My career as an Interior Stylist with a strong interest in Environmental Psychology and the fact that I have lived with someone with Asperger Syndrome, prompted me to write this article. My hope is that it will helpful to parents and carers of those with Aspergers and generally raise awareness as to how a modified home environment can be supportive, reducing stress and anxiety levels.
We all function better in this world when we feel secure and calm. Our home environment impacts on us daily and this is even more true for someone with Asperger Syndrome. Their extra sensory sensitivities see them grapple daily with a myriad of external stimuli which assault their senses. We can only imagine the stress and distress they experience as a result of this sensory overload.
Each individual with Aspergers is unique and has his/her own set of personal requirements so there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, however, here are some general ideas on how to modify the home to help them function optimally. Many of these strategies are practical and simple to implement and there is often no cost or a low cost.
Colour affects us all and can alter our mood, either stimulating or calming. Research conducted by Dr Di Pauli (1999/2000) found that shades of pink and purple were the most positive colours amongst people on the autistic spectrum. This doesn’t surprise me at all, as pink is the colour of universal healing and love. The colour pink also reduces anger and aggression.
Neutral colours, including grey, provoke neither positive nor negative reactions and if you don’t use them on walls, they are good for trimwork ie. Skirtings, window frames etc.
As a colourist, I would suggest soft pastels or colours with low tonal levels as they are also calming. In my work I always ask children and adults to ‘show me their colour’ and show me they do! So ask someone with Aspergers what colour appeals to them and if their choice is an exceptionally bright colour, simply have it reduced to a paler version of the original colour. Bedrooms especially should not be overly stimulating – rather a place to relax and unwind in preparation for a good nights sleep.
When buying paint look for non toxic, natural organic paints.
Avoid the use of pattern on walls and floor coverings as this can be confusing and increase anxiety.
Replace harsh, fluorescent lighting with soft, non-flickering lighting. People with Aspergers can find bright lights that flicker and hum distracting, even painful. Floor lamps and table lamps can compensate for overhead lighting and a dimmer switch would be a useful addition.
Choose curtains with blockout rather than vertical or horizontal slatted blinds as flickering sunlight can result when they move and this can be very distracting.
Many people with Aspergers find it difficult to filter out sounds which others can simply ignore.
Double glazing, substantial curtaining and thick carpeting reduce noise levels as well as provide warmth, comfort and a feeling of safety.
Cork flooring also has good soundproofing qualities and is warm and comfortable underfoot plus there are many new products available today.
Subtle smells that others don’t even notice can be overwhelming for someone with Aspergers. Use a background fragrance to mask or block out strong general smells and strong smelling products.
Today there are ranges of exquisite natural fragrances available for the most discerning nose! From burners to aromatic reeds to room sprays.
Since our sense of smell is our most powerful and the only sense connected to our Limbic System in the brain (the seat of emotion), to have someone with Aspergers find a fragrance they love would be mood enhancing and extremely beneficial.
Bedroom – the inner sanctuary
This is a very personal space and the person with Aspergers should be invited to participate fully in creating their own bedroom. Their privacy should be respected and maintained at all times.
Some people with Aspergers can experience difficulty in large spaces, so in order for them to feel secure, keep it cosy. If the bedroom is really large, partition off a section for sleeping or studying.
Keep the centre of the bedroom clear and place the furniture around the perimeter of the room for easy navigation.
Less clutter equals less distraction so store belongings in large, clear containers that can be easily put away. Containers can be numbered or coloured and stored in a specific order for easy identification.
Keep walls clear or decorated simply with favourite posters, prints and photos displayed in a linear, orderly fashion.
If the computer is located centrally in the home, surround the workstation with a partition to block out visual distractions and reduce noise.
The thinking behind this is to create a room free of distractions where someone with Aspergers can retreat to when they experience anxiety, stress or sensory overload. If you are unable to create a sensory room then create a sensory corner in the room by sectioning off an area by hanging a sheet or piece of fabric from the ceiling.
In this sensory space have a selection of items and equipment for de-stressing. Some suggestions are:
a bean bag, projection equipment, a sound system, stress balls, 2 footprints to put on the floor for jumping on and anything else that will help the person with Aspergers to relax and unwind.
Running around in a garden is a wonderfully safe and simple way to relieve stress. A trampoline and punch bag are great additions for both reducing stress and exercise and a sandbox provides hours of enjoyment.
Home is a very special place. A place we return to every day where we can truly relax and be ourselves so I hope the above suggestions will be helpful in reducing the sensory overload that someone with Aspergers Syndrome experiences daily.
If you need help in creating an effective and unique environment for someone in your care with Aspergers, please get in touch.