Guest blog by Ashley Taylor of DisabledParents.org
Parents with autism spectrum disorder face so many challenges. They may have to overcome their sensory overstimulation in order to keep up with household chores or their children. People they encounter might place the burden of stigma on the parent as they misunderstand autism disorder. However, many parents find that their autism actually has some benefits. They have insight and are more empathetic toward their children when they struggle with emotions. Or they find that while they are caring for their kids they are able to “hyperfocus” on the little ones. The point is, parents with autism have struggles and strengths just like any other parent.
To make life easier, many parents with autism spectrum disorder find that modifying the home in certain ways makes it easier to move around and get things done.
Replace the Floors - If you have carpets, replacing them with hardwood, tile or concrete is a safe bet. Not only are they easier to keep clean, but they also reduce the risk of slips and falls for both children and parents. They are also less likely to sustain damage from unruly kids because they are strong and durable. Finally, hard surface floors contribute to better indoor air quality, which means less irritating allergens and triggering odors for parents with sensory processing issues.
Install Smart Lighting - Parents with autism may have a lighting system that fits their needs now, but those needs may change with kids. Smart lighting systems have many benefits for homeowners. They allow you to turn lights on and off remotely, which can save money on electricity when you forget to turn the lamp off before heading out the door. They can also make your home more secure as lights going on and off are a clear indicator to burglars that the house is occupied and therefore shouldn’t be targeted.
Smart light bulbs also tend to live longer, which is better for the environment. But for parents with sensory issues, smart lighting means so much more than saving money on electricity and light bulbs -- it gives these parents control over the visual stimuli within their environment. Smart lighting systems make it easy to go from natural light to sensory mood lighting that calms and soothes.
Make Bathrooms Safer - The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. The high humidity and slick surfaces are perfect for slips and falls. It’s easy to forget about the water temperature and end up scalding yourself. Furthermore, getting up and down to bathe or use the toilet becomes more and more difficult as we age. To make the bathroom safer for kids and adults alike:
Parents with autism face many struggles, but their disorder can also give them special insight that helps them raise healthy and happy children. To make life simpler, it helps to modify the home in certain ways to create a safe and comforting atmosphere. Hard surface floors are safer and easier to maintain, but they also keep the indoor air quality purer for less irritation. Smart lighting systems are an investment, but they save money and make it easier to create sensory mood lighting. Finally, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. Adding grab bars, a walk-in tub, and anti-scald valves can keep bathtime fun and safe.
Ashley Taylor, DisabledParents.org
Guest post by Paul Denikin of DadKnowsDIY.
Having a child on the autism spectrum means doing most things a bit differently. It can be difficult to know how to navigate around certain events, especially when they require so much planning to keep your child safe and happy, yet it’s imperative to be prepared in order to do just that.
When thinking about projects in and around your home--crafts, DIY fixer-upper jobs, or simply rearranging the rooms to make them more accommodating for your child—find the best ways to get your child involved, because big changes can lead to anxiety. Having a helping hand in these projects will allow your child to feel a measure of control and will likely make the transition easier.
Here are some of the best ways to get your child involved around the house while keeping them safe.
Big tasks--painting a room, or rearranging furniture--can lead to overwhelming changes for a child on the autism spectrum, so it might be best to start small. Create a space in your home that’s just for your child, full of soft textures, color, lights, and soothing music (if they enjoy music). You might put in a sensory table they can help with; with objects such as cotton balls, beads, rice, water, and anything else your child enjoys running her fingers through. The senses are very important to a child on the spectrum, but every child is different, so be sure to do some research on what she might enjoy and what to stay away from. And don’t forget to get their input! You can find out more about sensory play here.
Create safe zones
Many children who fall on the spectrum are at risk for wandering, so it’s imperative to make sure your home--and the surrounding area--is safe. If your home has stairs, for instance, the use of baby gates can be extremely helpful in keeping your child away from them. It’s also a good idea to make sure the appliances in your home are child-friendly--such as a stove with removable knobs--and install motion sensor alarms on the doors so you always know when someone comes in or goes out.
Keeping your child safe outdoors is a concern, as well. Having well-lighted steps is a good start, but you’ll also need to make sure your child can’t wander away. Keeping safe zones around your home is a great way to ensure your own peace of mind should she leave without you knowing, or if you want to give her a bit of freedom to play outside. A strong privacy fence is a great way to go, but there are many things to consider first, including pricing, size, material, and finding the right fencing company for your needs. Do some research on the different types available to you, and find some help with narrowing down your choices here.
