15 Tips For An Autism Friendly Home
Anyone that is raising, or has raised a child with autism understands that life becomes a series of tasks and uncontrollable situations that must be endured. What we also learn is that finding a strategy that works for your family provides sustainability to the home. The parent and child both require the right tools and methods to get through the day. What I’m setting out on this page is what I’ve learned to be useful over the years. It’s a blend of technology, toys, equipment, and strategy that keep my home set up to raise my autistic son in a way that allows him the space that he needs, while providing me the tools to keep him safe and happy. Relatively happy, anyways. After all, he is a teenage boy, and all dad’s are idiots when a boy is that age- autistic or not.
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Item #1: Wireless Cameras
The first item for an autism friendly home is a wireless camera system. Don’t let the idea intimidate ya. Cameras are so simple to set up today that it’s essentially the same as installing an app on your smartphone. You can find them on Amazon for around $25 each, and I would suggest at least two for the average home. One camera for their bedroom, and one to cover the path to the door. Personally, I’ve had no problems with the camera below, and- it was the lowest cost one I could find with the features I needed. This is especially true when I consider how much work these suckers save me every single day.
In the case of an parent to autism, a wireless camera is another set of legs more than a home security device. Cameras help ease the heart after you hear a thud while you’re making dinner. It’s the safeguard that helps you keeps an eye on your little one when you want to do something as simple as use the bathroom. Additionally, cameras are an excellent training tool for monitoring your autistic child who won’t stay in bed at night.
The camera you choose doesn’t need to save a recording. There’s simply no need for hours of footage to be left hanging around. Instead, wireless cameras can be used for reserving strength, endurance, sanity, and peace of mind.
Under NO circumstances should a child be left unattended. The description above assumes that the cameras will be used for active monitoring while the parent is still within a reasonable distance to react if their child needs help.
I’m sorry that needs to be said, but- some people, ya know!?
Item #2: Door Alarms / Chime
The second item is yet another piece of low cost technology. These are wireless door alarms that install with absolutely zero tools required. These little devices are for when your little one makes it past the cameras, adults, and maybe even the family dog. There’s no subscription plan, they’re just magnets with sensors.
Since I’ve had them a while, my son has actually begun to respond to the chime all by itself. When he starts opening the door, he knows that I can hear the alarm. He also knows that I’m always close by, so he turns and heads back to his room, or maybe to taunt me from the couch- as if to say… “Leave the room again, dad! I dare ya.”
Regardless of whether my son stops from the sound of the chime- or not, I get a fair warning if the door opens. This is yet another set of legs to assist the parent throughout your day.
Item #3: Foam Tiles
I used to live in a house with a concrete slab for the foundation. As a result, even with the carpet and padding, changing my son wasn’t the best on my knees. Additionally the cement floors weren’t good for how clumsy my son can be, let alone how intense his tantrums can become. The solution then, and now (even in a house with wood floors), is to line his room with foam tiles. If he falls off his bed, or I have to wipe his butt, there is a good amount of cushion that can take a lot of the pain out of the situation.
These aren’t exactly the cheapest thing to purchase, but they aren’t really all that expensive either(around $20 per 16 sq. ft.). When you consider the cost of traditional flooring, these tiles are actually pretty cheap. The pads come in many colors, and for you fancy folks out there, they even make wood grain tiles that don’t look half bad. They are the same price- just a little thinner.
These mats protect your child from the falls, and your body from the years of getting down to change diapers. It’s a simple solution that can be installed by virtually anyone. Plus- everything cleans up well on these things! And I mean everything!
Item #4: Communication Devices
With nonverbal children, it can become easy to see communication as something that can be ignored. Nothing can be further from the truth. Regardless of whether or not the child can speak, they likely understand what is being said around them. Your goal as the parent is to bring them into that world of communication and sharing as best you can.
A great tool for this is PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). You can visually line up your day, in any order that fits your schedule, and then communicate tasks as they are being completed. You can do this while also addressing the activities that need to completed next. This method opens the door to the idea that communication is a tool for the parent, and the child.
Though these tools are typically used with children who are nonverbal, there is a lot of benefit to using this tool with any autistic child; verbal or not. Look at it as a road map for the day. A map that promotes, and forces, communication to take place. If you can break the communication barrier with an autistic child- your whole life can change as a family. That is in no way an overstatement. Drive that home at all cost in your situation, and never give up on pushing communication.
