Words by, Natalie Gomez
Autism affects 1 in 68 people across the United States. Since there are so few people with autism around the country, most people are unaware about how they can make an environment more autism-friendly. People on the autism spectrum can become overstimulated by their surroundings, which can lead to difficulties in participating in activities and possibly a meltdown. However, there are many different ways an environment can become sensory-friendly and, in turn, help children with autism participate in functional learning and skill maturation.
You can create a sensory-friendly environment by:
- Using Natural Lighting: Natural lighting is the best choice for creating a sensory-friendly environment. Fluorescent lighting can be usually over-stimulating because of its constant flickering, so try to cover a few with fabric to diffuse the sensation if space has many fluorescents.
- Using Earthy, Neutral Tones: Accents of blue, green or purple can help set the tone for calmness, whereas alerting colors like red, orange or yellow may be too overstimulating.
- Seating: Some children need good sensory input from their environment to maintain a seated position. When seated, their feet should always be touching the floor, or touching a footstool to give the child input through their feet and improved posture. Comfortable seating, like bean bag chairs or large floor pillows, can help maintain a quiet body for an extended period of time.
- Reducing the Amount of Noise: Loud environments can be a nightmare for those sensitive to noise. Using sound-/noise-canceling headphones and/or having a quiet corner to retreat to can help with calming and regulating.
- Environment Organization: Busy environments with visual clutter can be a challenge for someone who has difficulty processing their environment and can present a challenge when attempting to move around the space. The more visual stimulation there is, the more difficult it is to fix their eyes on the functional task before them.
- Sensory Retreat: It is very useful to have an environment available that people can retreat to when feeling over-stimulated and ready to withdraw or have a meltdown. This area would include the aforementioned characteristics, including weighted objects for calming and fidgety hands.
Considering all of these items when creating a sensory-friendly environment may improve a child’s ability to feel safe, participate in play, and enhance learning. Instead of seeing their behavior as negative and willful, consider what may be causing them difficulties. Then determine what they may need to process and regulate for functional success.