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6 Bedroom Design Considerations for Kids With Autism or Sensory Processing Issues (2024)

Lighting, colors, design, and furniture are all elements that help make your child’s bedroom safe and comfortable.

Author Image Written by Shane Sentelle Updated 04/05/2024

child's bedroom with soft colors
Courtesy Erin Little

For kids with special needs, bedroom design involves more than painting the walls their favorite color and buying sheets with a beloved cartoon character. You must also consider how lighting, colors, and furniture might affect your child’s comfort, safety, and self-regulation.

Each child is unique, and knowing whether your child is sensory avoidant or sensory seeking will help you make design choices. Sharon Kaye-O’Connor, LCSW, an autistic psychotherapist and autism educator, emphasizes the importance of customization. “Some kids will fit a more sensory-sensitive profile, while others will be much more sensory seeking,” she says.

Whether you are transitioning your child from a nursery to a “big-kid” bedroom or decorating a new room after a long-distance move, it’s important to optimize your child’s space. Most of the tips below focus on a child who is sensory sensitive and needs a calming environment for nighttime.


A child with autism or sensory processing difficulties needs a room with appropriate lighting. Jana Sarno, BCBA, chief clinical officer at Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers, recommends choosing dimmer lights for your child’s bedroom and the bathroom used before bedtime. 

Some lamps have built-in dimmer switches or may allow you to cycle between different colors or brightness levels. Alternatively, you can buy special light bulbs to use in regular fixtures. Examples include Philips’ SceneSwitch bulbs or any color-changing LED smart bulbs.

Dimmable lighting can help calm your child when they’re feeling overwhelmed or when it’s time to wind down for the night. Sarno also recommends using a gradual bedroom night light for children who are stimulated by bright lights. You might also invest in blackout curtains and red-hued night lights for bedtime.

Blue kids bedroom interior with soft lamp lighting
Adobe – Royalty Free

Colors and Patterns

Bright colors and busy patterns can overstimulate some children. Even if your child’s bedroom doubles as a playroom, it may be best to avoid bold designs in favor of soft, muted colors. Green, blue, and purple are often calming colors, as are earth tones and pastels. Muted tones of your child’s favorite color might be your starting point. 

Avoid high-contrast colors and patterns in your child’s sleep space. Haley Beckham Shetty, an interior designer who specializes in universal design, recommends using neutrals and keeping patterns minimal. “Layered patterns can present as visual clutter to a person who is easily overstimulated by their environment,” she says.


In addition to visual and lighting elements, tactile elements can overstimulate a child. Beckham Shetty explains that choosing soft textures “is not a one-size-fits-all suggestion; however, it is an easily customizable solution. Layer the room with blankets, pillows, and rugs. This will not only have an impact on textures, it also absorbs sound and helps with spatial audio.”

Play-and-Sleep Zones

Separating your child’s bedroom into zones can be beneficial if your child uses the same room for sleeping, playing, and doing homework. “Bedrooms should be calming, whereas playrooms should be fun and exploratory. Save the cartoon characters, bright colors, TVs, sound-making toys, climbing furniture, and visual distractions for the playroom rather than the bedroom, if possible,” says Sarno. 

If your child’s sleep and play areas are in the same room, consider creating two distinct areas: one for sensory stimulation and play and one for sensory deprivation and sleep.

In the first zone, place tactile toys and active seating. Create the space and opportunity for dynamic play with climbing furniture and crash mats, a ball pit, a yoga ball, or an indoor swing. If your child is sensory-seeking, bright colors and cartoon characters may be the right choice for the walls. Your child can use this area to meet their sensory input needs and release extra energy through movement. 

The second zone should be quieter—a place for winding down and sleeping. Sarno suggests opting for “neutral or muted colors, soft playthings, a swing or rocking chair, and ruffled bed linens for sensory input.” Consider using a bed tent or canopy to turn your child’s bed into a safe haven, complete with soft pillows, a weighted blanket, and noise-canceling headphones. 

Sarno also recommends placing overstimulating items in a closet or drawer at night, if needed.

Modern child room interior with comfortable bed
Adobe – Royalty Free

Safe Furniture

If your child is sensory seeking and you choose climbing furniture and other pieces that your child might play on, make sure the furniture is sturdy and appropriately anchored to the wall or floor. 

Additionally, Kaye-O’Connor suggests considering your child’s sensory preferences regarding the size of their space. She recommends asking whether your child has a “preference for tiny spaces where they can squeeze into to feel secure, or do they prefer environments that are open and airy?” 

A bed canopy or weighted blanket, for example, can provide a sense of safety to children looking for a more closed environment.


