You may remember seeing the tour that we featured of Rachel Edmonds deliciously dark and moody family home? Well, Rachel touched at the end of her interview on how she had designed her home to benefit her autistic sons, so we asked her to do a guest post for us to expand on the subject. Rachel will not only share her interior design ideas to benefit your autistic child, but also explain how this is relevant to you, even if you don’t have a family member with the condition.
Were you aware that we have seven senses? Most of us are familiar with the standard five, 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. I have three sons, two of whom are autistic and my main aim when designing our home is to make it a comfortable safe environment for us all. 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, 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.
So, I’m going to share some tips and inspiration from myself and some fellow autism mums, to help you come up with some interior design ideas to benefit your autistic child.
Photo by: @melanielissackinteriors
Interior design blogger, Melanie Lissack’s home is full of colour, pattern and texture, she told us, ‘’My son Jaxon has a form of autism which means he is under sensitive. One thing that I have learnt is that autism comes in all many different forms! The challenges he faces is that he has no concept of being hot or cold, or being wet to dry. To really feel things he needs stimulation like deep massage, big firm cuddles and he loves to be wrapped in blankets or drowned in cushions! I have therefore filled his bedroom with soft spongy items. This star cushion lights up in the dark providing that extra layer of sensory stimulation. While this square duck cushion (a gift from Japan) is a fun cushion to have in a bedroom of a small child!’’
Photo by: The_arched_windows
Interior instagrammer, Sharon’s home is wonderfully dark and tonal with lots of natural wood and greenery. Her front room she says, ‘’Mostly gets used by my autistic daughter. She uses it for time out and as she hates too many cushions they don’t feature too much in this room but she loves the dark and has used the room way more since I moved to the dark side. I think it makes her feel enveloped and secure.’’
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 but what if your day was spent being bombarded with so much sensory information that you can’t cope? Or not enough so 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. 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.
Photo by: @artynads
Nadia Alessandra is an interior stylist and influencer and her home is a wonderful melting pot of dark inky colours with flashes of gold and stunning artwork, she says, ‘’When buying a house our first priority is always Isaac. And with Isaac comes autism. Isaac’s autism means he doesn’t sleep well and he wakes in the night and can be quite vocal and so when we viewed our home we saw that the forth bedroom was an extension built in the 1970’s and so was at the end of the house and further away from the other rooms. We instantly knew this would be a plus for us as we might have a chance of not being woken in the night by Isaacs noise. Another thing that was handy for us was the addition of a downstairs toilet and shower room. This instantly made life easier for Isaac with no stairs to tackle during the day.’’
So, I got to thinking, if I could help balance up the hyper and hypo sensitivities then my boys could 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 the crappy day and see our anxieties melt away.
Photo by: @melanielissackinteriors
Lighting is so important to sooth or stimulate, Melanie mentions, ‘’This disco light bulb transfixes Jaxon in the evening with its primary colours that turn around the room. To be honest I don’t think your child needs to be autistic to enjoy a disco light bulb – I enjoy it myself! It is a simple screw bulb that fits into any standard light fitting.’’
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. It’s important to list both loves and hates.
1. Sound – 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?
2. Touch – 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?
3. Sight – 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?
4. Smell – 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?
5. 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? Do they prefer sitting or lying down?
Photo by: The_arched_windows
This is Lucie’s bedroom, and Sharon tells us, ‘’You have to get all your styling features in the essentials as she hates clutter in her room, so a statement duvet and a feature wall that isn’t too fussy. She strips her room every night of sheets duvet etc, so keeping it simple but stylish is essential.’’
The idea is to take the elements that you love or you know your child will like and that will provide the stimulus or relaxation that they need; the colours, textures and smells. 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. Not only will it feel like you, it will help to reduce anxiety levels too.
Photo by: @artynads
Nadia tells us, ‘’We’re currently looking at kitchens and without knowing it we found ourselves with the kitchen designer saying to each other ‘all drawers would be good rather than cupboards’ this is to help Isaac. One of Isaacs jobs when he comes in from college and part of his strict routine is to empty the dishwasher. Just the small act of putting the pots and pans away can become a struggle with a person with less flexibility. As much as we don’t define ourselves with the label autism we can’t deny it impacts every part of our lives, in our love of interiors. Yet, that doesn’t stop us from having a beautiful home.’’
I hope you’ve found some of the tips and ideas here useful? Did anything strike a chord with you? Hopefully you can see that even with some minor adjustments, specifically tailored to your child, the way you design your home really can be of benefit.
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