For children on the autism spectrum, their home is an important place for respite. It’s the one place above all others that should provide them with a sense of safety and peace. However, for their parents this can be more challenging than a trip to the store for a safety gate and some cabinet locks.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is unique to every child. While one child may be triggered by noise, another may be stimulated by color. So finding ways to make your home perfect for your child will take time and careful consideration.
To bolster your efforts at creating the best environment for your child, we’ve found three measures that benefit every child on the spectrum.
1. Consider A Service Dog
A service dog can be specifically trained and certified to help care for an autistic child. They can attend doctor visits, family outings, school functions and any event where a child might otherwise feel stress, not to mention, a a snuggly friend in the home setting.
A service dog can help a child in a number of ways:
- Improved communications: As a bond forms between child and pet, the child learns to talk to and engage with their animal. Over the long-term, this can translate into improved communications with people, including their family, other adults and peers.
- Improved empathy: When a child learns to have empathy for their animal through the caring process, this translates into better empathy skills with others.
- Improved safety: Autistic children are anchored to their service animal, and if a child separates from their parent, they animal is trained to sit or lie down to prevent the child from moving farther away.
- Improved behavior: Children with a service dog are shown to have less behavioral disruptions. And when they do get into an agitated state, the dogs are trained to help them settle with a nudge or a cuddle.
2. Make Space For A Sensory-Friendly Bedroom
An autistic child needs at least one room in the house where everything is perfectly suited to their needs, typically a bedroom. Consider these things in your sensory-friendly space:
- Color: Some colors can be triggers for autistic children. For example, red is a stimulating color. Most often shades of blue and green are calming.
- Lighting: Fluorescent and bright lights should be avoided. Consider adding a dimmer switch to an existing overhead light, or some children even like Christmas lights or a bubble tube.
- Bedding: In general, children with ASD prefer extra soft blankets. Weighted blankets may be recommended by a physician for the extra comfort they provide.
- Decorations: Limit decorations that provide additional stimulus. Instead, consider a simple shelf system with labeled, clear containers for playthings.
- Sensory Items: Add some sensory items that children love like large pillows, a mini trampoline and a swing if the space if large enough.
3. Create An Attitudinal Environment
It’s important to evaluate the level of calm in your home. Are one or both parents stressed? Are siblings frustrated? Are you working hard to provide an environment that’s calm, comforting and has a strong sense of security?
Like most children, children with autism will follow the lead of the attitude that is predominating their environment. But with autistic children, environments permeated with stress will lead to some negative symptoms, such as decreased listening, less eye contact, more oppositional behavior and more unhappiness.
Take some important steps to make sure you’re helping your child thrive at home:
Happiness in the home starts with happy parents.
- Offer regular praise.
- Have an attitude of gratitude.
- Help your child feel connected to you.
It would be so much easier if we could see through the eyes of our child to know their needs, but we can’t. What we can do is take proper care to test and try things that do and don’t work, so that over time they’ll have the perfect safe space. Let go of perfect, and have fun with your child creating their unique space.
Paul Denikin, Dad Knows DIY