When designing a bedroom, more specifically a sleeping space, for your child with Autism or Sensory Integration Disorder, it is important to keep the following tips in mind.
1. CONSIDER ENCLOSURES: Consider a canopy or custom-built bed as an enclosure. It limits the visual stimulation of other things or people in the room and tight spaces give them a sense of security. Custom built captain beds offer the feeling of a cave. If your child enjoys playing under the dining room table or lays under big furniture, this is a clue that they find comfort in this.
2. AVOID BUSY PATTERNS. The only reason I used the striped quilt is because Sophia surprised me and actually asked to have a “rainbow” in her bed. I stuck with solid color sheets and pillow cases. You may also want to avoid trendy bedding such as characters. If they get set on keeping their bedding the same, as they generally do, you could be living with Mickey for many years ahead.
3. GET THEIR PERSPECTIVE. Lay yourself down in their bed and look around from their perspective. What do you see? Is there a lot of clutter, patterns, or something odd like a heating vent? Is there a way to position the bed differently to see less? For example, I intentionally faced Sophia’s bed away from the rest of her room so she was facing the window treatments (soft cream roman shades). I have also avoided having her face the door to her room. This way she does not notice as much of the traffic in the hall going by her door.
4. INVESTIGATE IN WEIGHTED BLANKETS. Weighted blankets are often used to help children with sensory issues sleep better. They are expensive so consider alternatives such as layers of heavy knitted blankets before you purchase one. If you notice a difference, you can find several variations of weighted blankets online.
5. LIGHTING. Keep a light near the bed that they feel comfortable turning on and off. This gives them a sense of control and ability to cope if they feel scared by turning on a light. A wall sconce or even a battery-powered push light can be helpful. Installing a dimmer in the overall lighting of the room helps you control the mood of the room. I would actually suggest putting dimmers in every room in your home.
6. GET A BED TRAY. A bed tray creates a nice option for transition from play to sleep. They can get into bed and yet continue playing or lining up toys on the flat surface of the bed tray.
7. TRY OTHER SLEEPING AIDS: There are several other considerations for this special bed including specialty mattresses, body pillows, and vibrating pillows.
Most importantly, you need to put yourself in their position within the room. For high-functioning children, you can even ask them to lay next to you and tell you what they notice. Ask them what makes noise in their room? Play a game of I Spy with them in their room and see what they notice. As always, become a student of your child!