Imagine not being able to filter all the visual and auditory stimulation you are exposed to every day. That’s what it’s like to be autistic: processing your own environment in order to differentiate between what’s important and what isn’t is something you actually have to physically do. When A.J. Paron-Wildes received the news her son, Devin, had autism, she didn’t know what that meant or how it would change her life. But she made it her business to figure it out.
Do your research
Being an interior designer, Paron-Wildes wanted to find out if there was a way she could make her home more peaceful for Devin, so she did her research and found out that autistic people have a more difficult time communicating and rely on cues taken from their environment to determine how to react to a situation.
“They crave order and are easily distracted by its absence,” Paron-Wildes went on. “They read meaning into seemingly random visual signals, and tend to be hypersensitive to harsh artificial light and to environmental toxins.”
Use neutral-toned color palettes
One problem this poses is that environments and toys made for children tend to be brightly colored, highly stimulating, and very overwhelming to autistic kids. Paron-Wildes described such spaces as Crayola-bright, “like Ronald McDonald threw up.” In a home where an autistic child lives, it’s better to use mild, neutral colors that are non-distracting. Today when Paron-Wildes designs spaces for autistic children, she uses the brighter colors to signal important spaces in the home or use them as maps to illuminate pathways for specific tasks.
Create peaceful “learning areas”
Most important is the rooms where the child needs to learn or pay close attention, including the bedroom and the homework or study area. “I’ve painted many little boys’ rooms pink,” Paron-Wildes said, “it tends to be a calming color.”
Provide personal space and natural light
When there are other children in the home, conflicts are likely to arise, which is why in her own home, Paron-Wildes made sure her son and her daughter’s rooms had plenty of separation. Devin’s room is large with a high ceiling, a window that lets in plenty of natural light, and an adjacent room where he can go to build elaborate Lego structures to de-stress.
When they first moved to their new home following the birth of their daughter, Eva, Paron-Wildes admitted there were some tense moments with Devin—autistic people struggle with making transitions. But today Devin is comfortable in his home. “We have zero issues now,” Paron-Wildes said.
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