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Creating a sensory friendly Bedroom for a child with Autism

Updated on July 23, 2011

Although not every improvement is practical or affordable, there are a lot of sensory friendly things that you can do affordably for your child with Autsim

If your child has sensory problems it may be difficult to get through to them in a "regular" environment. By "regular" I mean the neurotypical world designs that do not keep sensory issues in mind. Before you go all out, taking out loans and convert your home into a sensory haven, consider beginning with the smaller, more affordable things to get a better idea of which things your child will need the most!

Some kids with sensory problems have a constant need for excitatory stimulation, others need calming effects. Some crave proprioceptive input while others seek vestibular and some are extremely sensitive to certain sounds while others struggle with artificial lights or smalls. Carpet may be either heavenly or torturous for your child.

Taking the design process slowly will save you a LOT of money. If you really think about what you want to do before you start, you may even find changes you can make for free! The purpose of designing a sensory friendly environment for your child is NOT to "accommodate" and "give in"... the point is to allow the child a safe retreat and to create an area in which the stimuli does not overwhelm the child, allowing them to focus better on therapies and connecting with family. Often an improvement in behavior is noted as well!

This lens will focus on a calming bedroom! Please check back for links to my upcoming lens on designing sensory friendly therapy and play rooms!

This lens will focus on a Calming Bedroom

Click here for a stimulating therapy or play room

Did you design a room with Sensory needs in mind?

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Which rooms need sensory consideration?

The child's room, play/ therapy room or living room and the child's bathroom

If possible, I do recommend eliminating fluorescent lighting from every room that the child spends time in. Fluorescent lighting is an assult on multiple senses and can be excruciating. If at all possible, this should be one of your top priorities! The energy light bulbs that emit the harsh white or bluish tinted light can be almost as offensive- there are energy bulbs that give off a nice soft yellowish hue, it is much warmer and more calming. Please, take care of that ASAP!

Other than the lighting, I recommend first doing the child's room, then any common areas they spend a lot of time in- living room, play room, therapy room etc. I prioritize the bedroom above a therapy room simply because therapy can be "work" and they need a rest area first- a safe haven to retreat to- if you are able to afford doing them simultaneously, that would be most beneficial.

Eventually the child's bathroom should be done as well, it is actually fairly inexpensive, but not usually as urgent.

Painting walls in Military housing

Some bases allow it others don't. Ask the housing office if you are not sure. If the child's OT agrees that a certain color may be better for the child, have them write a letter to the child's doctor. The doctor can send a letter to housing requesting an exception to policy. It may take a few weeks for the answer- you would be required to return the walls to the original color at your own expense when you PCS.

Same thing goes for the extra bedroom for therapy!

Colors - Colors are important- harsh white walls can create a feeling of anxiety.... the color should be appropriate for the mood you intend to create

Yes, how it looks to you is important, but the goal here is not "style" etc. When it comes time to re-sell your house, you may have to paint over it, sometimes you get lucky and the color that is best for the child happens to be stylish anyway! This project is fairly inexpensive and quick, we were able to do my son's room for $37 (behr one coat paint, roller, pan, tape (tape matters!).

Before selecting the bedroom color, watch your child, see if they gravitate toward a particular blanket when they need calming. What calms them the most? See if you can notice their "special color". Usually calming colors are soft blues, sages, earth tones or warm grays.

*** The shade of the special color should NOT be primary colors. If they select blue- a nice soft muted or pastel is best- primary colors stimulate the brain which is great for therapy or play rooms- not bed rooms. The color could be bold if it is an earth tone... if you get confused about whether a color you are leaning toward is stimulating or calming you can always get more opinions at the home improvement store! Yellow or red would be difficult to achieve a calming effect with unless you are a pro.

The common areas, lay room, therapy etc should be a more lively color, but not too bold as it may distract from the therapy process.

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Bedding colors should not clash with the wall, a character set is fun and nice for the child- just be sure that it is not a "busy" pattern. We usually use the comforter from those sets and purchase solid colored sheets a bit darker but the same scheme. Tailored bed skirts are best- the poofy ones create too much disorganization to focus on.

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Another thought!

Furniture color matters too! If the furniture in their room is not special, expensive or family heirloom, consider refinishing it yourself with a deep warm rich color-white an maple can be bright which can be stimulating- again we are NOT focusing on your favorite style - just sensory friendly colors. If the furniture is off limits- do not worry about it!

De-Clutter but add a few things!