Item #5: Command Center
Getting a autistic child to bed can be quite the challenging task for many parents. This is because the child will continuously get out of bed, and make their way back to the living room multiple times. This will happen each and every night. Along with the need for a wireless camera (Item #1 on this list), I have found creating a command center helps that little bit more in this situation. For those of you who are wondering what a command center is, it’s simple; pick a central location to monitor your child’s traffic during the day, and especially at night.
My children and I, have lived in a few different houses over the years as a result of many things. I’ve learned that each home we live in has to have a couple things present to be suitable for my son with autism. The house must be located in a neighborhood away from busy roads, and I need to be able to establish a place to sit that’s between my son, and all doors and refrigerators. I need a command center location, basically.
The couch can be a bit more work than it’s worth when you factor in getting up and down repeatedly at bedtime. This is because the couch is a little low, and I’m– not. I’m a big guy with a long ways to go each time I stand up. To save the life of my joints, and cut the distance in half, I set up my battle station at my table each night at bedtime. I sit in a chair that is about the height of a bar stool, and have an area where I can work on my computer in relative comfort.
I no longer have to “get up”- I simply step down from my chair and deal with whatever the night brings. Previously, I spent years standing by my son’s door. All to catch him the very second he got of bed. The problem is that I couldn’t walk away, and bedtime kinda comes after the long day of keeping up with life in the first place. Slowly but surely, the command center was developed in my home.
It’s essential to your health, patience, and state of mind that you make difficult situations better wherever you can. My little command center does so much more than relieve my knees. With a station all set up- I can catch up on all the work that I missed out on throughout the day. The command center becomes the piggy bank of time that can be useful for catching up most nights. When I am trying to work, and my son interrupts all day, I can remain patient a little easier when I know that I will have 1-2 hours to catch up at night.
For me, it takes the stress and urgency out of the situation when my son is constantly interrupting and/or preventing anything productive from happening. I’ll simply catch up later. Sure, some nights I don’t even get enough time to catch up, but raising autistic children doesn’t come with solutions so much as work arounds that make life tenable.
Plan your home to match your needs during the day and night. Establish seating areas, and bedrooms based on the where you can be in relation to your child and the exit. It saves a lot of energy and time.
Item #6: A Sensory Safe Zone
Children with autism have sensory overloads. This is one of the few commonly known aspects of autism, and requires some special considerations for the sake of the child and home. The consideration is for space. There needs to be a “safe space” of sorts in which the child can retreat when the world becomes too busy or overwhelming. It can be their bedroom, or a corner of the house they seem to run to when they’re searching for comfort.
The point is that the parent shouldn’t want to force the child back to the living area during a tantrum or meltdown. Regardless of the reason for the tantrum, autistic children frequently need a place they can go to be alone. In my opinion, the world is so confusing to an autistic child that they need to be able to go somewhere where they feel in control- and therefore comforted. A room all to themselves gives them that control, and eventually the comfort to walk the meltdown back down to reality.
Item #7: Dimmable Lighting
This tip is primarily intended for the child’s bedroom, but can be useful throughout the house depending on your situation. If you know what you’re doing dimmer switches and bulbs are a pretty cheap thing to install. Dimmer switches are readily available at the hardware store and online as are the bulbs. Of course, if you don’t know anything about electrical work- don’t touch anything, and hire a professional to swap out the switches.
The point of dimmers in the child’s room, is to assist with a few issues. If your child is sensitive to bright lights, then you can simply adjust the light down to suit their needs. It’s an easy fix that provides a massive improvement to the child’s life. The other situation is for bedtime. I treat bedtime as a process. The dimmer lights are the core of that process:
- Hour 1 – Lights are on at roughly 50% of their full brightness. I start this after his bath at night, and about two hours before I actually need him to be asleep.
- Hour 1.25 – Lighting goes to about 25% of their full brightness. I take his tablet and give him a book.
- Hour 1.75 – I turn his light off, and get the book from him.
- Hour (who the hell the knows) – He stops getting up, and goes to sleep.
This simple process slowly walks my son down at night. He still gets up, and I still have to walk him to his room, but everything is calm. I don’t think I can knock out the need he has to get up and say hello at night. I wish I could say different, but that wouldn’t be honest. However, being calm and in a chill mood makes him much more receptive to returning to his room.
