Universal Design

Autism, Sensory Sensitivity, and Bedroom Design

Written by: Jenny Wise of specialhomeeducator.com 3/14/19
Image via Unsplash

Your child’s bedroom is his sanctuary, the one place that’s completely his own. That’s especially true if your child is on the autism spectrum. Because children with autism become overwhelmed by their environment easily, the bedroom is a safe place they can retreat to when the outside world seems scary.

The design of your child’s bedroom factors heavily into how calming an environment it is. If the room is decorated in bright colors or has distracting odors and sounds, your child may find his bedroom just as overstimulating as the outside environment. By decorating your child’s room with his sensory needs in mind, you can turn his bedroom into a place that soothes, not stimulates.

Designing a sensory-friendly bedroom can also mitigate sleep problems, which are common in children on the autism spectrum. Autism Parenting Magazine reports that 73 percent of children with autism experience sleep challenges related to falling and staying asleep. While medications, gastrointestinal problems, and hormonal differences can contribute to sleep problems, the child’s bedroom is also an important factor to consider. If a child finds his bedroom stimulating or distressing, he’ll have a hard time falling and staying asleep.

The things that a child on the autism spectrum finds overstimulating aren’t always apparent to neurotypical family members. If you have a sensory-sensitive child, use these tips to help you design a bedroom that suits his needs.

Avoid Strong Odors

You may enjoy the subtle scent of air freshener, but to your child, the odor could be overwhelming. Avoid using products with fragrance in your child’s bedroom, opting for unscented cleaners and detergents whenever possible. If you have smokers in the family or live in an area affected by wildfire smoke, use an air purifier in your child’s room to remove smoke along with its smell. Even if smoke isn’t an issue in your home, an air purifier creates cleaner air for your child to breathe, which is particularly important if your child also has asthma. Don’t forget about your air filters. A superior air filter like the MERV 13 can clean your home’s air by removing up to 98 percent of airborne particles. 

Decorate in Soothing Colors

Sensory sensitivity can include sensitivity to color. Loud, bright colors in particular can be overstimulating to kids on the autism spectrum. Unfortunately, these are the exact colors that are common in kids’ toys, furnishings, and decorations. Instead of primary colors, decorate your child’s room with muted, warm hues, like soft greens, blues, and pinks. If you’re not sure what colors to choose, pay attention to how your child behaves in different environments, and select the colors that your child responds positively to. Enduratex offers additional advice for choosing colors and patterns for children on the autism spectrum.

Choose Sensory-Friendly Fabrics

The sensation of certain fabric, especially rough or scratchy fabrics, can be upsetting to children with sensory sensitivity. Pay attention to which types your child prefers, and choose similar fabrics for bedding and pajamas.

Eliminate Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lighting is economical, but it’s also known to be highly distressing to children with autism. Light your child’s bedroom with natural light whenever possible, using curtains to diffuse the light and prevent harsh glares. When supplemental light is needed, dimmable LED lighting is the best choice.

Don’t Forget Safety

Bedroom safety is important for all children, but especially for children with autism who have a reduced sense of danger. Bedroom furniture should be bolted to the wall, blind cords secured, and electrical outlets covered. If your child tends to wander out of bed at night, door and window alarms provide peace of mind.

Sleep is the foundation of good health. For children on the autism spectrum, quality sleep is also key for managing daytime behavior. Use these tips to create a positive bedroom environment for your child so he can sleep, live, and love to the best of his ability.

Written by: Jenny Wise

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