The child may get angry- be forewarned

Try to eliminate stimulating toys from the child's room. They may not be happy with you about this! If you can create a "special play area" for those toys outside of the bedroom and make it seem even better than before it may be easier. This is important because a lot of toys in the room may overload visual senses. Even a toy box full of toys may be too much depending upon the child. Stuffed animals, books and a few favorites are enough. You should try to keep shelves de-cluttered but display a few knickknacks relating to interests that soothe the child. If the child is interested in space then you could use a small shuttle as a knick knack. If the child has made something they are proud of be sure to find a way to showcase it.

Pictures are great, not too many though. Try to avoid things like exciting scenes from favorite movies or things that really get the child wound up- a simple character or two from the favorite movie. Try if possible to keep a constant frame color scheme going- too many different frames can become overstimulating. I usually get whatever frames fit at the dollar store and spray paint the frames black (I don't invest because we move too often).

Some of the most effective pictures are those of the child at their happiest moments- if you have a family photo in which the child was extremely happy enlarge it! We often use photos from sea world and edit out the hoards of people so that it is just us and the dolphins! He feels happy looking at them and we have removed additional stimuli.

Storage Solutions

Minimizing clutter and chaos are top priorities!

Disorders like Autism cause the child to hyper focus on the details rather than the whole, if they have too much stuff out, they get over loaded!

Remember when they stared at the wheels of the car or train for hours, seeming to ignore the train itself? This time, the bedroom is the train.

Flooring - Home improvement stoers can be of great assistance in determining the best flooring!

If your child is still small, stick them in the cart at a home improvement store, remove a shoe and see which sample makes them happy! If they grab for the sample and try to cuddle it you have a winner! See if that one comes in a color that works in the room and be sure they like that color. You do not need to replace the entire carpet! You may be able to find it in a rug, find out how much binding would cost (varies a lot by state and store) sometimes it is cheaper to redo the whole room, sometimes they will bind for very little $.

If all carpet makes them cringe, look into laminate. You could always be creative with nonslip backings and a microfiber blanket to make a little area rug by the bed- just be certain that you have made it slip and trip proof!

Stick on hooks for their special stuff! - Sensory beads and chewy tubes are relaxing

Hanging on stick up hooks near the door are all of my son's calming devices! He has easy access to them, does not lose them as much as he used to but more importantly he can see them from his bed- if the slightest need for sensory help arises he knows that they are there which is calming in and of itself- he can use them if he needs to, when ever he needs to!

Sounds, smells and lighting

every detail matters

Sounds are often a huge trigger for behavioral problems for kids with sensory challenges. Upholstery, bedding, rugs, closets full of clothes all absorb some sounds. If the child is extremely sensitive, consider a few sound absorbing panels. They can be purchased on line fairly inexpensively. You can hang these like pictures. A group of four on the most "offensive" wall will reduce noise and can create a cool focal point! You can incorporate them like art! It does not take very many to do the job- if you were soundproofing for band practice however.....

"gooooo, whas that smell?" I hear it all to often from my son! He is hypersensitive to smell, we never do find what he had smelt. A simple solution is airfreshener! You probably don't want to expose the child to whatever is in a lot of the sprays and plugins etc, but if you get a reed diffuser (keep it where they can not spill it) and use natural oil extracts you can achieve a great aroma without the chemicals! Additionally, we place a jar scented candle (wick removed) on a shelf in the line of the vent- in the wintertime when the heat comes on the smell fills the room! It does not ever lose it's smell either(3 /12 years so far)! You should allow the child to select the smell as some may cause headaches in sensitive children!

If you have not done so already, please replace harsh lights with those with a nice warm soft yellow glow. Bright is ok, just not bright white or fluorescent!

Pets can help or hurt the situation - Rodents such as hamsters, mice, guinea pigs and even rabbits should not be in the child's room at night.

I love animals with kids. Even more, I love the idea of kids with special needs having pets. Keeping a bed for a calm dog or cat in the room is great! Rodents can be problematic for a number of reasons... they are nocturnal- not very soothing. Did you ever hear the squeaky hamster wheel in the middle of the night or the rabbit chewing on the bars? The child's sleep pattern may be disrupted by this, especially as children with special needs are prone to disrupted sleep patterns anyway.

Another challenge with caged animals- the cage itself. Look at the cage, there are a lot of lines, the sawdust is chaos. If you have a disability that tends to cause you to hyperfocus on details rather than the whole picture a simple cage can become very over stimulating. Even those little plastic ones with a snap on lid may irritate the child- they are not perfectly square, often the handle prevents the door on top from opening well and they often have tiny scratches all over etc... it really is best to keep the cage in either a play room or therapy area, that is not to say that the critter shouldn't visit! If the cage is portable or the critter gets floor playtime then they can still bond in the room!

