Guest blog - How to Create a Safe Space for Autistic Children in your Home
Creating a safe, calm space in your home can really help autistic children relax. Here are some tips from Rachel Clinkard at the shoe retailer Charles Clinkard, for calming sensory spaces within your house.
There are around one in 100 people on the autism spectrum worldwide, and there are 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK, according to the National Autistic Society. Autism is a developmental disability which affects how people interact with the world, and many autistic people experience over- or under-sensitivity to light, sounds, colours, touch, and tastes. Therefore, it can be extremely useful to create a safe space for them to relax in when they feel overwhelmed, or want some time to themselves.
At Charles Clinkard, we have worked closely with Daisy Chain, a charity supporting autistic children and adults, to make our stores a more comfortable space for families affected by autism. With a few simple tweaks, we've made our stores a safe place for all of our customers, and many of these changes can be implemented at home too. Here, we'll go through our tips for making a sensory space for autistic children within your house.
Decide on an area of your home
Considering where to install your safe space, also known as a sensory space, is the first step. It might be a whole room (for example, your child's bedroom or a playroom), or it could be a corner in a larger living room. Decide where might work best for your family, and if the space will be located inside another room - it can help to demarcate it with some tape on the floor, or some objects that your child recognises.
Even a toy tent or play tent can provide a wonderful area for an autistic child to relax or play in, so consider this option if you want to offer them their own space within a living room.
Keep it organised
When creating a calming space, it's useful to give pieces of furniture set locations and keep them there. This helps your child stay focused and can create a more comfortable and routine environment. It can also help to reduce clutter, making the room less visually stimulating. As autistic children can often be more sensitive to external stimuli, making the area less overwhelming can go a long way towards keeping things calm for them. Labelling the objects they need can help too, so they know where to go for 'art materials' or 'toys' when they enter the room.
Add comforting items
If your child has specific items that they enjoy for comfort, include these in the space. This might be particular textures, such as soft blankets, or it might be certain stuffed toys. Bean bags, play tents, floor cushions, and even swings if you have the space, can all add to this element of comfort. Some children might enjoy lower furniture, such as having a low coffee table and a floor cushion to sit on instead of a table and chair setup.
Think about safety
It's also useful to think about safety, depending on your child's needs. Softer furniture, anchored rugs or mats, and covers on electrical outlets can be useful, especially for younger children. Placing furniture and activities so that everything is easily within reach for your little one can also be extremely useful and makes the space safer for them.
It's also important to ensure that any potentially hazardous items, such as craft scissors or toys with small pieces that might get swallowed, are stored away and locked, and only taken out when they're used for activities. You can also try denoting boundaries with coloured tape and signs, for instance if your little one enjoys climbing surfaces and furniture, a 'stop' sign or some tape can help them to learn how to keep themselves safe.
Consider their senses
Some people with autism find specific sounds and smells to be either relaxing or off-putting, so consider your child's preferences in this area. Many children on the autistic spectrum find aromatherapy useful so they can have their favourite smells around them, and you can also experiment with this for audio stimulation, such as nature sounds.
Consider setting up an aromatherapy diffuser, or easily accessible speakers so that your little one can have the sensory stimulation that will be most calming for them. Likewise, you can tone down the sounds that might make a space less relaxing, such as creaking wooden floorboards, which can be mitigated by carpeting and heavy rugs.
Reducing bright lights can also help to make the room more relaxing so, if possible, go for diffused light and avoid any fixtures that create reflections, as this can make things brighter.
Creating a calming space in your home can give your little one a place to relax and avoid the overstimulation they may experience elsewhere. These simple modifications can provide a starting point for making a sensory area within your home that they can enjoy.