Are you aware that we have seven senses? Most of us are familiar with the standard five of touch, hearing, sight, smell and taste. The two lesser known senses are movement (the vestibular System) and body awareness (the proprioceptive system). Well, what’s this got to do with interiors I hear you ask? Well, I have three sons, two of whom are autistic and my main aim when designing our home was to make it a comfortable environment for us all. So I thought you might find it interesting to see how I approach interior design for the autistic home.
People on the autistic spectrum often suffer with anxiety. And with this in mind it’s important that the home is decorated to reduce this. Autism is a sensory disorder that affects the way the brain processes sensory input which in turn causes those affected to suffer severe anxiety. Designing your interiors to suit the sensory needs of your child not only reduces anxiety but can improve communication too. You might be asking yourself why am I telling you this? Or what’s this got to do with me and my home? The thing is that we all get anxious at times and creating a home that relaxes us can only be a good thing whether we are on the spectrum or not.
Autism is classified as a triad of impairments affecting social communication, social interaction and social imagination. As a result people on the spectrum tend to suffer from anxiety. I’m no doctor; just a mum who cares about her children but here’s my theory on why. We all have a sound we don’t like (nails down a blackboard) or something that makes us squirm or judder when we touch it (for me its cotton wool). I am what would be termed as hypersensitive to these things. At the other end of the spectrum you find things that make us tired, we go to sleep or zone out and this is hypo sensitivity.
We all have our own little idiosyncrasies don’t we but what if your day was spent being bombarded with so much sensory information that you can’t cope? Or not enough that your senses are dulled? When one of my sons has a meltdown I know that it’s a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back. The meltdown hasn’t just come from nowhere. They have taken on more stimulus than they can cope with and boom. It has to be released! On the flip side they can just disappear into their own little world when they are under stimulated.
So, I got to thinking. What if I could help balance up the hyper and hypo sensitivities in our socially awkward home. Would my boys begin to plateau out somewhere in the middle? I knew I couldn’t protect them from the outside world. When you’re out and about you’re not only influenced by your environment but the people in it too. But here, at home, perhaps I could make small changes to reduce the anxiety levels. I’m probably now at the point where I should mention that everyone is on the autistic spectrum. It’s a sliding scale, all of us have traits and if we think of our interiors from a sensory perspective it can only be a good thing for all of us. We can balance out a crappy day and see our anxieties melt away as we walk through our front door and enter our oasis.
So we know that sensory input can become overwhelming but how do we use our homes to level us out? Grab a pen and paper and I’ll take you through the first step of my design process. Before I even think of a colour for a room, a style or create a mood board I go through the following checklist. As you read through please jot a few things down that come to mind for you personally. I’d love to hear if this works for you too. By the way, it’s important to list both loves and hates.
Interior Design For The Autistic Home Checklist
Is the room I’m creating for someone who loves music? If so, what sort? Do they prefer silence? What sounds do they like? Are there some that they hate?
Does the person/child like soft silky fabrics, plush heavy fabrics, crisp cottons or coarse textures? We can normally get this information just by looking at the clothes that we feel most comfortable in. Or the handshake that we give? Do you offer a firm handshake or a light touch?
Do you feel most relaxed around vibrant colours? Neutrals? Light or Dark? What colours do you love? Again, your wardrobe will help out here. What colours make you want to scream? Also, pattern, do you like patterns or do you prefer blocks of colour?
Now this is the most powerful of the senses with the ability to trigger distant memories both happy and sad. It can make or break an interior. What are your favourite fragrances? Which aromas transport you to happy memories? Equally are there some that just set you on edge?
Proprioceptive and Vestibular
Is the person clumsy, do they need lots of space? Or do they like to feel more comfortable when surrounded by things? Perhaps they prefer sitting to lying down? Or vice versa.
The idea is to take the elements that you love or you know your child will love. Things that will provide the stimulus or relaxation that they need; the smells, textures and colours. From there you can create a mood board for a perfectly balanced interior. Combining elements from your list will transform a room into a place that you feel totally at home in. Because not only will it feel like you, it will help to reduce anxiety levels too. And these principles of interior design don’t just apply to the autistic home. We can also all use them in our own homes.
So what do you think about the concept of interior design for the autistic home? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please do leave a comment below. Is this something you already do and if not does it appeal to you? How about it, will you give it a try with your next room makeover? Or perhaps you could use it just to give a room a tweak here or there. Take a peek at my latest designs for youngest RFW’s bedroom if you have a mo too, I’d love to hear your thoughts.