If you’ve visited the blog here before, you may have seen this article on autism and fatigue. One of the ways that neurodivergent people can manage our energy levels is by ensuring that our home is sensory-friendly and matches our needs.
For people with autism, it is essential that feelings of overwhelm and overload are managed. This can be really tricky in the beginning. But with some self-reflection and practice (and sometimes trial and error) it is possible to create a space that works for you.
In this post we’ll look at some key ideas you can consider when creating a sensory-friendly space, room, or home.
Identify Your Forks and Triggers
If you haven’t heard about Fork Theory, it’s worthwhile visiting the article mentioned above. But for the purpose of this exercise, all you need to know is that there are aspects of your life that you can have some control over.
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by particular sounds or light. Maybe for you it’s certain smells or scents that are too much for you. Identifying what is triggering to you is the most important step.
The next step is taking action to help create an environment that works for you. We’ll break these down into various aspects of your home that you could adapt for your needs.
Sound and noise
If auditory stimuli is problematic for you, there are many ways you can dampen noise in your home. Having carpeted floors may create a better acoustic environment for you. If your flooring consists of hard surfaces that you can’t change, area rugs can be used to absorb noise.
Just like with flooring, there are additional aspects of the construction of the home that could help reduce noise pollution from outside. Using insulated windows and additional insulation in walls are great ideas. However, if these considerations are beyond your immediate control, adding soft furnishings inside your home can reduce noise and echoes. For you, investing in some high quality noise cancelling headphones may be what you need to manage your sensitivity to sound. (I have a list of my favorite My Favorite Earplugs for Autism Sound Sensitivity here.)
Visual stimuli and light
Where possible, choose natural lighting over artificial lighting. When choosing types of lighting fixtures and globes, try to steer clear of fluorescent globes. Lamps can be a good choice as you can often find ones with different settings and colors. If a dimmer switch is available, this can be really helpful to allow differences in the brightness of a light.
Color and patterns matter too. Consider the color of walls based on what the room will be used for. If you are wanting to create a space that you are using as a calming space, choosing light blues can work. If you are wanting a space that is energizing, green colors can help. If painting areas of your home is out of the question, consider adding or taking away furnishings with particular colors. Additionally, some patterns may feel overwhelming or distracting so consider what works best for you. If too much visual stimuli is distracting for you, choosing a more minimalistic approach to your furnishings could help. Maintaining minimal clutter where possible is a good idea if you can manage it.
Touch and tactile surfaces
The texture of everyday household items is an important consideration for anyone with autism. Consider carefully what textures and touch sensations are sensory-friendly for you, especially high use items. If an item feels too rough or too smooth or it’s just “not right” for you, think about replacing it with something else. You may find yourself avoiding certain tasks in your home if it isn’t right for your sensory needs.
The way you clean your home is important too. For example, particular detergents may bother your skin or particular methods of cleaning your clothes may feel rough. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t. It may take some trial and error but the end goal will be to create a home environment that you feel comfortable in.
Smell and scents
If building or renovating an area of your home, consider using paints and hardware that are scent free or have reduced odor. In addition to this, when choosing to bring items into your home, consider if there is a natural version of the product that may have a less invasive smell than one made with artificial materials.
At meal times it’s a good idea to consider the types of foods you cook and your cooking methods. Simply by having an exhaust fan switched on or by opening a window slightly could help with overall ventilation. Plus, when choosing cleaning methods and products, consider choosing low-odor brands.
Taste and food
Eating well is essential but it needs to be enjoyable too. If there are certain foods that you just don’t enjoy or struggle with, cut them out where possible. Find food that suits what you love so that mealtimes are a good experience for you.
If you are having a particularly difficult day, consider having “safe meals” that are your go-to. These can be meals that involve little preparation that you enjoy and possibly minimal clean-up too.
Small additions and take-aways
Remember that the goal is to create a safe and comfortable space for yourself. If there are aspects of your home that are out of your control, consider starting in one room first. This may be your bedroom. There are many ways you can do this easily. Perhaps you eliminate an area of clutter. Maybe you add a blanket to your bed that has a soft texture. You might even remove an item in your bedroom that is causing you to feel overwhelmed. Small and simple changes to your space can help you manage your feelings of overwhelm and welcome-in feelings of calm and rest. Creating a sensory-friendly space in your home is important for you and those around you.
Are there areas of your home that are supportive of your sensory needs? We would love to hear your feedback on this topic. Feel free to reach out with any comments or questions you have.
Want to learn more about sensory overwhelm? Check out our list of recommended reading here.
About the Author: This post has been written by Stephanie Vandenberg, an Australian teacher and freelance writer. She enjoys writing on neurodiversity, education and travel. You can find her work here.