At Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, we have a specially designed multisensory room for the children to explore.
Also called the Snoezelen room, students enter the controlled multisensory environment (MSE) to experience various scents, colors, sounds and music, and tactile stimulation that is designed with their needs in mind. Each exhibit aims to stimulate their curiosity, while providing comfort at the same time.
This is because children on the autistic spectrum tend to respond differently based on their surroundings. This can also apply in the home environment, which is why a Minneapolis-based mother and interior designer has arranged her own home to suit the needs of her child.
When A.J. Paron-Wildes’ 3 year old son Devin, now 19, was diagnosed with autism, she described the experience as “traumatic.” When she poured over what research she could find, she discovered much of it was outdated and institution-based, dating back to the 1970’s. But Paron-Wildes wanted to keep her son at home, so she had to learn to adapt her own design concepts so that Devin was not overwhelmed.
The young interior designer felt that the typical loud, colorful rooms most people deemed appropriate for children were far too overpowering for a sensitive autistic child. By observing cues from Devin, Paron-Wildes worked backward by eliminating patterns, colors, and lighting that he did not respond well to.
Autistic children also respond to cues from their own observances. They tend to perform better in rooms that use clean, neutral colors with no brash patterns, and they often have an aversion to harsh artificial lighting. Children on the spectrum are drawn to order and structure, and are often confused when they do not receive it.
Here are some tips for creating an autism-friendly environment:
1. Keep it simple and calm.
Avoid crazy patterns on the walls and furniture, like zigzags. Also keep the color palette basic. Tones like beige, variations of earth colors, and pastels are soothing and promote emotional stability. Paron-Wildes has actually painted many boys’ rooms pink, which tends to have a calming effect.
2. Pay special attention to the most important areas.
Is it necessary to update the entire home for an autistic child? Probably not; parents should especially focus on the areas where the child learns, and where they rest. This applies to any area where a child studies or does homework, such as the living room, as well as the bedroom.
3. Use bright colors to signal cues.
Particularly effective for young children, using bright hues in the right way can actually be instructive. Use color-coding to organize areas like closet storage or bookcases. Using patterns, however, can be distracting in unintended ways. Children tend to analyze and follow patterns, particularly on the floor.
4. Avoid an institutional atmosphere.
Create a balance between calming and fun. Just because children need organization does not mean they want to spend time in lifeless, boring rooms. Many treatment centers make the mistake of using bland white walls in the waiting room, for example. Paron-Wildes has found that a lofted bedroom with large windows provides natural light and inspiring landscape views for her son, who is an artist. He also enjoys displaying his art in certain areas of the home.