Enabling Environments: How to Design a Bedroom for a Child with Autism
For most children, the bedroom is the most important room in the house. As a private place where they set the rules, it’s no wonder the bedroom is where children feel safest and happiest. That’s especially true for children on the autism spectrum, who often have a strong need for control but may feel unsafe and anxious in a world ruled by others.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, outbursts, and destructive behavior in a child with autism, take a look at your child’s bedroom. Is it a safe and enabling environment or is the bedroom a source of frustration for you and your child alike?
If a child with autism acts out in the bedroom or has chronic sleep problems, it could signal that something in the bedroom is triggering distress. By modifying your child’s bedroom environment, you can create a space that reduces difficult behaviors and helps your child feel secure and in control.
Sensory Differences and Children’s Bedrooms
When you picture a typical children’s bedroom, what do you imagine? In many homes, children’s bedrooms are bright, exciting spaces, full of vivid colors, patterns, and fun toys. But put a child with sensory differences in the same room and a meltdown is practically guaranteed.
These are some ways you can accommodate sensory differences in your child’s bedroom:
- Lighting: Choose incandescent and LED lighting over fluorescent bulbs and install dimmer switches to create gradual transitions from day to night. Use blinds and/or sheer drapes to allow natural light in while also limiting distraction from the outdoors.
- Color: Instead of primary colors, opt for light, neutral colors for walls, flooring, and furniture, and avoid patterned walls and flooring.
- Organization: Reduce visual clutter by storing toys and clothing out of sight and keeping wall decorations simple. Keep furnishings minimal; multi-use furniture is a smart way to simplify the visual environment without limiting your child.
- Sound: Tune out distracting sounds with white noise. Install soundproofing if your child dislikes white noise or you live in a noisy environment. You can even explore using soundproof drywall. Avoid loud activities like vacuuming or running the dishwasher after your child’s bedtime.
- Movement: Use sensory furniture like rocking chairs and ceiling-mounted swings to fulfill movement needs, and be sure furniture is properly anchored for safety.
Managing Difficult Behaviors in the Bedroom
Every child needs freedom to explore without constant oversight. For parents of children with autism, it’s a hard balance to strike. Destructive or self-injurious behaviors cause many parents to feel like they must constantly monitor their child. However, even children on the autism spectrum crave freedom and personal control. Thankfully, there are ways that parents can protect their child and home without eliminating a private bedroom space.
- Incontinence: Choose a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and create visual cues that remind a hyper-focused child to use the toilet. Use non-absorbent furnishings and floor coverings and waterproof mattress covers to simplify clean-up and reduce odors.
- Self-injury: Purchase furniture with rounded corners. Pad corners, headboards, and bedframes if necessary. In some cases, parents may need to install padded wall panels.
- Door slamming: Replace standard doors with pocket doors.
- Disorganization and rummaging: Create a simple toy organization system using storage bins and label bins with visual cues that indicate the contents. Store other items out of sight to reduce rummaging, such as placing dressers in closets. Control messes with easy-clean finishes, like cushioned vinyl floors and semi-gloss paint.
- Wandering: Install window stops on bedroom windows and use door and window sensors to prevent elopement. If your child leaves the bedroom and engages in harmful behaviors in other areas of the home, consider a bedroom adjoined to your own so your child must pass through your sleeping area to access common areas.
As the parent of a child with autism, your goal is to create an environment where your child can reach her full potential. It’s not always easy to know what that means, especially if your child can’t communicate her needs. If the bedroom is a source of distress in your home and you’re struggling to solve it, talk to your child’s doctor about how you can accommodate autism differences at home.
Written by Special Home Educator, Jenny Wise
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