One of the most challenging things about raising autistic children can be helping them feel like part of the family. Many autistic people live in a world that is constantly stressful, and when even the home environment feels threatening, there’s nowhere to go to recover. Making the home a safer space can change everything. If you remember the effect of the first good night’s sleep you got after your child was born, you can understand something of how your child feels.
Creating calm spaces
How can you create a safer space like this? The first thing to consider is color. Many people on the spectrum find strong colors over stimulating, even if they enjoy them – like being exposed to a loud noise all the time. Using softer colors, in line with your child’s preferences, can help a lot. You may also find that muted lighting helps. Avoiding clutter can help your child to focus. Some autistic people also have strong likes and dislikes when it comes to textures, so test samples together before you choose fabrics or soft furnishings.
Working with your child
Every child is different, and this is no less the case when they’re on the spectrum. One helpful thing about autistic children is that – though some of them might need extra help to communicate – they tend to be very straightforward about what they do and don’t like. Many latch onto particular hobbies or niche interests. Helping them to decorate their bedrooms in accordance with these can give them places where they don’t just feel safe, but also happy.
An accessible home
Often when we think about designing for our children, we think first and foremost about the bedroom. This is the most important place to focus on, but your child is going to need to be able to move around the rest of the house securely. Creating islands of safe spaces in different rooms can help with this, e.g. by using a rug of your child’s favorite color or creating a niche between pieces of furniture where he or she can sit without feeling exposed. Although the long-term goal may be to empower children to do things more normally, that starts with building confidence and respecting the way they feel.
One of the greatest difficulties that affect autistic children – and their parents – is lack of awareness. Even when the home is a safe space, learning to cope in other spaces can take time because of others’ mistakes. Lindsey Stone is one of those working to change this, travelling the country to talk to people about basic autism awareness. She also works with individuals and their families to help them resolve their problems.
Caring for your autistic child is always going to present challenges, but then, that’s part of being a parent. Creating an accommodating home environment will enable children to flourish. It will also send the message that you respect their needs and prioritize them as part of the family, so they really know they’re loved.