Structure in the home
One of the most effective ways of creating a supportive environment at home is to establish structure.
A structured environment may often reduce the anxiety of the child or young person with autism as it provides clarity and reduces sensory stimulation. A structured environment can also empower the child or young person to be more independent. Examples of structure within the home include:
Try to remove or limit the amount of visual clutter at home. Although, it is difficult to always keep a busy family home tidy, simple strategies such as tidying toys into boxes, books onto shelves and letters into drawers can significantly reduce the visual clutter. This helps to make the environment more organised and less stressful for the child or young person with autism.
Reduce sensory stimulation
Many children and young people with autism are very sensitive to different types of sensory input. Reducing stimulation is an important way of reducing anxiety and helping the child or young person to improve concentration and attention. Some suggestions for reducing sensory stimulation include:
- Visual: limit ornaments, photographs, pictures in the home, as these provide visual distractions and can be over-stimulating. They do not have to be completely removed but try to reduce the number and do not have any in places where your child or young person is doing homework.
- Auditory: turn off televisions, radios, when they are not being used. Consider if bathroom or kitchen fans are causing the child or young person any stress.
- Smell: if your child is sensitive to smells, try to use unperfumed cleaners and soaps. Keep bathrooms and kitchens well ventilated.
- Touch: Your child may want to be involved in snack or meal preparation but cannot tolerate touching different food textures, for example, raw meat, cheese, dough-type consistencies, so allow your child to wear catering gloves. This may encourage participation without negative sensory responses.
Although the contents of cupboards, drawers and wardrobes should be familiar to your child, it is likely they will forget when they are feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Labelling cupboards and drawers prompts the child or young person where to find items without the frustration of hunting through several places. This type of visual structure can reduce anxiety and promote independence as the child or young person knows where to locate items, and where to place objects when tidying.
Ensure that items in drawers and cupboards are sorted and stored correctly. Use plastic trays to separate cutlery and drawer dividers for socks, underwear. This, again, helps the child or young person to quickly locate items and therefore avoiding unnecessary anxiety.
Display some form of visual planner or schedule in the house, and ensure the child or young person knows where it is. This may be their own individualised daily schedule or it may be a more general family calendar ensuring that it is clear and meaningful to the child or young person with autism. Other options include a diary or a calendar app on a phone or iPad.
Always remember to inform the child or young person of any changes to the plan throughout the day.
Use Post-Its or write on a small white board to post reminders for the child or young person, such as remembering their P.E. kit for school, reminding them it is Granny’s birthday, or to take pocket money to youth club. These reminders can be placed in a consistent location, such as their bedroom door, the bathroom mirror or beside the front door. This empowers the child or young person as it begins to place some responsibility on them to organise the things they need, but still gives them prompts as required.