I hate that I must point this out.... the child's room is not the best place for a litter box either.

TV, Radio, computer etc - All depends upon your child!

No, this is NOT his tv, this is the family one, my camera's batteries died today!
No, this is NOT his tv, this is the family one, my camera's batteries died today!

We have allowed our son to have a tv in his room... it is not hooked up to cable- he has a DVD player and DVD's approved by us (most are educational, recreational ones are for the family room). The tv is on a timer which is behind a dresser. The timer allows the TV to function between certain hours of the day- he can turn it on or off at anytime during those hours. His hours allowed by the timer are 5:45 am- 6:15 am and 4:30 pm- 7 pm. I can override it if he is home sick or it the weather is too bad, but really he only uses it for about 45 minutes / week. If he were more obsessed with it, I might not allow it in his room.

Radio may be problematic for the younger kids if they play with it and get the static sound between stations. I prefer a cd with a changer that they can not reach but have a remote for. The best music would be classical.

Tranquil classics is great, also Mozart and Bach, beethoven may be too much for their bedroom. The easiest way to deal with it is with a compilation disk of calming classical.

I just realized... people use MP3s now! I don't know, never tried it, use the classical and set it up however you set up MP3s!

A computer in the child's room depends upon their level of ability, age and frustrations! If they need it for school and you have nowhere else to put it then just try to keep the area around it tidy and the wires should be kept as tidy as possible. If the child is frequently upset by the waiting for the computer to turn on, download, etc... the room is not a good place for it!

Did this lens help you understand anything about living with a child with extreme sensory needs?

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How sensory friendly is your home?

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    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 5 years ago from California

      I am so glad I read this, learned a lot. Your writing style made this so easy to understand and some of the things I had never thought of. Indeed this is good for everyone to read, whether we have a special needs child or not as it increases our understanding. *Blessed*

    • sidther lm profile image
      Author

      sidther lm 6 years ago

      @anonymous: My son has a standard (but very good) mattress... We recently got a nice memory foam mattress for my husband and myself and have difficulty keeping my son out of it! He has been able to express that it makes him feel better than his and he has been pleading with us to get him a foam one. (which we are now saving up for)

      Sensory wise, I can say that it is absolutely a better choice than a standard. My only concern with the foam mattress is that I think you should double check with the pediatrician that they are healthy for immature bones etc since they are relatively new - I am pretty sure they are actually better for developing bodies as far as posture and joint pressure but have not seen any conclusive studies regarding children. I will actually be asking our son's doc that very question Friday afternoon so I will post his answer as well.

      If you do go with a foam one, I strongly recommend a fully enclosing waterproof mattress cover (we found one that does not feel or sound waterproof at jcpenny for $50 for a king) as they are a bit more difficult to clean and for some reason, a child who never brings juice upstairs, seems to forget that rule when there is a shiny new mattress!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I have questions about what type of bed would work best for my autistic child. Im thinking about a memory foam bed. It would hug him all night long. He says he wants a bed like mommy's. Anybody have an opinion about memory foam beds?

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 6 years ago

      I have a friend with an autistic child. I'm going to forward this page to her just in case she doesn't know that there are ways to make her child room friendly.

    • priscillab profile image

      priscillab 6 years ago

      I linked this to my blog about mental illness because it really has great tips that can help children with mood disorders.

      http://letstalkaboutmentalillness.blogspot.com/201...

    • priscillab profile image

      priscillab 6 years ago

      this could also be helpful for a child with bipolar. Bipolar children have difficulties in "settling down" and getting to sleep. Excellent lens!

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 6 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      This isn't something I have any direct experience with (I have no children), but I found it really interesting nonetheless. Very well done!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      Oh I chose soft pastel colors for my daughter's room (she is neuro typical, but still, all kids need a soothing environment without too much stimulation at bedtime, in my opinion). And no TV in bedrooms is a rule in our home, just too stimulating for everyone and too easy to fall asleep with them on. Great lens, so explanatory - every parent should read this. Sincerely, Rose

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for a great lens,humans maybe surprised about how many children have autism, that are not discovered in the early years of life until it is perhaps too late, the damage has been done into adulthood. I am a fan now.

    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 6 years ago

      We have a family friend with an Autistic child. Lenses like these are so helpful in explaining their world so that we communicate and relate better. Thank you.