cost of adding a fence to your property averages $4,500, but you can lower the expense if you install less costly wood or chain-link fencing.
Creating an autism-friendly home for a child on the spectrum might feel like a daunting challenge at first. Take your time and prioritize those things that will be beneficial for your child and your family as a whole. All of us can benefit from a calming space to retreat to from time to time.
Contributing author, Amanda Henderson, Safechildren.info
Since 1995, CA Human Services has been committed to advocating for individuals with autism and their families. For information and supports available for the autism community, contact CA or search our autism resource database.