If you’re reading this and you are a parent of a child with autism, then you know hands down that it can be challenging and rewarding. Raising children, in general, should be an Olympic sport, and adding a disability to the mix should allow parents to earn number one automatically! There are many unique demands that are placed on parents with children on the spectrum––from keeping up with services and appointments, to working on generalization at home and out in the community, and dealing with tantrums, as well as going to meetings with therapists and school personnel to discuss behavior and academic progress.
And of course, parenting a child with autism also comes with lots of laughs, snuggles, and unconditional love.
Parents with children with autism are often searching for the best advice on parenting strategies, which might include those on toileting, communication, bedtime routines, or helping finicky eaters during mealtimes. One frequently searched topic is that of how to organize and design a home to ensure it is comfortable, safe, and functional for their children with autism.
For parents, creating a comfortable home for their children is an important process. After all, the environment has a big impact on people with autism, and for children, who don’t have control over their space, this is especially crucial.
With a few key tweaks, it’s possible to create a safe, comfortable house.
In this article, you will learn how to make a house an ASD-friendly home surrounding these five areas:
- Creating a Quiet Space
- Reducing Stress
- Sticking to Routines
- Using Clean Decor
- Choosing Soft Furnishings
5 Tips for Making Your Home Comfortable for Your Child with Autism
1. Creating a Quiet Space
Too much noise and activity can be distressing for kids with autism and can trigger undesirable behaviors. Many individuals with autism have sensory issues and are oftentimes on “sensory overload.”
The diagnostic criteria for autism includes “hyper-or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).”
Therefore, creating a quiet, calm, and warm environment for your child with autism is important to their well-being.
One way to create a comfortable, autism-friendly home is to set up a quiet place. This is especially important in families with multiple children; it gives the child with autism a safe spot to relax and hang out, away from the chaos of family life. If possible, don’t allow other families to invade this space; that way, it’s always available as a silent refuge. When designing this spot, make sure to remove any unpleasant lights, movement, or sounds.
Sometimes a quiet space with soothing sounds is what your child may need instead of dead silence. You can easily achieve this by buying an inexpensive sound machine to play white noise or play nature sounds on a CD or device.
Although most children with autism have sensory issues, every child is different and has unique preferences; do what you think your child might like.
2. Reducing Stress
Designing a safe home for kids with autism goes beyond the physical environment––the emotional atmosphere is also important. Reducing stress, anxiety, and anger can go a long way toward helping the child feel comfortable. That way, he or she can feel relaxed and safe at home.
The trick is to find ways to create a happier, more peaceful space while juggling all of the responsibilities of a parent. Meditation and yoga can help and so can playing with animals or taking some quiet time to color or draw. On a day-to-day basis, it might be as simple as letting go of some tasks to free up time for relaxation and fun.
Teaching your child with autism how to cope and self-regulate will save you stress as well.
Children can learn various ways to relieve stress by utilizing the environment that is created for them. By having sensory items and activities available at all times, this will allow your child to make the choice to manage and regulate their own stress and frustration.
It is important to explicitly teach children with autism how to use coping strategies. This may take some modeling and scaffolding until it can be done independently; although, you may need to assist him or her depending on their level of functioning.
3. Sticking to Routines
Routines are comforting for kids with autism; they help remove the fear of the unknown, and they minimize unwanted triggers. This is especially important in the classroom as well as at home, where kids spend much of their time.
To help increase comfort, try to stick to a routine as much as possible. Specific timing is nice, but not always reasonable in a family. Instead, consider following a pattern. After school, kids might come home, have a snack, and relax before dinner. This predictability brings a sense of stability and security that can be calming for children with autism.
Routines are easier to follow when there are visuals in place or reminders. This can be achieved at school and generalized to the home or vice versa. Create a visual schedule for your child to view in common areas such as the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living space. Make sure the visuals match with what will actually occur in the daily routine. And use clocks and timers so that children know when it is “time to go” or “time to get off devices and get ready for bed.”
Sticking to a routine is important for everyone in the household and will help decrease problem behaviors that might occur due to the stress of the unpredictable.
Consistency is key!
4. Using Clean Decor
When creating comfortable spaces for kids with autism, one of the easiest things to do is to use a clean, simple decor scheme. According to Everyday Health, a simple space can provide comfort.
To start, take decor items off of the wall––especially mirrors and wild paintings. This reduces visual stimulation that can be upsetting. It’s also helpful to use soothing lights that cast a soft glow and reduce glare. Another option is to consider sticking to a similar color palette in each room.
In an article from the New York Times on outfitting a home for a child with autism, Ms. Beil, an author and autism expert, states that “You have to fine-tune the space and equipment to the individual’s needs.”
Ms. Biel recommends simple tweaks in the home, like installing light dimmers and replacing harsh fluorescent lights with warmer LED light bulbs. Walls should be a soft, neutral color and patterned wallpaper avoided. And for children who need movement, a rocking chair, hammock, or a pod swing can help (NYT).
Making sure that the environments in which the child spends most of his or her time are clutter-free and organized are important as well.
Use simple storage and cut out the chaos. You can do this inexpensively––after all, you are being more of a minimalist instead of a hoarder when decorating for a child with autism.
5. Choosing Soft Furnishings
For a child with autism, sounds can be stressful. An easy way to minimize noise at home is to fill the house with soft, plush furnishings. Look for sofas without wooden frames, and opt for large floor pillows instead of rocking chairs. If that’s not possible, covering harder frames with thick blankets can help. These materials help absorb sounds, so they don’t echo throughout the house. The result is a quieter, more soothing environment. Don’t forget about the bedroom — some families opt to remove bed frames and lay mattresses on the floor.
Choosing soft furnishings is great for comfort and can also be a good choice for safety. Some children with autism have temper tantrums and can injure themselves easily on furniture. Definitely take your child’s individual needs into account when purchasing furniture for their special areas.
When thinking about furniture and functional decorations such as fuzzy throw pillows, also keep in mind the textures that your child likes and dislikes. You obviously don’t want something scratchy and harsh (to them) if certain fabrics and textures irritate them.
Think soft, fluffy, and sweet.
Conclusion to Tips for Making Your Home Comfortable for Your Child with Autism
For parents, a child’s comfort and safety are top priorities. This is especially important when autism enters the picture, as individuals with special needs require a bit more in terms of creating a home environment. Each child with autism has their own sets of individualized needs, likes, dislikes, and favorites. It is wise to take all of these factors into account when creating a safe and comfortable space for your child within the home. Shopping for and outfitting a room can even be a fun interactive and educational experience for both of you! Practice all sorts of skills while searching for products, testing them out, paying for them, etc.
When it comes to keeping your child with autism comfortable at home, these adjustments can make life better for everyone in the family.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated September 2021