Everyone loves to be home. A home is a physical shelter, a place where memories are kept, and where people can feel safe to be themselves. Yet sometimes, the home can still be stressful or even dangerous for a young person with autism. If you are the parent or guardian of a child with autism, you might feel pressure to alter your home to make it into a calming or safe environment, which can be more than a little stressful. Luckily, there are quite a few relatively inexpensive things that you can do to make the home environment space manageable and cozy for all members of the family. You might not be able to keep your home space calm and comfy all the time, but you can make a few adjustments for your loved one with autism that will help them appreciate your home as much as you do.
Reworking The Environment
Because children with autism struggle with sensory conditions that can cause stress, anxiety, or even self-stimulating behavior, the home needs to feel like a place where kids can count on feeling as comfortable as possible. Addressing these challenges can be hard on a budget, especially for big busy families, but subtle changes throughout the house can make life easier for family members with autism.
- Lighting – Lighting especially can contribute to sensory overload and may cause autistic children to have a meltdown. To manage this, experts recommend that you try to use overhead lighting less, specifically fluorescent lighting which has a flicker that can trigger light sensitivity symptoms. Try using more tabletop lighting or desk lamps, all with full-spectrum bulbs. You can also reduce light sensitivity incidents by keeping computer screens and tv screens away from windows to reduce glare, using area rugs to reduce glare or shine off of tile, and the use of color filters.
- Color – Since children with autism see color more intensely than their peers, color in the home can be a major factor in how your child feels or reacts on a sensory level. To cut down on over-stimulation throughout the house, especially in a child’s room, aim for colors that are low-toned or muted, with minimal pattern usage. Children with autism tend to feel calmed by blue color schemes, while red tends to be more arousing. However, some studies have shown that boys on the spectrum are more likely to prefer green or brown than their typically developing peers. Whatever you choose, make sure to choose wisely based upon your child’s preferences.
- Sound – Sound can be extremely over-stimulating for people with autism and it’s also one of the environmental influences you might have trouble controlling. Barking dogs, lawnmowers, honking cars, overly-loud sports on the tv, and a myriad of other factors can be stressful and you might not be able to control all of them. Many experts recommend some kind of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds to help keep a child from a sensory overload.
- Smell – Smell is one of the most distinct senses that humans have, with the ability to help you recall a memory from a certain scent or to sense danger without seeing it. Children with autism process smells differently than their peers. There is some debate about whether or not a child with ASD has a stronger or more refined sense of smell but there is no conclusive answer. Because smell is so powerful, it can be a huge sensory trigger for kids with autism. Unfortunately, there is no cut-and-dry solution to sensory overload because of certain smells in the home. Monitor and record what smells upset your child and keep areas that they use often like the bathroom or their bedroom clean, sterile, and neutral in odor.
- Space – Controlling the look, feel, design and tactile quality of the space that a child with ASD will inhabit will be based a lot on what your child prefers. To maintain a sensory-friendly environment, try to incorporate logical organization and structure. Keep playthings organized in shelving or containers that are accessible and easy to use for youngsters that might have motor-skill challenges. Create an organized flow pattern with your child’s room so that they can keep up a routine. What you incorporate into the space of your home will likely be unique to your child’s needs, so cater your design to them as much as possible.
Try to make the prospect of remodeling your home environment for your loved one fun for the whole family. It doesn’t have to feel like a chore. Taking ownership of your space by changing it can make a home more comfortable.
Safety concerns occupy the mind of any parent. For parents or guardians of children with autism, there are unique safety concerns related to ASD. Roughly half of all children with autism reportedly attempted to elope from safe environments without the knowledge of guardians at some point. Maintaining a safe and secure home environment for children with autism is vital and because of the inflated mortality rate for people with ASD due to accidents, safety is important. Don’t let the statistics scare you. Simple changes in your home can provide the security that your child needs while putting your heart at ease.
To safeguard your home environment for your child, simple yet effective precautions will do. First, you should make sure that you use locks and home alarm systems if you need to. Locks can be used on windows and doors and are usually standard with any domicile, but many people forget to check to make sure they are latched. If you have a home alarm system, set it at night, or if you are worried about your child leaving, you may need to invest in one. This should at least notify you if your young one tries to abscond without you noticing. Make appliances and outlets safe with plastic covers for cord ends or plugs and make sure to lock hazardous materials, medications, or cleaning supplies away. Teach safety as a measure for the whole family, perhaps incorporating safety protocols into any visual schedule you may have designed for the school year. You don’t have to be an overly cautious parent, but a little focus on safety for your child will go a long way.
Take Stress Out Of The Picture
We have previously noted how stress and a lack of self-care time can affect you as a parent. Stress and discomfort can also have an effect on your child and make it harder for them to feel comfortable in their home environment. Children are more receptive than we think and they are often able to tell when an adult around them is stressed. This can cause behavior outbursts and an increase in self-stimulating behavior. Make sure to find ways to relieve stress for yourself, even if that means being a little selfish sometimes. Your home environment will be much calmer if you do. Children can also tell who might have a little discomfort around them and this may lead to a feeling of anxiety in their own home, which can associate safe spaces with those feelings and make it harder for a child to feel at peace. Try to bolster comfortable and happy interactions in the home environment. Overall, take emotions out of the picture that cause discomfort and make your house a place that everyone wants to be.
A Happy Home
A home isn’t a rigid fixture, but an evolving structure and environment, based upon the unique needs of a family as it changes. Like no child on the spectrum is the same, no two families are the same. You can maintain the identity of your family, and the needs of all the family members contained within it, while incorporating simple changes for family members with autism. The whole goal should be about improving the quality of life for everyone involved. Use these tips for sensory-friendly and safe environments as a baseline to make your home the perfect one for you and your family.
Lexington Services provides care, education, and therapy services for people with autism and other disabilities. If you are looking for services or autism education in Arizona, or if you have questions about what Lexington provides, please contact us here today.
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