I used to put up Christmas lights, but those aren’t very easy to dust. The dimmer switches allow me to use his lighting to kind of calm him down in the background for better rest without creating a net for cobwebs.
Item #8: Projection Nightlight
This one may or may not apply to everyone, but my son’s room get’s super dark at night. Once I have worked through the dimmer routine, I know he is likely to get up. In addition to having autism, my son only has one eye. Since he is nonverbal, he can’t tell me how well he can see- or not. All things considered, I figure it is worth it to give him a chance at seeing the furniture and such when he does get up. Sure, he shouldn’t be getting out of bed … couldn’t agree more! However, raising an autistic child isn’t about what is supposed to happen, now is it? Mine as well make it safe for everyone involved. A kid with my son’s conditions can turn a simple broken toe into a very large production I’m sure. Either way, I don’t want to find out.
Pop the little projection night light in the plug, and shine it one the ceiling. The lighting will be much dimmer than you think, while still lighting the objects in the room well enough to make out a path to the door without running into everything.
Item #9: Safety Corners
Typical homes tend to be filled with sharp edges, and blunt corners. Using corner guards can provide some added safety during the tantrums and outbursts. Honestly, your decor over the years will hopefully become one based on rounded corners and tantrum friendly furniture. However, not everyone is made of money, and furniture isn’t cheap. Best to plan on having some corners in the home one way or another.
There are little gel based corner pads that work really well at taking impact, and staying glued to the furniture (The glue doesn’t harm the furniture). Additionally, there are foam strips which can be used on the window sills in your child’s bedroom. Whatever you choose to use, be sure to cover the hard corners in the home, and be prepared for the meltdown when it comes.
It is worth pointing out that children can still hurt themselves even if they hit the padded corner. It’s a matter of how hard they hit their head, and ultimately how big they are. My son isn’t too far from being 15, and growing tall like his dad- a padded corner isn’t going to help like it did when he was still a little guy.
Item #10: Effective Fire Plan
An emergency fire route is need in any home. It would be just as true to say that most families don’t have a plan for what to do in the case of a fire. With an autistic child there are a lot of variables at play here. There could be siblings who become worried about their autistic brother or sister, the lack of visibility, smoke, fire, and you know- death. Lots of things, really. When you have a child that doesn’t understand self preservation, let alone other children in the home that will panic, you need a plan. Not some generic- “let’s meet here” deal either. You need a rehearsal, and a reminder here and there, of what the other children in the home should expect to do in any emergency.
Plan the following:
- Who is responsible for who – the answer is easy. Children get outside, and the adults use their judgement as things happen.
- Where do you exit from each part of the house?– Do you use the window, go for the front door, or do you head to the back door? Etc.
- Where will you meet?– Front yard? Neighbors House? Joe’s Diner?
- Who can the children call if no one else makes it out of the house, or if they become lost? –Neighbor? Police? Etc.
Have a plan, not only for fires, but emergencies, injuries, and even meltdowns.
Item #11: Primary Home Phone
I rely on my cell phone as my primary phone number since about 2008. I never saw the need for a home phone, when I could remember one number, and have it with me anywhere I go. However, when my son began needing babysitters, and I couldn’t rely on them having a phone charged, it was well worth getting a home phone. I use voice over internet, and pay less than $40 for the whole year.
If someone gets hurt, or if the babysitter loses their phone, I can still be reached, and they can still call 911. For instance, many children with autism are prone to seizures, and it pays to have a phone in the home that everyone can locate if a seizure should occur. This is easily overlooked when a person has to consider what bills they can afford to pay, however, at $40 a year it’s a no brainer to have a phone that works when everyone’s cell phone is out of reach, or dead.
Item #12: Drawer & Cupboard Locks
Drawers and cupboards hold lots of fragile, and potentially dangerous objects. Then there are the absolutely deadly objects such as knives, and silverware. It may sound like a big deal, or maybe even irritating, but parents with autistic children need to get some child proof locks. Keep chemicals, knives, tools, and anything else that could be potential dangerous locked up and away from your autistic child.
