This is one of the questions I encounter most often, whether from parents or professionals, such as architects and interior designers. It’s an important concern because how the space is designed does matter when it comes to helping kids with autism regulate their behavior and emotions.
Why is it important to create safe and sensory-friendly spaces?
1. Regulating Behavior and Emotions
Children on the autism spectrum often struggle with regulating their behavior and emotions. Creating a safe and sensory-friendly space can greatly assist them in this process. By providing an environment that is conducive to their needs, you can help them find the calm and stability they require to navigate their daily lives.
2. Fostering Focus and Ease
Children with autism may face challenges when it comes to focusing on tasks and learning new skills. A sensory-friendly space can make a world of difference in helping them concentrate on what they need to do. Whether it’s completing daily tasks like meals and hygiene or engaging in educational activities, a well-designed environment can make these tasks more manageable for them.
3. Lightening the Load for Parents and Professionals
As a parent or a teacher/therapist of a child on the autism spectrum, you are constantly juggling multiple responsibilities. Creating a safe and sensory-friendly space can help alleviate some of the burdens you face. By providing an environment that supports your child’s needs, you can reduce stress and create a more harmonious atmosphere for everyone involved.
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Things to consider when creating the space:
1. Childproof the Space
Safety should be a top priority when designing a sensory-friendly space. Take the time to thoroughly childproof the area. Remove any choking hazards, secure loose floorboards, and anchor cabinets that could potentially topple over. By ensuring a safe environment, you can have peace of mind while your child explores and engages with the space.
2. Choose Soothing Colors
Colors can have a significant impact on a child’s mood and overall well-being. When designing a sensory-friendly space, opt for soothing colors that promote relaxation and tranquility. Soft blues, gentle greens, and calming neutrals can create a serene atmosphere that helps your child feel more at ease.
3. Avoid Noisy Spaces
Noise can be overwhelming for children on the autism spectrum. If your location is particularly noisy, consider soundproofing the space to minimize distractions. This can be as simple as adding acoustic panels or using sound-absorbing materials. By reducing auditory stimulation, you can create a peaceful environment that supports your child’s sensory needs.
4. Mind Odors and Materials
Some materials and strong odors can be overwhelming for children with autism. Avoid using materials that may have a strong smell or provoke sensory sensitivities. Opt for hypoallergenic and non-toxic materials whenever possible, especially since it is quite common for them to explore things not just with their hands but with their other senses as well (such as smelling or even mouthing them). By creating an environment free from overpowering scents and irritating materials, you can ensure a comfortable experience for your child.
5. Keep Decor Simple and Functional
It can be tempting to decorate the space with an abundance of stimulating visuals. After all, wouldn’t plenty of kid-friendly decor make the space more appealing? And wouldn’t plenty of learning posters and other educational material allow the child to imbibe more learning?
But it’s important to strike a balance. Decor, toys, and educational materials can be distractions to the task at hand. Keep decor to a minimum to avoid overwhelming your child’s sensory system. If educational posters are used, consider rotating them based on what is currently being taught or explored. This way, you can maintain a visually engaging space without overwhelming your child with an excessive amount of visual stimuli.
6. Embrace Diffuse Lighting
Harsh, direct lighting can be unsettling for children on the autism spectrum. Instead, opt for diffuse lighting that creates gentle and even illumination throughout the space. Use soft, warm lighting sources that promote a sense of calmness and comfort. By choosing the right lighting, you can create a soothing atmosphere that supports your child’s sensory needs.
Creating a safe and sensory-friendly space for your child on the autism spectrum is essential for their well-being and development. By considering factors such as safety, colors, noise, materials, decor, and lighting, you can design an environment that promotes regulation, focus, and ease. Remember, every child is unique, so don’t hesitate to tailor the space to your child’s specific needs and preferences.