Parents of a child on the autism spectrum have to be careful about decorating their youngster’s bedroom. Autistic children are highly sensitive to external stimuli like intense colors, bright lights and busy patterns, so rainbows and clowns aren’t good decor decisions. An autistic child’s bedroom is their haven from the overwhelming sensory onslaught they cope with every day, so think in terms of soft, muted colors, easily-accessible furniture and a restful overall atmosphere. Your child should feel safe and comfortable surrounded by an accommodating bed with soft, round edges and chairs without hard or pointy edges. Here are a few ideas for a soothing sleep and play environment.
Indoor air quality
Children are sometimes negatively impacted by the quality of the air they breathe and the damaging effects of common household materials. If anyone living in your home smokes or your child suffers from allergies or asthma, indoor air can be a major problem. Consider placing an air purifier with a HEPA filter in your kid’s room, one designed to remove cigarette smoke, allergens and other indoor pollutants.
Tone down the colors
Colors often have an intensely unsettling effect on an autistic child. Hot shades can turn an otherwise restful sleep environment into a scene of hyperactivity, making sleep all but impossible. Your child will thrive in an environment decorated in neutral colors, like beige/light browns, soft blues and grays, and cream-colored paint and bedding material. Avoid polka dots, stripes and plaid patterns, which can be distracting and may exacerbate an autistic child’s tendency to become disoriented.
Lighting can be a difficult decor element to get right. Generally, it needs to be filtered and soft, but be aware that the effects of lighting may depend on the individual child. Avoid fluorescent lighting, which has an intermittent effect and emits a vague buzzing sound that an autistic child may find upsetting. Instead, go with incandescent lighting and apply window treatments that emphasize daylight. Also be aware that computer, TV and handheld device screens emit a background light that can fool the brain into thinking it’s time to wake up.
Accessible play space
Set up your child’s bedroom so that sleep and play areas are distinctly separated, which will make it easier to distinguish between activities and appeal to an autistic child’s desire for organization. Avoid bed frames with hard wooden or plastic edges. Keep it simple instead with a mattress on a box spring. Cover electrical outlets and conceal power cords behind furniture or attach them to the wall, and use cushioned carpeting and low, easily-accessible shelving and cubbies with clear plastic bins for organizing toys and keeping clutter - which can be upsetting to an autistic child - under control. Emphasize bean bag chairs, a balance ball chair and soft, squeezable toys without hard or pointy attachments.
Clearly label containers
Remember that an organized environment can benefit an autistic child in many ways. It helps them distinguish between the purpose and utility of different objects, and helps create an orderly bedroom space. Some kids are visually oriented, which makes labeling with words or pictures very helpful. Consider labeling different objects in your child’s bedroom with a picture or photo, along with its name clearly printed underneath to make identification as easy as possible. Bear in mind that autistic children thrive in an environment that’s organized and easy to navigate. Labeling helps them better understand and function in a world that can be bewildering, even frightening.
Creating a bedroom decor for your autistic child takes considerable thought and planning, and a careful consideration of the ways that color, lighting and other decor elements may negatively impact an autistic youngster. A design that creates a soft, muted, relaxing space will discourage hyperactivity, encourage your child’s creativity, and help build confidence. Resist the tendency to decorate with bright and cheery features, which are likely to encourage a negative sensory response.