For parents with autistic children, the idea of leaving them alone by themselves is terrifying. There’s a reason why people associate the phrase “special needs” with the condition. In 2017, a team of researchers found that young people with autism are three times more likely than the general population to experience fatal injuries.
Still, parents can’t watch their child’s every move – or at least, it’s very hard to make that happen. And for the child’s part, being raised in an overprotective environment can further stunt their development. That’s why like other children, they need their own space once they reach a certain age. Aside from giving parents peace of mind, creating a bedroom without safety hazards is essential to giving kids with special needs a sense of independence. By following these tips, you can let your children start that journey.
Create a Serene Sight
For many parents of children on the autism spectrum, meltdowns are a reality of life. Things that would only irritate normal children and adults, like harsh lights and colors, would provide too much stimulation to those with special needs, leading to meltdowns. Their bedroom should be a visual cocoon: aside from using blackout curtains or blinds to control the light from outside, paint the walls with calming colors like soft pinks or pale blues. Avoid borders, stripes or prints, as they can overstimulate your child. Finally, use soft lighting options – think incandescent instead of fluorescent – to help put your special one at ease.
Provide Soothing Silence
Sounds are another potential source of over-stimulation. Noises like car horns from outside, the screech of chair legs scraping on the floor, and the whine of a vacuum cleaner can cause extreme distress. Like the harsh lights and stark colors, unpleasant sounds could trigger harmful and self-injuring behavior among kids with ASD. To reduce the risk, it’s best for parents to do some smart soundproofing. For example, you can cut some tennis balls open and put them at the bottom of chair legs in the room. Using dense fabrics around the room, like thick curtains and carpets, is another option. You may also like to play soothing sounds from a gadget to calm the children down; to avoid risks from tangled earphones, consider looking for pillows with built-in speakers as well.
Use Storage Strategically
Another common trait among a minority of kids with autism spectrum disorder is a need for order. A tendency to count things, arrange toys neatly, and rigidly maintain some kind of organization could be another way for them to reduce agitation to their senses. To help them de-clutter, you can give your child plastic boxes to put their toys in, but keep their safety in mind: placing them low on the floor rather than on top of high surfaces can significantly reduce risks of accidents. Make sure the boxes have no sharp edges or corners that can cause injuries. Also, going for clear rather than opaque plastic containers can help your child easily see what’s inside, reducing their stress.
Set Warning Alarms
As children on the autism spectrum interact with and explore their environment, they could end up doing things they don’t realize are dangerous. It’s not uncommon for unsupervised kids to wander out through an open door or window without letting anyone else know. With the right window sensors and alarm system in place, you can be alerted when your special loved one is trying to leave his bedroom in an unconventional way. Having a reliable alarm monitoring service in place makes ensuring your child’s safety much easier, especially when you’re away from home. When an alarm gets triggered, people at the central monitoring station can call you directly to ensure that it isn’t a false alarm; once they’re sure it’s a real emergency, they can call the proper authorities, saving you precious minutes to see what’s happened at home and possibly prevent the worst.
Make a Crash-Proof Space
Parents with toddlers are chronically afraid that their children could hurt themselves bumping into the wall or heavy piece of furniture. This isn’t as big of an issue with older autistic kids in general, but if yours is part of the minority that shows epileptic symptoms, you have to follow some basic bedroom safety tips. Carpeting can be a big help in cases like this; padding sharp edges on the furniture in case they collapse from a seizure is also very beneficial. Have your child sleep on a mattress on the floor, as opposed to one raised higher, to reduce the risk of falls. Finally, top-heavy furniture like shelves or cabinets should be secured to the wall with furniture brackets or safety straps.
Turn to Visual Cues
We’ve talked about how children with special needs benefit from structure and order. Putting things in specific spaces is a big part of that, but it’s not the only way to impose order: labels, signs, and color codes are other valuable tools that kids with ASD rely on. To set expectations and limits within the bedroom, parents can also establish a similar system. High areas or other hazardous places can be marked with danger colors or labels so that children know not to go there. Using color tape to define boundaries on floors, carpets or walls can also remind children where the safe spots are. You can also try this strategy for electrical outlets that are accessible to your child, though it’s probably better in that case to just cover or remove them outright.
Practice Fire Safety
Most people would probably hear a smoke alarm and immediately run out of the house, but an autistic child may react to the loud blaring noise by huddling in a favorite corner of the bedroom instead of escaping. To make sure your child responds correctly, you have to orient them properly. Let them hear the fire alarm and explain how they should respond; you may have to expose them to this gradually over time to get them used to it. You could also explain how experts in fire safety say the bedroom door should be closed to give people a higher chance of survival. Social stories, stickers, and other visual cues may also help your child understand the proper procedure more easily.
Those are just some things you have to think of. Depending on your situation, you may also have to think about a thousand others like possible choking hazards, controlling their access to medications, and keeping certain household objects out of their reach. Sure, following a bedroom safety checklist when your child’s past a certain age can be tiring. But you should know it’s an exercise in love and parenthood that’s well worth it.