The space you live in changes how you live, how happy you are and how you communicate with those around you. Feng Shui, Space Clearing and the notion of Spring cleaning all revolve around the idea that we react to our living space and feel better when it is organized, harmonious and beautiful.
These concepts apply to children on the autism spectrum as well. They may arguably apply to children on the autism spectrum more than to others, as children with autism are more sensitive to their environments, pay more attention to small details and focus more intently most of the day than the rest of us.
Research has been done on the impact of living space on the communication in couples and between parents and their children. Homes that are cleaner, brighter and with fewer distractions (non-stop TV noise, constant access to Nintendo, iPads, etc.) promote communication and happier relationships.
Children on the autism spectrum have a harder time learning to communicate than their typically developing peers. It is important to consider how your home is organized when living with a child on the autism spectrum. Families are already planning how to keep their homes safe for children who may have a tendency to climb, open windows and throw items. It is also important to consider how you set up, organize, decorate, and maintain your space will help or hinder your child’s acquisition of language and willingness to use it with you and the rest of your family.
Some basic beginning tips:
- Clear your home of clutter.
- Keep your space clean. Some children with autism have weaker immune systems and are prone to getting sick.
- Do not use harsh cleansers and chemical-filled containers to store foods and toys for your child. Use natural alternatives.
- Keep your child’s most reinforcing items out of reach so that he must ask you for what he wants.
- Organize your fridge so that your child can see what he wants but cannot obtain it without your help. Create a situation where he needs to ask you. You can use clear boxes with lids that are also labelled with photographs on the outside.
- Keep photos of everything your child interacts with throughout the day. Use these photos to help your child request and label items every chance you get.
- Limit TV, iPad and computer to certain times in the day. When your child is engaged in these activities make sure you are going the extra mile to make them as interactive as possible. (For example, there are some great and interactive iPad games available now for children on the autism spectrum that can promote interaction rather than hinder it.)
- Use a visual schedule and visual contracts to help your child organize his home life and communicate with you.
- Decorate your space with items and images that have special meaning for you child and will encourage him to comment and share information with you.
Alix Strickland’s book, Organize It for Autism, is available through her Etsy shop, Alix’s Learning Nest, at https://www.etsy.com/shop/AlixsLearningNest.