Friday, April 11, 2014

Creating Safe, Inspiring Havens/ Decorating for Magic/ How to make the Home Calm for Autistics

*This post can apply to anyone but I am directing it specifically to those with Sensory Sensitivities. For more photos of my home click here:
If you want to know how to do something or where I got something feel free to ask in comments or email me on Pinterest or here.

Home should be a haven of safety. A place where irritation is at a minimum and sensory overload is almost non existent. Unfortunately, for many Autistic children especially, home is often still a place full of frustrating sounds, textures, smells and sights. Each Autistic person is unique with a certain set of interests, obsessions and comforts. Therefore creating an Autistic Safe Haven can be highly individual just like creating a home for anyone is HIGHLY individual. But just like there are standard rules in general decorating, there are some standard tricks and considerations that help the atmosphere in a home for *most* Autistic/ Aspie individuals. First off you need to pay attention to a few key factors in creating security and beauty:

*1: What do you (if you are the Autistic) or your Autistic loved one (s) value? Make sure these values are reflected in each room.

*2: What are the top three interests of this individual? (A general theme is usually better than embracing all styles in each room unless your kids/you are Bohemian like me:)- then make it work for them/you!) Make sure these interests are a big part of their personal place in the house to some extent (if possible.)

*3:What behaviours of comfort or security does this person engage in, when upset? Do they cover themselves with a blanket? Do they hide in the closet? Do they scream until they can't stop? This information will give clues as to what will set their minds at ease during stress and conflict. Have these items in obvious places.

*4: What foods, textures and smells spin them into a meltdown? What foods, textures and smells calm them down? Apply this into creating the best possible environment. Get rid of anything that is frustrating, smelly or hard to handle. Even if it is beautiful things- if they can not be enjoyed and cause tough emotions- give these items to someone who can appreciate them. Even for myself, I let go of the guilt if something that SHOULD be beautiful to me is quite frustrating or gives a yucky feeling. I simply move it along to someone who CAN appreciate it and replace it with something that enhances the beauty in my life.

*5: Apply this information along with some basic decor guidelines (like the rule of three, colour psychology, ect.- google these.) It may take some sleuthing but it is worth the time and effort.

The first step in creating a home with maximum benefits for Autistics/Aspies is security. If we are continually feeling threatened then we can never move into our maximum benefits. Do not invite people into your home that you or your children feel massive social anxiety about or who do not respect most of your decisions in life. We love to share our haven with those who truly love and respect us but it still has to be on our time and with respect to our children. Social anxiety is a big deal and we need to feel safe in our own homes because everywhere else we are forced to participate.

From The Outside:
*We have heavy locks on our outdoors and window locks that make me feel better about life. I also have heavy "light- blocking" blinds on most of the windows. One day I would like to add outdoor shutters for storms ect.

*Gardens (suited to allergy triggers of course) that are appealing and provide secret hideaways and magical pathways for the imagination are huge factors in peace and tranquility. Plus, learning how to care and nurture plants add to the value of life. Gardening is good for the mind and soul of anyone but most Autistics especially benefit from a cozy yet safe place in nature. (I recommend the book Front Yard Gardens. See Library for link.) Keep gloves around that fit well and lotion as we do not appreciate our hands being dry or dirty on most days. Choose plants that are low maintenance but beautiful. Limit exposure by having set times of day to go out and creating nooks and shaded areas for creative play. Keep it clean and safe. No chemicals should be used on anything as Autistics are especially sensitive to these toxins in their bodies, and dangerous tools should be locked up from children. Side note: My kids love to chew on dill and the smell is calming for them, so we make sure we have a patch every year not only for canning but for enjoying while outside.

 About PLANTS:

If possible every room should be home to a few plants. This is crucial for well being and levels of toxicity...that especially Autistics are sensitive to. Plants clean the air and up immunity which really contributes to the quality of life. We used to kill every living plant in our home but now it is an inside garden. Here are a few tips to how we achieved plant life!:
*Usually three plants will do better than one as they feed off each other and make better oxygen. A few types that are hardy are tropical, toxic ones (if you have cats don't buy toxic plants!) but otherwise they are AWESOME air purifiers and detox workers. 
*Cactus (Esp if you are prone to forget watering) and Spider plants are easy. Its all about the light, water and quantity. They need a drink of water in a new environment and a little more care the first few weeks. In general most types of plants do better if they are slightly moist after the first good water and not watered until dry. 