Many individuals with autism have no self preservation skills, and simply don’t understand that something can hurt them- until it does. Plan for this, and spend the cheap money on locking up the dangers in the home. You’ll get used to the extra steps for getting what you need, and everyone stays safe. Simple, yet effective.
Item #13: Key Lock Box
“Autistic Teen Steals Car, and Runs Off The Road” – Seen that headline, and a couple like it this year alone. Autistic children, even the low functioning individuals, pay attention to processes more than we may realize. For instance, my son knows that the keys start the car, and I know this because he points at the lock box I use when he wants to go somewhere.
It is imperative for your child’s safety, that you treat objects like car keys the same as you would a knife or gun. If not, you may find out one day that your child does in fact understand how to get the car started- and moving. The dangers of which speak for themselves. Plus, there’s the alternative possibility that they get the keys, and lock themselves in the car on a hot day. Lots to go wrong from some car keys. That’s why I lock them up, or have them right in my pocket. One or the other.
Item #14: Door Placard
Let people know what’s up. Put a placard on your door, or even on a window by the door. These stickers will make it look like you have adopted the habits of vegans, and just wanna tell the world about your child being autistic, even when no one asked. However, you have to forfeit looking fully sensible, and get a door placard. What this really does for you, is make emergency personnel aware of what’s on the other side of the door. It’s one of those things where, regardless of how it may feel to admit it- people need to be warned about autistic children in the house. For everyone’s safety.
This is important should they need to come in all of the sudden, and your autistic child is possibly aggressive- or non-compliant. In the event of a fire, or medical emergency, they need to know that someone may be in the house that can’t care for themselves, or is possibly going to attack them out of fear. These things have to be addressed for everyone’s benefit. Luckily this is on item that only require a sticker on the door.
Item #15: Sensory Tools – Distractions
Autistic children require toys and equipment. All children should definitely have toys, and things of that nature to spark their imagination. However, with autistic children it is a matter of fun- yes, but also function. Sensory toys, chewers, and special needs equipment are essential to the home with an autistic child. Chewers are a cheap device that is meant to be chewed, and therefore saves you loads of shirts, dolls, and other “chewable” objects your child may find.
In addition to chewers, there are weighted blankets, bouncy chairs, text to speech devices, and so much more. I don’t want to mislead anyone. Parents don’t have to go out and buy each and every tool and toy out there. In fact, you shouldn’t buy more than one or two things at a time as children with autism typically can’t take a ton of “new” all at once. Secondly, you should never pay top dollar before trying cheaper methods beforehand. For instance, with text to speech, there is a tremendous amount of value in buying the top quality devices that let you fully personalize the phrases and so forth. However, that value isn’t real for you if your child doesn’t use it correctly if not at all.
Find the Alternatives Where You Can
For my son, I use cheap Leap Frog toys, and follow along with what he spells. It’s more difficult because I need to hear each letter, and he spells quite fast. However, if I give him a text to speech device, or app on his tablet, he thinks it’s a toy and won’t use it for communication. Therefore, I end up with hundreds of dollars worth of “toys” that serve little purpose other than saying “chicken nuggets” a hundred times in a row. So, I stick with the cheap scribble and write toy.
Find things that are affordable, and functional in your child’s life. I can glance at some equipment, and I absolutely know that it won’t work for my son- right away. For instance, he isn’t suddenly going to like something around his neck, or care about weighted blankets. That stuff works for so many of his class mates over the years, but is a total waste for him. So, I don’t buy weighted blankets. Simple enough.
But- for the stuff that I think “might” work for my son, I start out cheap, and find options that don’t involve me parting ways with any of my money- if I can get away with it. Look around and see what you find. See what you can make at home such as the communication cards. Whatever you do, don’t throw money at it. You’ll just have lots of awkward toys and equipment that no one uses.
Making a home autistic friendly is a lot of work- at first. In my opinion, that work in the younger years provides the structure you’ll need once they’re bigger. It’s a good span of time to test out what does and doesn’t work for your child, before they’re big enough to cause serious damage or injury. The core of everything is being open minded, and truly supportive of the child’s needs. There’s no list of tips that can be made for that. It’s your child- you simply have to figure out how to love and protect ’em as best you can. The focus points that make up this list are what keep me on track, or provide me with a safety net for the times when something — or someone, slips past me. Hopefully you’ll be able to use this list, and adapt it to your situation.
Good luck out there!