With families spending so much more time at home, finding ways to extend the therapeutic setting to the living space could benefit a child with autism, according to Andrew Beveridge, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist with Gateway Pediatric Therapy in Bingham Farms, one of 10 Gateway locations in Michigan.
“Families who would traditionally have speech therapy, OT and ABA in the clinic are now opting to have services in the home, so it makes sense to bring into the home some of the environmental benefits offered in the clinic,” Beveridge says. “Whether parents are designing a child’s room, a playroom or the whole house, they can keep some basics in mind that will help kids with autism to be more successful at home.”
Parents don’t have to be professional interior designers to be mindful of adapting spaces in the home in ways that promote development and regulation, particularly their child’s emotional state. Here, we share Beveridge’s expert suggestions.
Surfaces to stimulate or calm
Flooring in your home can be the perfect medium for multisensory experiences. One easy way to create a therapeutic space is to incorporate area rugs or carpet and foam floor mats. “This gives children different tactile inputs for walking and crawling, and soft flooring is acoustically beneficial,” Beveridge says. Because children learn about their environment through touch, varying the textures on the floor provides opportunities for discovery.
The choice of wall color can have an effect on mood and sensory response, so paying attention to paint choices is an easy way parents can create a therapeutic environment. “This is something people don’t necessarily think about,” Beveridge says. “Very bright colors can be overwhelming to some kids, so opt for cooler or more muted tones rather than bright oranges, reds or yellows.” Wall paints are easy to update if something isn’t working, too.
Textures provide tactile input
When selecting materials for the home, Beveridge recommends incorporating a variety of textures. “In OT, we expose kids to rough, smooth, rigid and bumpy textures through a sensory board to help kids broaden their tolerance,” he says. Parents can be mindful of textures when selecting tables, chairs and soft furnishing options.
Families can create a place in the home to store sensory bins if this is important to their child’s therapy. “Fill a bin with sand and put in marbles and small toys for your child to find,” Beveridge says. “Design a bin with slimy textures and have it in your home in a play area or outside. This is quick and cost-effective.”
Parents should take note of sensations their child actively avoids and collaborate with their child’s therapists to increase exposure, Beveridge says. “Helping your child be more functional now and in the future is important and there will be a time when they may have to touch a rough surface.”
Objects can be motivating
The most popular choices to have at home are trampolines, beanbag chairs, yoga balls, crash pads and sensory swings, Beveridge says. “These are fun and motivating objects, but they also help develop motor skills and sensory skills. When used correctly, they can give the child the opportunity to get sensory input at home.”
Finally, Beveridge suggests being mindful of clutter. “For kids on the autism spectrum, clutter can disrupt daily routines,” he says.
“Making sure objects in the home can be used repeatedly is easier if they are returned to their spot. Kids will love to help with this because it’s part of the routine and they will be motivated because it means they can find their favorite toys the next day.”
Gateway Pediatric Therapy offers best-in-class ABA therapy services at 10 locations in Michigan. Visit gatewaypediatrictherapy.com.