Tips for Decorating Rooms for Kids on the Spectrum
Creating the perfect room for an autistic child involves making space where they can do their favorite activities while also encouraging relaxation.
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Autistic children have different needs than other kids, so a well-designed bedroom that meets their sensory needs while remaining functional is extremely important.
For kids on the spectrum, their five senses can be hypersensitive, which means some kids get upset if too much is happening around them. They may find a particular noise overwhelming, or a light too bright. If they become overstimulated, they will start stimming (self-stimulation), which is their way of regulating themselves. A bedroom that overstimulates a child on the spectrum also makes it more difficult to get the child to wind down, go to sleep and stay asleep.
It is estimated that more than 80 percent of children with autism experience difficulties with sleep. Professional decorating and color consultant Cindy Gelormini knows all about this, having raised an autistic child. She is also the author of the children’s book, Robbie’s World: and His SPECTRUM of Adventures!
“My son would either be up very late, past midnight, or if he did go to bed early, he’d be up at two or three in the morning,” she says. “That’s why their environment and having a bedroom that encourages bedtime is so important.”
Here are Gelormini’s tips for decorating a room that meets sensory needs and invites rest.
Use Soft Lighting With Room Darkening Shades
Some children are oversensitive to sounds and bright lights, and can be bothered by a buzzing light. Gelormini recommends dimmable soft lighting. “I suggest using blackout shades on the windows so the room is nice and dark for bedtime,” she says. “My son broke a few blinds, so I also recommend using the blinds that are in-between the glass.”
Designate Zones in the Room
If the child’s bedroom also serves as a play area, you can designate zones. Assign one area of the room for sleeping, another for storage and another for their favorite activities. “Most of them obsess over what they like, like being on the iPad for hours, so having a comfy bean bag chair in the room is a good idea,” Gelormini says.
She also encourages making use of the bedroom closet. “My son used to hide in the closet,” she says. “So I painted the inside navy blue with stars to make it feel like a cozy night sky.”
Choose Calm and Restful Paint Colors
Just like bright lighting, Gelormini says bright paint colors like red, yellow and orange can overstimulate an autistic child and set them off.
“Choose muted colors of your child’s favorite color,” she says. “For example, instead of bright red or orange, go with a toned down shade like clay. You could also choose more calming paint colors like light blue, gray or earthy green.”
An added tip: Gelormini uses an eggshell finish, making the walls easier to wipe clean.
Have Ample Storage to Help Organize
If there’s clutter in the bedroom, especially if you don’t have a designated playroom, it can be harder for the child to decompress and relax. Gelormini says to try to contain it with functional storage options. “I would suggest making sure they have a toy chest that everything can be put into at the end of the night,” she says. Aim to keep clutter to a minimum to avoid over stimulation, especially before bedtime.
Keep Safety in Mind When Decorating
Because her son used to yank the wire out of the wall to turn off the light, Gelormini says she made sure there were no lamps in his room. “We had to have the electrician install overhead lighting,” she says.
Many autistic children like to jump a lot and enjoy doing so on their bed. This can be dangerous should the springs start popping through. Gelormini suggests using a foam mattress with a box spring with no bed frame as a safer alternative.
Paint a Mural of What the Child Loves
Whatever your child loves, whether it’s the ocean, stars or a favorite fictional character, paint a mural of it in their room.
Gelormini says her son was obsessed with the ocean, so they painted a mural of it in his room. Whether you paint a mural yourself, get it done professionally, or purchase it like this Finding Dory Wall Mural, a mural helps create a unique space which can help calm and relax your child if they are feeling anxious or are acting out.