A fun way to involve your child in these processes is to introduce her to the game “Red Light, Green Light”, in which you have him or her move around the areas while you coach them. When they get too close to the edge of your property--or to a door they need to stay away from--say, “Red light!” When they move away from it and into the safe zone, say, “Green light!” Keep it fun, but let them know those “red light” areas are to be avoided.
You can also allow your older child to be involved in choosing the fence; the design, color, and height are all things to be considered, so look online at different types and ask what their favorite is, and what they dislike. After it’s installed, consider working on a sign together to hang on that gate with your family’s name or address, or create a little garden in one corner of the yard that the two of you can work on throughout the year.
Play up your child’s strengths
Many children who fall on the autism spectrum enjoy sorting and organizing; others love working from a visual chart that tells them what comes next. Whatever individual strengths your child has, play them up when doing a household project so they can participate. If they enjoy sorting things, let them help you clean out the cabinets and give clear instructions on how to organize the contents (this is a great chore for the garage; if you have several loose nuts, bolts, and screws--and if your child is of the age where they can handle such items--give them empty baby food jars and have them sort each type into a different jar).
Remember that the goal is not to have your child do things the way you would do them, necessarily, but rather to give them the tools to work hard and see the positive results of that work. Try to stay patient and give them lots of support and positive feedback when they are successful. This will build their confidence and lead to more independence and future projects.
--By Paul Deniken, Guest Blogger from DadKnowsDIY.com.
It’s important to accept that a normal home might not be safe or comfortable for a child with special needs. Most of the time, modifications must be made that ensure the child has the opportunity to be mobile and self-sufficient. “Home Modification” may sound like a scary, expensive task - but in reality there are plenty of reasonable, economical, and even eco-friendly ways to fit your house for someone with special needs.
Sensory modifications - Some children with special needs such as autism spectrum disorders have more sensory issues than true mobility, but can also require some unique home modifications. Some great tips for this include the removal of fluorescent lighting (you can replace them with the far more eco-friendly LED lights) and the use of soundproof materials for floors and walls. Colors are also important.
“Notice the colors your child pays the most attention to, and use those colors when you really want your child to pay attention to something. For example, you could decorate your home with very neutral colors, but use plates in their favorite color to make eating more interesting. Use learning toys with bright colors. Or pick a more exciting color for a comforting blanket or special stuffed animal,” according to NavigateLifeTexas.org. “Think about using sound-reducing materials in places where you spend a lot of time.”
Ramps and flooring - Many special needs are of the physical variety, and stairs can be a challenge for children with movement disorders, injury, or visual impairment. Even if your special needs child isn’t in a wheelchair, ramps might be essential to their improved mobility. Portable ramps are a great product because of their versatility.
A cool alternative to the large, sometimes expensive metal ramps used with wheelchairs to navigate living spaces, are lightweight mobility aids like the ones made by Adaptive Design. The company also specializes in art, recreation, self-care, and other products for children with impairments - all made with eco-friendly products like recycled cardboard.
If you have the resources and your special needs child needs access to different levels of your home, you can look into installing a stair glide mechanism or even a small elevator.
When it comes to flooring, it’s important to think about the material. According to Michael Sledd of Expertise.com, “Cork flooring is often very stylish looking and easy to clean, and while it is firm and level, it is more forgiving to falls than many of the other flooring types mentioned above. However, due to its soft nature, it is typically not recommended for wheelchairs due to wear issues from the amount of pressure exerted by the wheels.
Vinyl and linoleum are the cheapest and somewhat accessible. For homes that need to accommodate wheelchairs, you may want to avoid deep grooved tile.
Modified knobs, handles, and railings - Replacing traditional doorknobs, cabinet, and drawer handles with easier-to-pull levers can help with accessibility around the home. Providing extra grips, handrails, and bars around stairs, bathrooms, and kitchens can also help those with a disability better navigate the home.
Trackers - Though it might be a controversial topic for some, many parents of children with special needs employ GPS trackers to make sure they always know what their child is up to and where they are. Here’s a good write-up on some of the best services available.
Accessibility Technology - Check out the Accessible Technology Coalition’s archives for a list of assistive technologies organized by age, type of disability, and more. There are so many products for the home that can make life easier for kids with disabilities and their caretakers.
For more ideas on how to make your home safe for all children, and to find great home projects, visit DadKnowsDIY.com.
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.