As you finish your child’s bedroom design, consider audio inputs. Kaye-O’Connor points out that some children benefit from music or an ambient noise machine. Sarno recommends placing a sound machine with white noise or other relaxing sounds in the bedroom for your child to use as needed.

Others may prefer complete quiet. If your child prefers silence, you may want to consider how carpeting and wall materials can reduce noise from other rooms.

Expert Tips and Insights

We asked six experts to share their insights on bedroom design for children who have autism or sensory processing issues and how inclusive home accommodations can support their needs. Read their tips below.

Head of the Psychology Department
Jacksonville State University
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What’s important to consider when designing bedrooms for kids with autism or sensory issues?
Safety and comfort are the most important things to consider when designing bedrooms for kids with autism. Kids with autism typically have limited communication skills, which can result in them resorting to more problematic forms of communication, such as property destruction. It’s ideal to design a bedroom to minimize the likelihood of this behavior. For example, by securing furniture and other heavy/fragile objects to walls/surfaces so that they cannot be pulled over or thrown. The bedroom should also be comfortable based on the kids’ preferences for color, sounds, favorite characters, scents, etc. This can result in many different designs depending on the individual, similar to the variability we see for kids without autism.
Paige McKerchar has a master’s degree in human development and a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology from the University of Kansas. She’s provided applied behavior analysis services to children and adults across the lifespan in home, school, center, work, and residential settings. She is currently head of the psychology department at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama.
Psychologist at Northwest Neurobehavioral Health
Adjunct Faculty at Boise State University
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Why do specific colors or textures tend to trigger children with autism or sensory processing issues?
It’s not so much that specific colors or textures trigger children with autism as it is that neurodivergent kids (kids with autism, ADHD, etc.) tend to be both very sensory sensitive and sensory seeking. Two different kids on the spectrum could have very different reactions to the same texture or sensation. Sensory processing issues can include both difficulty tuning out excess stimulus in the environment and feeling like they have enough sensory input. Neurotypical folks often have a wider range of sensory tolerance and regulate these needs pretty intuitively—like if you’ve ever turned down the radio when you need to park your car. You’re reducing one input so that you can focus your attention and senses on other priorities. Or turning on music to get through a boring chore. You’re increasing your sensory input to manage under stimulation.
What’s important to consider when designing bedrooms for kids with autism or sensory issues?
Every kid on the spectrum is different, but general themes include spaces that are not overwhelming but that do have things that appeal to your child’s senses. Think not too much clutter, but fluffy blankets, a small basket of fidget toys, and a shelf to display items related to special interests or collections. Having a space within the room that can be a retreat space or cool-down space when the child is overwhelmed can be helpful if that is an option. If the child has an occupational therapist (they are often the professionals helping with sensory processing problems), they might be able to give parents ideas for more specialty items that would be helpful to their specific child, such as weighted blankets or sensory swings.
How can inclusive home accommodations support children with autism or sensory processing issues?
Accommodations in the home and other environments are ultimately meant to increase a child’s quality of life and expand their world. Accommodations can help reduce overwhelm which can increase the child’s (and family’s) internal resources for important things like family and social engagement, play, school, and therapies. Working with occupational therapists, psychologists, and other professionals can help parents and caregivers brainstorm what might work best for their child.
Carolyn Golden, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist at Northwest Neurobehavioral Health in Meridian, Indiana. Her particular focus is helping families understand autism, OCD, and anxiety to successfully navigate the unique needs of their family. She is also a training director for doctoral interns and adjunct faculty at Boise State University.
Janice Hau, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology
San Diego State University
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Why do specific colors or textures tend to trigger children with autism or sensory processing issues?
Children with autism or sensory processing issues often show hyper- or hyposensitivities to sensory stimuli, which can make it challenging for them to focus in their environment. They can include heightened sensitivity to certain sounds, smells, colors, textures, lighting, and other stimuli that can be overwhelming for the child resulting in sensory avoidance, such as covering the ears to dampen loud noises. They can also include blunted sensitivity to certain stimuli that may lead to sensory-seeking behaviors, such as a constant need for movement or an attraction to certain textures. It is common for autistic people to have a combination of both.
These sensory sensitivities arise from atypical neural processing within the sensory systems. The underlying neurobiology is still unclear, but it is likely that differences in the neural circuits that filter, integrate, and modulate sensory input in the brain are involved.
What’s important to consider when designing bedrooms for kids with autism or sensory issues?
Sensory issues are highly individual; therefore, it’s important to understand the child’s individual sensory profile and consider their unique preferences and sensitivities that may also change over time. Accommodate the child’s preferences in terms of lighting, textures, sound, and visual elements—fill it with things they love or are familiar with and that make them feel comfortable.
