By Jenny Wise
For children on the autism spectrum, creating a soothing and comfortable bedroom environment is paramount. Children with autism often require special considerations when it comes to sleep and play, and their sensory needs are often far different than the needs of you or your children who are not on the spectrum. Here are some ways to achieve the bedroom your child needs.
First Step: Focus on Sleep
Children with autism often struggle with sleep. There is still a lot that doctors and researchers do not know about how autism affects the brain, but what we do know is that autism is a condition that can affect the senses -- especially touch and pressure. That’s why your child’s mattress may play a key role in the quality of their sleep. You may even have to try out multiple options to find the mattress that’s right for your child. For example, consider the mattress’ firmness level(for spinal alignment and comfort) or heat absorption. If they get too hot during the night, you should consider a mattress with breathable layers.
There may be a link between autism and melatonin production. Another theory is that those on the spectrum have trouble reading social cues about when it’s time to sleep. Another has to do with circadian rhythm disruption. All of this leads us to a solution involving visual modifications. You may want to install blackout curtains to curb light, red light-spectrum nightlights, and/or use glare-reducing rugs and paint. Your child’s bedding is important as well. Weighted blankets have been shown to reduce anxiety in children with autism, but this may be a trial-and-error situation.
Second Step: Provide Sensory Deprivation
For many children on the spectrum, the world is a lot to take in. Everything is magnified, including sound, light, and touch. Your child should have a place to go where they can turn this off or, at least, dampen it a bit. We call this “cocooning.” There are inflatable pods and hanging swings that are good for this, but you can also use a small tent. Fill the area with low lights, soft objects, and autism-friendly games and activities.
Step Three: Storage
Clutter and general disorganization can be an anxiety trigger in those of all ages with autism. Not only that, but some can also struggle with the act of organization. Messiness can stress your child out but they don’t really know how to make it better. It’s a bad cycle for someone with autism. That’s what makes storage for their toys and clothing so important. Having clear, organized storage containers is vital, as is labeling. You want your child to see what’s inside and for everything to have a designated place. Color-coding is also a good tactic.
Step Four: Color and Lighting
You can design the perfect room and stumble at the last second if you make an error regarding the basic visual theme. For most kids on the spectrum, lighting and color can make or break an environment. Use soothing, darker paint colors like deep grays, greens, or blues; vibrant colors like red, yellow, and orange tend to create anxiety. Lighting should be lower or easily controlled with a dimmer. And the blue light from electronics has no place in the bedroom. If you want to let your child used the iPad for games once in a while, have them use it outside the bedroom.
Any child’s bedroom should be their ultimate safe space, and this goes double for a child with autism. Your goal is to create a soothing, comfortable, quiet, and organized retreat from the world, which can be a scary place. A child’s bedroom should be used for a lot of things, including sleep, play, relaxation, and learning. However, the common thread that ties all of these elements is that they must be specifically sensory-appropriate to your child.