The following article is a guest post by Autism Society Periodic Contributor Sean Morris. Sean is a former social worker turned stay-at-home dad. He knows what it’s like to juggle family and career; He did it for years until deciding to become a stay-at-home dad after the birth of his son. Though he loved his career in social work, he has found this additional time with his kids to be the most rewarding experience of his life. He now writes periodically for the Autism Society blog, as well as other outlets.
Helping children with autism adapt to their environment is one aspect of a comprehensive treatment approach, but it’s also important to structure the environment in such a way that it maximizes your child’s odds of success.
While substantial home modifications may not be in your budget, there are some simple changes you can make to help your child thrive. For major renovations, you can also look into grant opportunities. Not sure what changes to make? These ideas will get you started.
Create a Cool-Down Room
If you have an unused room in your home or if an addition or remodel is feasible, consider creating a cool-down room, which can be especially useful if your child experiences aggression. This room is like a safe space for your child, where they can go before a situation escalates to the point of aggression – their own space where they can be alone and relax.
Furnish the room minimally, and make sure all objects in the room are soft. Cover windows with plexiglass and keep furniture away from windows to prevent your child from easily climbing out. Make sensory objects, relaxing music, and other calming items readily available.
Install Alarm Systems and Utilize Safety Locks
Because children with autism sometimes have a tendency to wander, equip all windows and doors in your home with safety locks. You can install locking systems that function without keys that you can control from a smartphone. Additionally, consider an alarm system that will alert you when someone exits the home so that you can quickly bring your child to safety should they get past the locks.
Provide a Suitable Workstation
Kids with autism will need a space where they can work productively, whether they will be working on school work or therapeutic tasks. Equip your child’s bedroom or study area with a large work station free of clutter or any objects that they may throw in frustration. Appropriate seating is also key; depending on how your child works best, you might want a chair with arms or a wrap-around style chair that will help them feel secure.
If you’ll be doing therapy or other activities on the floor, consider padding that is conducive for different types of activities and won’t leave you with aching joints after a few hours of play time with your child.
Pay Attention to Colors
What colors does your child seem to notice most? Are they drawn to certain colors, such as bright, bold colors? Take note of these preferences and make ample use of these preferences throughout the home, particularly in your child’s bedroom and other areas where they spend the most time. Colors can have a significant impact on mood, so you’ll want to fill your home with colors that they find pleasing.
Install Comfortable Lighting
Much like color, lighting can have a dramatic impact on the mood and energy levels of everyone in your family, but for children with autism, these environmental conditions are even more impactful on daily functioning. Avoid fluorescent lighting, as they can contribute to fatigue and shorten attention spans. If you’re not sure what type of lighting is ideal for your child, experiment with different options and monitor the effects to determine the ideal lighting conditions to promote success.