Avoid busy patterns, bright colors, and flashing or flickering lights that can trigger epilepsy, which is a common co-occurring condition in autistic children. Many autistic children experience sleep problems. Blackout curtains can help to promote a good night’s sleep. A soundproof door and light dimmer would be good features to include, allowing the child privacy when they need it and a greater ability to control their sensory environment.
How can inclusive home accommodations support children with autism or sensory processing issues?
Sensory-friendly home accommodations can support children with autism or sensory processing issues by creating a safe and comfortable space for them to grow and develop as an individual.
Janice Hau is a research assistant professor in the department of psychology. She studies the neuroanatomy of autism spectrum disorder using neuroimaging techniques and open science practices.
Kim Zlomke, Ph.D. 
Professor in Clinical and Counseling Psychology
University of South Alabama
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Why do specific colors or textures tend to trigger children with autism or sensory processing issues?
Children with autism or sensory processing issues often experience hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory stimuli, including colors and textures. Children with autism may have difficulty filtering, processing, and integrating sensory information, leading to sensory overload. Bright or intense colors, as well as certain textures, can be overwhelming to their sensory system, causing distress or discomfort. Children with autism may perceive colors and textures differently than neurotypical individuals. They may have heightened sensitivity to subtle variations in color or texture, or they may associate certain colors or textures with negative experiences, leading to aversions. Children with autism may have limited communication skills, making it challenging for them to express their sensory preferences or discomfort verbally. Instead, they may demonstrate their discomfort through behaviors such as avoidance, withdrawal, or agitation in response to specific colors or textures. It’s essential to recognize that each child with autism is unique, and their sensory experiences and responses can vary widely. What triggers one child may not affect another in the same way. Understanding each child’s specific sensory profile is crucial for providing appropriate support and accommodations.
What’s important to consider when designing bedrooms for kids with autism or sensory issues?
Designing bedrooms for children with autism or sensory issues requires careful consideration to create a safe, comfortable, and calming environment that supports their sensory needs.
Sensory-friendly decor: Choose calming, neutral colors for the walls and bedding to create a soothing atmosphere. Avoid bright or intense colors that may be overwhelming. Opt for soft, natural textures for bedding, curtains, and rugs to provide tactile comfort.
Lighting: Control lighting to minimize glare and harsh overhead lighting. Use soft, adjustable lighting options such as dimmer switches, floor lamps, or string lights to create a cozy ambiance. Some children may benefit from natural light, while others may prefer dimmer, indirect lighting.
Organization and layout: Keep the bedroom layout simple and clutter-free to reduce sensory overload. Use storage solutions such as bins, shelves, or drawers to organize toys, books, and belongings. Clearly label storage containers to help children find items independently.
Comfortable furniture: Choose comfortable, supportive furniture with rounded edges to ensure safety. Provide a comfortable bed with quality bedding and pillows that meet the child’s sensory preferences. Consider including a cozy seating area or bean bag chair for relaxation and sensory regulation.
Noise reduction: Minimize noise disturbances within the bedroom by using sound-absorbing materials such as carpets, rugs, or curtains. Consider using white noise machines or calming music to mask disruptive sounds and promote relaxation.
Safety considerations: Ensure that the bedroom environment is safe and secure for the child. Remove any potential hazards or obstacles, such as sharp objects, cords, or small items that could be choking hazards. Install safety features such as window guards or bed rails as needed.
Personalization: Involve the child in the design process and incorporate elements that reflect their interests, preferences, and sensory needs. Allow them to choose decor items, colors, or themes that resonate with them and create a sense of ownership and comfort in their bedroom space.
How can inclusive home accommodations support children with autism or sensory processing issues?
Inclusive home accommodations can play a significant role in supporting children with autism or sensory processing issues by creating environments that are accessible, supportive, and conducive to their well-being.
Sensory-friendly design: Incorporate sensory-friendly design principles throughout the home, including soft lighting, calming colors, and comfortable textures. Minimize clutter and provide designated sensory spaces where children can engage in sensory activities or find relaxation.
Safety modifications: Implement safety modifications to address the unique needs of children with autism or sensory processing issues. This may include installing safety gates, window guards, door locks, and other safety features to prevent accidents and ensure a secure environment.
Visual supports: Use visual supports such as visual schedules, visual timers, and picture communication systems to enhance communication, promote independence, and provide structure and predictability within the home environment. Visual supports can provide predictability and reduce anxiety for children with autism.
Quiet areas: Create quiet areas within the home where children can retreat to when they need a break from sensory stimulation or social interaction. These spaces should be equipped with comfortable seating, calming decor, and sensory tools to support relaxation and self-regulation.
Accessibility features: Ensure that the home is accessible to children with mobility challenges or other disabilities. This may involve installing ramps, handrails, and other accessibility features to facilitate independent movement and navigation throughout the home.
