Adapting the Environment – Design changes you can do at home

All people experience the world differently. I for example can hear at a frequency that many others cannot. As a child I hated visiting one local store. I would cry and say it hurt my head while covering my ears. My parents thought I was making it up to avoid visiting the store. One day, while complaining in the store, the store clerk told my parents they had a silent alarm. It was at a frequency that most people could not hear. However, a few people like myself could and complained about it “hurting their heads.”  After this, my parents did not require me to do errands in this store with them. If I had not had the language to explain to my parents and the clerk my problem, they may have continued to make me go there and I would have continued to suffer.

It has been suggested that many individuals with autism have different sensitivities to environmental stimuli that most other people are not bothered by and therefore suffer as I did with the alarm. It is often challenging to determine what the problem is because many people with autism aren’t able to clearly communicate what is bothering them. Their lack of ability to communicate may lead them to engage in less than desirable behaviours such as rocking, humming, escaping, covering their ears or aggression.
Recently I had the opportunity to discuss this with a designer who shared with me some suggestions for designing a bedroom for an individual with autism. These suggestions are taken from Mostafa, Magda: An Architecture for Autism: Concepts of Design Intervention for the Autistic User. Retrieved from: ArchNet, and can easily implemented at home.
1.A monochromatic color scheme in a room instantly produces a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.
2.Cool colours such as blue or green may be soothing.
3.Having lights on a rheostat (dimmer) switch allows the individual to adjust the light to meet his/her needs
4.Some more common household furnishings may provide sensory benefit. A memory foam mattress may offer compression and proprioceptive input. Chairs with a swivel glider or rocking mechanism are an easy way to introduce vestibular stimulation.
5.Solid fabrics and floor covering may prevent the eyes from fixating on potentially distracting patterns.
6.Installing a swing may provide various sensations.
As a behaviour analyst I know that we cannot change behaviour, we can only change the environment that supports them. Making these sort of simple environmental changes, may have an impact on the individual with autism’s behaviour.
Happy Designing!
Kristen
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