Treating Autism: Part 4 - Environmental Considerations

In the last article of this series, joining and repetitive actions were discussed, with ways to better interact with and communicate with your child. Joining is a major step in treating Autism, as children need to know they can trust others, especially parents. Due to overstimulation interactions are complicated, causing attention problems and even pain. To best join and interact with your child, a proper environment needs to be created. Creating an environment that is not overstimulating may be difficult, as what we consider overstimulating will be different for someone with Autism.

Overstimulation

While overstimulation has been covered in the past, a brief refresher is needed. Most people with Autism have sensitives, some to sounds, smells, and even clothing. Often the senses are overpowered, causing sensory overload.

The best analogy would be of nails on a chalkboard. Most of us would find this noise highly annoying, possibly even painful. Imagine sitting in a classroom with this sound repeating over and over. Over time, we would become upset and try our best to not focus on this noise. Now imagine if we are required to do a task with this noise in the background. Would we do better or worse with this sound? Most of us would do worse as it would be difficult to block it out. This is similar to what Autistic children experience. We often ask them to do tasks while they are overstimulated, causing stress and anxiety. Add in someone who is non-verbal, or has difficulty speaking, and a tantrum can occur.

Overstimulation is terrible. The problem is, everyone will have different things that are overstimulating. One autistic child may become upset over the noise of the refrigerator while another may not care. There is no set rulebook as to what will be overstimulating. The best way to determine what is overstimulating is to watch your child and their reactions to their environment. Think of all five senses and watch your child’s interactions. Maybe a sound is overstimulating, or a smell. Maybe the texture of the carpet or the brightness of the paint on the walls. Making a list of what is overstimulating will help in building an environment that is low in sensitivity.

The Importance of Environment

While working with your child, it is best to use an area of the house that is low in stimulation. The less the stimulation, the better your child can focus and listen. After you have made a list of what is overstimulating to your child, it is time to set up this room. While creating this room, there are some considerations to cover.

First, this room should be a private room that people generally do not enter. A bedroom is a good example. This room should be used only for teaching and working with your child. A guest bedroom is a good place as it is not normally used. The child’s bedroom is not a good choice as this room will have a bed, dressers, and other things which could be overstimulating. The less the room has in it, the better.

You want to create a room that has very little in it. No electronics, toys, or bright paints. Toys can be for later, but while you are trying to teach your child, the focus should be on the activities you are conducting.

Note the paint and the carpet. Is the paint bright? Bright items may be overstimulating, so if possible make the color dull. How does your child react to carpet? If your child cries or screams while on the carpet, try tile or wood to see if the same reaction repeats. You may need to remove the carpet for this room and replace it with someone else, or with a different carpet. Make sure any colors of the carpet or tile are dull to match the walls.

Remove Everything

Once you have picked a room and have the floors and walls ready, make sure to remove everything else from the room. No toys, beds, boxes, or anything that could divert your child’s attention. You want as empty of a room as possible. When your child is in this room, it will be with you, them, and whatever activity you are conducting. You can bring a chair or something to sit in, but remove this when not in use. All it takes to distract is one object. You could have a great idea planned, and forget about the chair in the corner. Your child may fixate on this chair and ignore you, ruining your activity.

You will be spending hours in this room with your child, sometimes up to 4-5 hours a day. This room is where they will learn and interact with the world. Your joining will occur in this room. For your child to learn and grow, their environment will be key.

Realistic Expectations

For some of you, it may not be possible to create an entire room for joining. You may not have space or the finances. Do the best you can to try to convert a room. The child’s bedroom can work as long is most things are removed from it. As long as toys and other items can be kept in closets or drawers it will work. It would be best to not have these items, but do what you can. As long as the room is out of the way and is not a major room of the house it will work. You do not want distractions if you can help it.

In Conclusion

Spending the next months and years in this room will help your child learn and grow. At first, most of your activities will be in this room. Over time as their sensitivities decrease you can introduce them into other rooms and then other environments. Some of you may not wish to create this room as you may feel you are giving in to the condition or will make it worse. The goal is for them to begin to learn in this room, but in time for them to leave it. As stimulation issues decrease, begin working in other environments so they can get used to other places. The goal in time is not to need this room at all, as they can manage their stimulation issues and self-sooth.

If you want to learn more about treating Autism, I recommend checking out the Son-Rise Program by the Autism Treatment Center of America. Most of the information covered in this series was provided by them. They have had years of success treating Autism and have helped thousands of children. You can go to their website Here, or their YouTube Channel Here.

Article Series

Treating Autism: Part 1 – Mindset
Treating Autism: Part 2 – Attitude & Motivation
Treating Autism: Part 3 – Joining & Repetitive Actions
Treating Autism: Part 4 – Environmental Considerations

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Nathan Driskell

Hello, my name is Nathan Driskell and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor – Supervisor in the Houston / Cypress area specializing in the treatment of Internet Addiction & Asperger’s / Autism. I work with children, adolescents, adults, couples & families.

You can reach me at my website or call me directly at 832-559-3520 if you have any questions. Thank You!
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