top of page

Think More Than an Autism-Friendly Sensory Room

Updated: May 17, 2022

by Vanessa Hayden, created on 4/28/22

According to The American School for the Death “Sensory rooms can improve learning through occupational therapy (OT)… their visual, auditory, tactile processing, and gross motor skills. Likewise, sensory rooms offer a feeling of calm, and comfort, while helping children to learn how to self-regulate their behaviors, which ultimately improves focus.”

Nevertheless, much thought and other supportive professionals should be involved in creating a space that is safer, beneficial, and creative. Therefore, providing safe spaces for children with autism is not as easy as it may appear because a lot of factors are considered when a child or individual is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).


What is ASD

“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Some people with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition.

Other causes are not yet known. Scientists believe there are multiple causes of ASD that act together to change the most common ways people develop.

We still have much to learn about these causes and how they impact people with ASD.” Says, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Individuals with ASD may behave, communicate, interact, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.

However, there is often nothing about how they look that sets them apart from other people. But their abilities can vary considerably because some may have advanced conversational skills… and others are nonverbal. Likewise, Individuals with ASD may need a lot of assistance in their daily lives; while others can work and live with little to no support.”


Tailored for the Autism child

Each person on the autism spectrum is different and unique, then their space should also be different and unique. It should be tailored to accommodate their social and emotional abilities and disabilities.

Nevertheless, many sensory rooms today do a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere that is beautiful and engaging to the senses. But children with autism don’t spend most of their days in that type of environment. Most are at home, in school, or in ABA clinics. So having an autism-friendly space in these places are also important.


Small Details with Huge Impact

There are other things to consider when planning a creative space for individuals that have autism spectrum disorder such as personality, individual needs, and true relationships.

So, in the remainder of this blog, I will focus on these three things to think about when preparing spaces for young and older children on the spectrum.


The Personality of a Child with Autism

For over two decades, I have worked with individuals on the spectrum, and one of the things that stood out the most to me was their personality! Every student and client that I had in my care had a very distinctive character.

It didn’t matter if the individuals were verbal or nonverbal because their unique spirit was very apparent.

Some were bubbly, big on hugs or high fives, and wanted me to engage in play with them most of the day. While others didn’t like touches but still wanted genuine conversations and enjoyed making others laugh or seeking attention.

It was these day-to-day interactions with these unique and intelligent individuals that made me see them as individuals before their learning or cognitive disability. Therefore, in creating a space for a young or older child, you should try to incorporate their unique personality. Their space should reflect them.


The Individual Needs of Autism

Besides their personality, the second thing to consider is the individual needs in an autism-friendly space. Finding and incorporating items that will support their growth in their environment can help them to flourish for years to come.

Knowing and understanding an individual's specific needs on the spectrum is crucial when creating a sensory space for them because not all items used will work for every child on the spectrum.

Some of the children on the spectrum don’t like a lot of fluff and stuff. While others may gravitate to flashing lights and different sounds. So, understanding their specific needs is essential in designing that creative space.

Therefore, be intentional about the items selected that will support their overall progress. One size fit all is not the rule when creating an autism-friendly space.


Relationship Between a Child on the Spectrum and the Caregiver

And the last thing that I will mention is building a true relationship with individuals on the spectrum.

Creating interior spaces that can best support someone on the spectrum is developing genuine relationships. This may not seem to matter when creating friendly spaces, but if one is developed it can help that child thrive in their space because they will know that their autism interior room was crafted with love.

Most of the children I’ve worked with as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) had amazing results while in my care. They understood my love and respect for them, and I understood theirs.

So, it was kind of easy to incorporate things into their environment that they weren’t familiar with seeing after a relationship was established. So, build that trust before you build that space.

The days of old had decorators who created spaces that were filled with all vibrant colors and as many materials that could fit in one space.

However, a properly designed sensory room is a wonderful addition to any commercial facility that provides services to those who have Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder.

But creating spaces that will help parents and caregivers while these individuals are at home is just as important.

But of course, the home doesn’t have to look exactly like the ones you may find online. However, incorporating these few things mentioned earlier into your home can make all the difference.


So, the next time you decide to create a space, consider a child’s unique character, use supportive items, and build those connections that will help them thrive in their new space.

Besides, who doesn’t want a tailored interior space just for them, where they can be themselves, flourish and have fun!


Vanessa is a native of New York City but later moved her family to Fort Wayne IN. She has a passion for interior design and a greater passion for seeing children/individuals on the Autism spectrum succeed, attain goals, and thrive. She was a former preschool teacher for over twenty years, earned her Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education, was a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), went to college for Interior Design, and has worked with many children with autism while working at Head Start, Elementary school and ABA clinics. She likes to read and go on scavenger hunts for unique things with her husband.


bottom of page