How to Design Bedrooms for Autistic Children

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Children with autism experience different degrees of sensory sensitivity, and their reactions to environmental stimuli can be severe and destabilizing. A bedroom for any child on the autism spectrum should minimize extraneous noise, bright lights, hard edges, intense colors and the chaos of patterns. It should be a safe cocoon of soft, familiar objects with a comfortable bed, accommodations for play or learning, and a restful atmosphere created by attention to every detail.

Banish Hyperactive Hues

Color perception may be heightened in children who have Autism spectrum disorder. The dynamic energy of a hot color may be blazing and encourage hyperactivity, making a bedroom of warm or sunny shades a no-sleep zone.

  • Stick to low-intensity neutrals and soothing blues for walls, floor and bedding -- soft blue is relaxing, non-intrusive, comfortable and calming.
  • Soft grays have a similar effect, and beige is not distracting.
  • Cream is a more tranquil color experience than stark white or vibrant yellow.
  • Solid colors are simple and won't derail focus the way that a plaid, polka dot or some other pattern will.
  • No-VOC, non-toxic paints are easy to wash and less harmful for a child who licks surfaces.

Beds, Bins and Balance Balls

Soft, simple, and spacious are watchwords for furnishings and furniture layout in the bedroom. A mattress on a box spring with no frame avoids hard edges and minimizes accidents. Furniture pushed against the walls leaves the middle of the floor for a cushioned carpet and play space. Low shelves and cubbies with bins for organizing toys and bedding help by distracting clutter, and they appeal to a child who needs a visually ordered environment. Evaluate your child's behavior to determine whether bean-bag chairs, child-size chairs and a table, or a balance ball chair for an older child are the safest and most comfortable option. Power cords and outlets should be hidden and inaccessible, definitely for young children. Washable bedding and protective covers for mattresses, pillows and duvets make life easier for everyone.

Lighting Ideas

All kinds of light should be filtered and evaluated in the bedroom, to encourage the child to sleep uninterrupted and to play peacefully in the space. Fluorescent lighting is intermittent, and the fractional interruptions in the beam are magnified in the perception of an autistic child. Fluorescent lights also emit low-level sound, and that buzz, which most people dismiss from their consciousness, can be very loud in a child's ears. Opt for incandescent lighting and reduce or remove all screens from the sleep space -- TV, computers, handheld game devices, electronic reading tablets. Rely on real daylight as much as possible and install blackout shades to control glare or early morning light. Frosted film over the window glass eliminates details of the view outside that can pull attention from play or a learning session, or cause a child distress.

Word and Image

Labeling helps children cope with fearful stimuli in the normal environment, teaches them that objects have a separate identity, and gives them the tools to understand and organize their world and to communicate. Some children are exclusively visually oriented and need pictures to make the connection between things and their names. Label everything in the bedroom with a picture and its name in easy-to-read print. Iconic pictures work best to teach the child a general category into which she can then assign individual things.

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