What can families in the autism community do to make their homes as livable as possible when factors such as stimming, special interests and sensory integration are a big part of family life?
Children with Autism often experience issues with sleep, including insomnia and night-waking. The environment that they are sleeping in can make a big difference in the quality of rest. Blackout curtains and painting bedroom walls a dark color can maintain the darkness required to sleep well. Using a weighted blanket, a latex or memory foam mattress that doesn’t bounce and a white noise machine can provide a relaxing and enjoyable sensory experience to accommodate sleep. One piece of advice is to use the bedroom only for sleep, so that your child automatically associates the room with rest.
Every child with autism has different sensory needs and levels of tolerance. Soft, natural lighting is better for mood and holding attention than artificial lighting; pillows on soft furniture and fabric wall hangings can absorb and soften sounds.
Consider the color schemes in different areas of the house. It may be advantageous to have one area of the home filled with bright colors and activities that the family enjoys, including a television and stereo, and another area of the home with blank walls, soft colors, soft textures and quiet activities such as books or puzzles.
Physical and spatial input are also key to the life of a child with autism, so space should be made for these as well. If space is limited, a balance board or mini-trampoline can be stored in a closet.
In a recent workshop on employment opportunities for those with Autism at Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, Dr Stephen Shore stressed the importance of fostering a person with autism’s special interests to steer them towards academic or career goals.
For this reason, it may be beneficial to devote a small area of the house to the pursuit of special interests and goals.
You might want to set up a work table, and supply flash cards and workbooks relevant to your child’s interests.
By honoring your child’s interests, you can encourage lively discussion and language development.
Sometimes children with autism may have difficulties around eating. It may be beneficial to block out as much outside stimulation as possible in the area where food is consumed so focus can be directed on chewing and swallowing food. It is advisable to use the dining area for eating, as other associations may be distracting. Try to keep conversation light during meal times and perhaps plan a family activity in a different room so children have something to look forward to after finishing their meal.
As Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices Educational Coordinatior, Chani Katz, covered in our recent workshop on adaptive daily living skills, it is imperative that lessons in life skills begin early and continue through childhood into adulthood.
It may be helpful to labeled and arranged all cupboards, shelving and closets so that everything is accessible to your child as they learns how to communicate their needs, do dishes and laundry, clean up after themselves and keep track of their own schedule.
Include your child in all family and community-based activities, and break down tasks into simple steps so they can be learnt them over time.