originally written for and published on Harkla.co
It is estimated that over 80% of children with autism experience difficulties with sleep. If you’ve read our Ultimate Guide to Improving Sleep, you’re likely on your way to considering how to best support your child’s own sleep habits.
Looking at your child’s bedroom environment may offer some insights and potential solutions.
Well-designed bedrooms for children with autism appeal to functionality, meet sensory needs, provide safety reassurance, and promote independence. But just because there’s a lot to consider, doesn’t mean your child’s bedroom can’t be cute and fun too!
Top 10 Considerations When Designing Your Child’s Bedroom:
1. Create zones - Unless you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated play space in your home, your child’s bedroom is likely packed full of toys, stuffed animals, games, and collectibles. Consider defining spaces within your child’s room for play, sleep, work, and storage so you can contain the potential chaos and further identify behavioral expectations.
2. Storage - Your child’s bedroom should be a place to be calm, relax, and sleep when needed. It’s hard to decompress when there is clutter and mess surrounding your quiet space, so if it’s too difficult to limit the “stuff,” try to contain it with functional storage options. Make your storage solutions simple to foster independence with cleaning up and accessing materials when needed. Read more about how organization promotes executive functioning, reduces anxiety, and fosters independence.
Clear stackable drawers can be easily labeled with pictures, symbols, or words according to your child’s needs.
Soft-sided cubes are safe ways to contain stuffed animals or little figurines. We love these 3-Sprout bins!
Underbed storage drawers keep more “stuff” out of sight and free up floor space to play
Consider a locked closet for materials, toys, or breakables that pose a potential safety risk when your child is unattended. This is especially important for kids who awaken at night.
Swoop bags, as featured on Wolf+Friends, are another accessible, portable, and lightweight way to contain toys with small pieces (like Legos)
3. Lighting - If you haven’t read our blog article on how lighting can impact your child’s sensory system, do! You’ll look at your child’s bedroom through a different lens - so to speak. Consider the following design ideas to adjust for the light influences in your child’s room:
Blackout shades or curtains
Carpeting or low-pile rugs reduce glare
Desk or floor lamps near work areas
4. Bedding - This is when your child’s sensory preferences are most important to keep in mind. Choose fabrics that appeal to him and are soft and snuggly: cotton, flannel, sateen, or t-shirt materials. Consider patterns and prints that are fun but not overly stimulating. Weighted blankets and heavy down comforters can support sleep patterns because they provide deep touch pressure sensory input. For more information on weighted blanket research, check out this article.
5. Seating - If you’ve got a multi-tasking bedroom, be sure to include a kid-size table/desk and chair set to allow for tabletop play, coloring, and drawing. Consider a soft place to crash and an active seating option like a t-stool, ball chair, or small rocking chair that will allow your sensory kiddo to move or rock while they sit. Check out some active seating options here.
6. Mattress - Bed designs can be basic or geared to your child’s interests - but the mattress should be a consideration. Memory foam, spring, or hybrid mattresses all offer different sensory experiences. If you’ve got a restless sleeper, or a child who is prone to jumping on his springy bed, perhaps consider a hybrid mattress for a less alerting and more forgiving surface. Memory foam, while great for some, can give sleepers a ‘sinking’ sensation that some kids may not respond well to.
7. Sensory deprivation area - Whether it’s a bed tent, a tee-pee in the corner, or a canopy over a pile of soft pillows, it is important to provide your child with a sensory deprivation area. This may or may not be located in your child’s bedroom, but it is possible to include elements in their sleeping space. A sensory deprivation area could include: soft pillows, noise cancelling headphones, preferred stim toys and/or fidget tools, and a weighted lap pad. This space promotes self-regulation and reorganization.
8. Color Scheme - We all love bright, fun colors for kids but sometimes those primary rainbow colors aren’t exactly promoting calm and tranquility. There is a psychology behind why we choose the colors we surround ourselves with -- and why we should avoid color placement in certain situations. For example, did you know that yellow is the color most likely to cause eye strain and visual fatigue? If light and visual sensitivity is a consideration for your child, consider a darker hue like gray, navy, soft blue, or violet that absorb more light instead of reflecting it. Red evokes strong emotions, while blues and greens are associated with calm and tranquility. If you’ve got your heart set on hot pink, perhaps consider toning it down a few notches on the color swatch and neutralizing the rest of your child’s bedroom design.
9. Sound - The noises around us can be alerting, over stimulating, irritating, or startling. If your child’s room is near a busy street, the neighbor’s barking dog, or busy hallway in your home, the stimulation from these outside sources is something to consider. A white noise machine or low-playing music can help.
10. Alarm Clock - You’ve gotten your little one all set up for sleep success...but it’s likely not solving all of his sleep/wake problems! As his bedtime routines and circadian rhythms adjust, try a smart alarm clock designed with kids in mind. If your child has trouble knowing when it’s okay to get up for the day, check out the OK to Wake Alarm Clock. For those kids who need a night light and some help waking in the morning, try the Wake Up Light that gradually brightens as morning approaches.
Sensory-informed bedroom design is becoming more mainstream. Companies like Land of Nod and Target are consulting with experts to find kid-friendly, sensory-aware products that meet a diverse population with differing needs. In fact, Land of Nod just partnered with Wolf+Friends to showcase sensory-minded design tips for parents! For more information on sleep issues and autism, be sure to check out the Harkla blog for more tips and tricks.