Easy home adjustments to help children with autism
By Alexandra Boeving Allen, PhD
By Alexandra Boeving Allen, PhD
Children with autism often over-respond (are hypersensitive) or under-respond (are hyposensitive) to certain things that they see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. That can impact how they feel and act.
As you become more aware of your child’s sensory needs, you can look for ways to help them feel more comfortable at home. A few small adjustments may make a big difference.
We have some suggestions to get you started.
Hypersensitivity: Different colored lighting, dimmable lights, closing blinds, and using lamps instead of overhead lights can help some kids feel more comfortable.
Hyposensitivity: For children who under-respond to visual stimuli, toys with bright or flashing lights/colors and light-up trinkets may be helpful in moments of frustration.
Hypersensitivity: Noise-canceling headphones, ear plugs, or a “calming corner” can all support a child who needs a quiet environment. You can also try verbally preparing your child for a noise — for instance, ”Here comes the vacuum cleaner! Let’s cover your ears.”
Hyposensitivity: If your child craves more sound, you and your family members can try speaking more loudly or in an exaggerated way. You could play music or encourage your child to use items around the house, like kitchen pots, to make their own.
Hypersensitivity: Some textures that may not bother you can be truly distressing for kids with autism. It can help to remove tags from their clothes and consider fabrics they like for clothes or bedding. Playing with sensory boxes that contain items like beans, rice, or sand may help your child get used to new textures.
Hyposensitivity: Consider stronger versions of touch like squeezing or massaging, and letting your child play with items they can manipulate and smear, like Play-Doh or homemade slime.
Hypersensitivity: Use unscented soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, and other household products so your child doesn’t get overwhelmed by smells.
Hyposensitivity: Kids who have a low response to smells often enjoy scented household items and art supplies. They may also love spending time outdoors.
Be mindful of foods that your child is particularly sensitive to at mealtime, and share that information with everyone involved with their care. Sensitivities around food often require professional support to make sure your child’s getting proper nutrition. Your Brightline Coach can help you with those next steps.
Other tips to help your child at home
As you make changes to help your child feel more comfortable, don’t forget to:
Declutter. Cleaning up, simplifying, and organizing can help limit stimuli and distractions for your child. (Putting things out of reach also provides opportunities for them to engage with you and practice their language skills!)
Take your time. Although you may be excited to make changes, don’t adjust everything at once! Too many changes can overwhelm your child.
Be consistent. Make sure everyone in your home understands the adjustments and can follow through. If something works well at home, let your child’s teacher (or others they spend time with) know. They may be able to make similar changes at your child’s school or babysitter’s house, for example.
Expect some growing pains. Transitions — even to something better! — can be pretty bumpy. Your child may feel confused or frustrated at first by the changes you make. Give them time to adjust.
Try to be flexible. Sensory processing preferences can change over time. Something that helps your child today may need to be rethought in the future. If and when questions come up, reach out! Brightline’s Parent Coaching for ASD can also help.