A Sanctuary from Sensory Overload: Designing an Autistic Child’s Bedroom


It’s important to remember that children on the autism spectrum have limited tolerance to sensory stimuli. As a parent, you can help your child by creating a soft, comforting bedroom that accommodates your child’s sensory vulnerabilities. And it’s always a good idea to consider some basic guidelines that can address a full range of issues.

Colors and Patterns

Bright colors and busy patterns tend to over-stimulate, creating an unsettling environment that makes it hard to sleep and relax. Color also has a powerful effect on mood, so emphasize soothing color schemes with neutral earth tones or relaxing blues or light grays. Relaxing shades help autistic children concentrate on homework tasks and can help improve school performance.

Sleep Zone

Children on the autism spectrum may become agitated when they struggle to get to sleep or wake up during the night feeling disoriented. The bedroom should be kept completely dark (blackout curtains often help) with window treatments arranged so that soft, natural light can get in during the day. Choose a mattress with latex or memory foam (avoid springs) so your child doesn’t jostle during the night. Weighted blankets can provide a feeling of security that autistic children find relaxing and conducive to restful, uninterrupted sleep.

A Quiet Place

Loud, intrusive sound can be highly disruptive to an autistic child. A lawn mower, barking dog, or car stereo may be distracting or emotionally upsetting. It’s hard to soundproof a bedroom, but you can take steps to mitigate the impact of loud or persistent noises. Carpeting inhibits the transmission of sound vibrations between rooms and has a dampening effect on external noise. The soft vibration of a fan or air purifier is relaxing and helps mask unsettling sounds from outside. Noise-canceling headphones offer an affordable, high-tech solution to the problem.

Lighting

Wherever possible, use lighting that accentuates the soft, relaxing atmosphere you want to create in your child’s bedroom, especially if she has sensory processing dysfunction. Also, stay away from light bulbs that produce glare or emit a soft buzzing sound and intermittent “flickering,” like fluorescent bulbs. Instead, use tabletop or desk lamps with full-spectrum bulbs, which create a softer look and feel. Color filters can be used to reduce the glare and brightness of computer screens (which should always be switched off at night).

Versatile Furniture

Autistic children tend to be happier in open spaces with minimal furniture so movement isn’t restricted. Multipurpose furniture helps create a nice open feel. For example, a box chair that can be used as a table or a toy chest that doubles as a reading bench minimizes the need for a lot of extra furniture. Multipurpose furniture also makes it easier to create distinct areas designed for specific purposes, such as study, play, or sleep. This gives your child’s space a sense of organization, which can help her feel more at ease.

Sensory deprivation

Autistic children need a calming environment, especially after a day of sensory overload at school. It may help to shut out extraneous stimuli for a while until your child is feeling more relaxed. Set up a small area where she can do some hibernating, or “cocooning.” A small tent or teepee, which can be closed with a zipper or velcro, offers your child a small, secure corner.

Think of your child’s bedroom as a sanctuary, perhaps the one place where she can truly relax and escape the sensory intrusions of the outside world. Emphasize soft colors and lighting, and create an open, free-flowing space. The more you can help your child control anxiety, the easier it will be for her to adapt to cope with sensory challenges.

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Click here to read another great article by Jenny on designing a bedroom for a child with Autism

To learn more about Jenny, you can go to her website at specialhomeeducator.com or e-mail her at jenny@specialhomeeducator.com

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