When I designed the apartment in my home, I considered two things: autism-friendly home modifications and sensory-friendly spaces. I have rented the apartment, fully furnished for both short and long-term rental. Due to my dedication to sensory-friendly living, I wanted to ensure that I designed a living space for autistic persons. Additionally, I wanted to provide a space for anyone with a sensory disorder or for people who experience sensory sensitivity and/or sensory overload. You have likely seen a lot of examples of sensory rooms for children. However, I have not found any examples of sensory-friendly living spaces or autism-friendly home modifications for adults. So I decided to share the case right from my home!
To create a sensory-friendly living space, pay attention to each of the eight senses. You can flip through photos of the apartment at the end.
Lighting is important. It is important to consider autism-friendly lighting and autism-friendly colours. In general, autism-friendly lighting avoids fluorescent lights and it includes adjustability. You can see examples of this in each room where there are both overhead lights and a floor or table lamp. It is important to offer different levels of brightness and adjustability. Each room also has access to natural light. I designed the orientation of the house to maximize natural light in the bedrooms in the morning and the combined kitchen, living room, and dining area throughout the afternoon into the evening.
In the toilet, an opaque window covering is over the window. In the bedroom and office, horizontal blinds offer multiple options to adjust light levels. Also, the electric fireplace offers another option altogether as a light source.
Many people wonder which colours are suitable for autism. I kept the space feeling light and airy and chose white. In contrast, there are light oak cabinets for warmth. Finally, the floor is a medium-dark grey-brown.
In autistic home decorating, less is more. You will notice that while there is décor in each room, there is also a lot of white space on purpose.
A sensory-friendly apartment, including an autism-friendly home, needs to pay close attention to the noise. In designing living space for autism, consider noise dampening and noise reduction. For instance, I had the builder add in additional noise proofing between the first and second floors. The apartment is in the basement, so this was critical.
Furthermore, in creating and autism-friendly environment, the bedrooms were designed so the closets are between them. That provides a little extra sound buffer. Finally, the stackable washer and dryer are also in a closet to help minimize noise.
Creating a sensory-friendly home includes thinking about taste and not the decorating kind! I added an extra water filter to the water system to filter out any flavor of the water.
When planning for sensory-friendly home modifications for autism; include the sense of touch. In this instance, it comprises the temperature too. The apartment has electric baseboard heating. So I added an electric fireplace with a fan for another heat option. It is a basement apartment that stays mostly cool in the summer. Nonetheless, fans were made available, as well as two dehumidifiers.
There are a few pillows on the couch and bed, they can be used, or not. Giving greater choice for guests.
Incorporate autism-friendly interior design with access to fresh air and the outdoors. For example, keeping the windows open to provide fresh airflow. Additionally, the backyard is sensory-rich as it borders on a little wood. However, I chose not to include a lot of yard furniture or outdoor décor to provide balance and make it sensory-friendly. As well, you will note that the backyard is stamped concrete and not grass so there is a less rich sensory-experience on your feet.
In making your home autism-friendly, pay attention to scents and aromas. I use mostly scent-free cleaning supplies and scent-free laundry detergent. Moreover, I don’t use fabric softeners. Instead, I use dryer balls and add vinegar to the rinse cycle, which adds no odour.
The ventilation system of the apartment is shared with the house. It runs independently but can be turned up by a button on the wall.
You will see that I also followed minimalism in an approach for autistic people. Or, for that matter any guest who seeks sensory-friendly and wants to avoid sensory overload. The goal was for a “just-right” amount of furniture and décor in each room for function. This was to prevent clutter and a distracting space.
Further to the autism-friendly housing design, there is an office/den in the two-bedroom apartment. This area provides additional private space where someone can sit. Alternatively, with enough space to engage in various forms of physical activity such as yoga. I ensured there were two extra closets outside of the bedroom and a lot of cabinetry in the kitchen. Autism design guidelines should include adequate storage to reduce clutter, allow for clear pathways and movement throughout the space.
Finally, there is a large, flat surface in the backyard to allow for greater outdoor movement.
It is a basement apartment, so there are stairs down to it. As part of home modification, including home modifications for autism, I added a handrail. Also, there a red mat at the bottom to provide contrast at the landing and interior entrance to the apartment. Your sense of vision and your sense of balance are strongly linked.
Interoception is your sense of your internal body and how you feel internally. This includes sensations such as hunger, thirst, and the urge to use the toilet. It is important to consider interception in autism home design. For example, the apartment was designed so that the washer and dryer were separate from the toilet. When combined, the toilet is more likely to be occupied with someone doing laundry.
Remember: a sensory-friendly home follows 8 senses
When choosing an interior design for autism, sensory disorder, sensory sensitivity, or sensory overload, remember the eight senses. I hope my sensory-friendly apartment has given you an excellent example of an autism-friendly home environment for adults — moreover, a sensory-friendly design for anyone who seeks it. Additionally, consider checking out this research, “Toward an Autism-Friendly Home Environment” by Nagib et al., (2017) discussing sensory-rich barriers for people with autism and ways to make your space more sensory-friendly 1.
The décor is primarily from IKEA and TUCK Studio. Photos by Kelly Lawson Photography.
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Christel Seeberger has worked in health care for 30 years, including helping people with sensory sensitivity who experience sensory overload. Christel has a hearing disability and experiences sensory sensitivity and sensory overload herself. She founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016 to make the world more sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive.
- Nagib, W., & Williams, A. (2016). Toward an Autism-Friendly Home Environment. Housing Studies, 32(2), 140–167. https://doi.org/10.1080/02673037.2016.1181719