By Jenny Wise
Parents are inclined to decorate a child’s bedroom with bright colors and lots of fun knick-knacks, creating an engaging, often whimsical environment designed to delight a child. For parents of autistic children, the reality is somewhat different. A child on the autism spectrum does much better in a calming, distraction-free space that’s conducive to relaxation and restful sleep. An autistic child’s bedroom should be a haven from the chaos of the world, which confronts them with a daily sensory onslaught that’s exhausting and makes it difficult to function. This hyper-sensitivity to stimuli makes it important establish a room their child can retreat to whenever he needs a personal retreat.
A Natural, Muted Look
Bright reds and sunny yellows look cheery but challenge an autistic child with a visual onslaught he or she will find difficult to cope with. Instead, opt for earth tones (beige, tan, and brown), or soft shades of blue and green, complemented by rugs made of soft, natural fibers. The natural look and feel of wood furniture can help create a safe haven. Make sure there are no sharp corners or metal attachments on furniture that could cause injury.
Soft lighting that fosters a relaxing environment is ideal, so emphasize LED or incandescent light bulbs and use window treatments that allow natural light in and can be shuttered easily. Exposure to natural light is healthy and helps a child sleep better at night, but other external elements — particularly sound — may be problematic if your child is especially susceptible to noise (many autistic children are). Automated lighting, which senses when someone enters and leaves the room, is very useful in creating a soothing play and sleep environment for autistic children.
The Importance of Sleep
Good, restful sleep is essential for any child. For a youngster on the autism spectrum, however, it can help prevent sudden mood swings and emotional reactions to frustrations that occur during the day. If your child is having trouble getting to sleep at night, discomfort may be the reason, so take a close look at his mattress. A lumpy, uneven mattress, or one that holds body heat, may be causing insomnia. If so, it may be necessary to get a new one with thin, breathable material that helps keep his body temperature down.
Spatial orientation is also an important factor when designing for an autistic child, so try to create a bedroom with distinct areas for sleep, study, and play. This will minimize distraction and make it easier for your child to focus on one activity at a time. Soft, simple, and comfortable furnishings are best, as are soft toys. Be careful to establish a homework space that’s clearly distinguishable from other parts of the room to help concentration on schoolwork.
Make liberal use of sound-inhibiting materials in your child’s bedroom. Consider using acoustic wall panels and flooring, which can mitigate the sound of passing cars and trucks and TVs from other rooms. Soft rugs, pillows, and blankets are also helpful in muffling sound and helping an autistic child feel both safe and comfortable. Wicker can be a much better option than a hardwood chest of drawers or a wooden toy chest, which can be upsetting if slammed shut. Try using colored plastic bins that can easily be accessed for storing frequently used objects.
A well-planned bedroom can give your child a room that’s conducive to healthy sleep, focused study, and creative play. Bear in mind the need to design an environment suffused in calm, soothing colors and with distinct, easily distinguishable spaces.
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