Routine and structure: Establish consistent routines and structures within the home to provide stability and predictability for children with autism or sensory processing issues. This can help reduce anxiety, improve behavior, and promote overall well-being.
Collaboration with professionals: Work closely with professionals such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and behavior specialists to identify specific accommodations and modifications that will best support the child’s unique needs within the home environment.
Kim Zlomke is a licensed psychologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). She is a professor in clinical and counseling psychology at the University of South Alabama and is involved in clinical training as the director of the USA Psychology Clinic. In addition, Zlomke continues to be personally engaged in clinical services provision through The Wellness Collective.
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Candidate
University of Illinois
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Why do specific colors or textures tend to trigger children with autism or sensory processing issues?
Over- and underreactivity to sensory aspects of their environment (i.e., color, texture, lighting) is a common response in children with autism or sensory processing issues. Although there has been interesting research to try to understand why certain individuals with autism or sensory processing exhibit these responses, we do not have definitive answers about the exact mechanisms at play. We understand that because these are conditions that impact brain development and functioning, it is possible that different aspects of the sensory experience may be perceived and processed differently.
What’s important to consider when designing bedrooms for kids with autism or sensory issues?
It can be helpful to determine a child’s unique sensory profile, in other words, the sensory aspects of their environment to which they are over or underreacting. Sensory profiles include the five senses (sight, touch, smell, sound, taste), as well as additional bodily sensations. These sensations include the ability to maintain posture and balance (vestibular), the ability to maintain awareness of your body’s movement and position (proprioception), and the awareness of what is going on inside your body (i.e., if you are hungry; interoception). Working with a clinical provider, such as a physical or occupational therapist, can help you determine this profile to understand what types of things to include or not include in your child’s bedroom.
How can inclusive home accommodations support children with autism or sensory processing issues?
We know that a sense of belonging is monumental for children’s physical and mental health. Accommodations that are mindful of a child’s sensory profile will demonstrate to them that their needs are important, will encourage them to explore their environments, and will foster their confidence in seeking out and constructing environments that are meaningful to them.
Hena Thakur is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She served as the University of Illinois Autism Clinic coordinator for several years and is currently a clinical resident at the Medical University of South Carolina. Her current research interests include accessibility of evidence-based assessment and intervention for trauma-exposed youth.
Amy Cohen, Ph.D.
Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology
University of Illinois
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What’s important to consider when designing bedrooms for kids with autism or sensory issues?
Keep in mind that all autistic individuals perceive sensory stimuli differently, so what might be calming to one child may be aversive to another. There is no “one size fits all” approach! Most importantly, consult your child as the ultimate expert on themselves. For instance, lighting may be particularly important for some children. Low lighting tends to be calming, as do lights that project up rather than down. Certain types of lighting may be audible to children with auditory sensitivity. Sensitivity to specific textures and fabrics is also quite common. Include your child in the decision about which bedding feels best based on the weight and the texture. When in doubt and whenever possible, test it out first.
How can inclusive home accommodations support children with autism or sensory processing issues?
As a general rule of thumb, consistency and predictability are important to all children, and this is especially true for children with autism. Prep them that a change will be coming to any aspect of their living space and include them in conversations about design whenever possible so they know their voice is valued and heard. A “surprise” redesign for the child, however well intended, may turn into a sudden and unwelcome change. Home is a haven for many children. If applicable, create a calm down or quiet space in the home filled with lighting, sounds, textures, and objects that your child finds soothing. This can be located in the bedroom or in any space of the house that can be consistently available to the child. Finally, if your child has a highly defined interest that is very special to them, including elements of that interest in your design and decor will signal to your child that caregivers understand and support how meaningful it is to the child.
Amy Cohen, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and clinical associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Cohen is also the director of the University of Illinois Autism Clinic and the associate director of the Psychological Services Center. Her current research interests include accurate identification of women and girls on the spectrum, as well as examining barriers to early diagnosis and services. She holds a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, completed her clinical residency at the Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital, and completed her fellowship in developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Our Conclusion

If your child has sensory issues, you can consider lighting, color, textures, bedroom zones, furniture, and sounds to create a space that is comfortable and safe. Every child is unique, so the tips in this article are just a starting place for designing your child’s perfect bedroom. 

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