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6 Bedroom Design Considerations for Kids With Autism or Sensory Processing Issues (2023)
Lighting, colors, design, and furniture are all elements that help make your child’s bedroom safe and comfortable.
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.
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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.”
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.
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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.
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.