 ( adding quotes to our stairs)
*Southern light is usually the best with our plants but a few types flourish more in Northern or Western/ eastern. Plants are kind of like people...As ridiculous as that sounds, I see mine as living breathing beauty and when one is not happy I move it around, re pot it with better soil or give it more water until it breathes life again. It took me awhile to get to this stage:) These links are great!:

There are so many benefits of plants and after awhile plants in the house are barely even work...once you get used to them. In fact I find a lot of joy from tending them when needed and my kids adore them. They follow by my example and often argue about who gets to spritz the plants with water.

On the Inside: Room By Room:
Entry: If shoes are exposed on shelves an earthy toned or "calm" coloured curtain will help make the mess feel less intrusive. (I have a very hard time seeing and stepping in puddles of mud. It makes my hands feel dry and my psyche frustrated.)

If the entry is full of sunlight add some plants in higher places. The Entry gives the tone of the home, if it feels welcoming, the rest of the house will eventually follow. We have a huge window above our door that lets in an abundance of light but it was often too harsh for us, plus it felt like people could still see in our every fall we collect dried leaves and press them into wax paper and tape it up. It's beautiful, filters in light wonderfully, and gives us privacy. My kids love to participate in making it. I am not crafty. I enjoy decorating and collages but I despise crafts, but this is easy. All you need is wax paper, tape, dryish leaves and an iron.

*In regards to cleaners and soaps: I am especially sensitive to odours and can actually get stomach flu symptoms if I am triggered by what are seemingly slight smells to others. I choose soaps that are "happy smells to us" with low toxicity. If we are low on money I just buy a regular Emu Oil Soap for washing. Minus the lavender and tea tree essential oils we use, our house is generally fragrance free. Occasionally, we will boil cinnamon on the stove top to add scent and clean our air. (We have forgotten this a time or two and ruined pots.)

I find COLOUR is EXTREMELY important for Autistics. Like anything, it's individual...Some prefer differing tones, but as a general rule it is important to stay away from anything with greyish hues, sickly green or too much dark blue as we are more likely to get depressed (and if you DO have dark blue like my son's room, balance it out with a light gold.) IF you must have yellow choose a gold/yellow to decrease sickly feelings. I try to stick to a fairly earthy palate with bold walls thrown in for fun. In our bathroom I chose Benjamin Moore's Pine Cone Brown. I find this colour calming, dark and earthy. I hate showers so it helps to have a nice environment to motivate me. We only clean our bathrooms with tea tree oil/lavender spray and vinegar. This has cut down on A LOT of illnesses from the toxic cleaners. We also do not buy shampoos with sulphates or parabens because of the adverse affects we experience.

 Living Room: 

I like a lot of colour. We live in a place that is WHITE 8 months out of the year so our eyes are starving for colour. However, if I lived in a warm, green climate I would choose light colours for a fresh feeling.

*Colour really depends on your climate and preference although it is best to stay away from aggravating colours. Click here ( ) or  find other links on colour psychology. We do not use blue very much in our home because of our long winters. I also like to name our Spaces. Our living Room is called "Bewitched Autumn Haven"

*My rule is to not keep anything that makes me or the kids feel edgy...or anything that bugs me. I get rid of all decor that does not feel beautiful or useful. Most of the stuff in my house is comprised of sentimental items from others, cozy blankets, and comfort beauty. If a texture bothers the kids- we toss it or give it away. I also use pieces that are meant for other "uses" as decor items. If it makes me happy, I use it, however I want. Our house is all about comfort and magic.

*We especially like light catchers. LIGHT is crucially important to well being. We love to watch the rainbows from these dance in our living room. We all appreciate the subtle dance of light. I hang them from tacks above my window with fishing wire and a fishing knot...we collect these wherever we can find them. Sometimes when I am especially stressed, I sit in the living room and watch the rainbows from these catchers dance across the walls. My kids also become entranced by them during the day.

Everything on my walls has meaning. I am obsessed with the Broadway Musical Wicked and my husband is obsessed with Lord of The Rings so we incorporate those obsessions into our home. In our children's rooms we honour what they are obsessed or have a special interest with (this soothes and comforts as well as inspires.)

*If you like the patchwork quilts in our home like the Wicked one see this site: K made my quilts and they are so beautiful.

Repainted and with a better rug:

My kids grew up surrounded by these inspiring items and respected them. I've heard some say our house is not child proof but it is very rare for visiting children to take an item out of place and when they do, I let them. It is supposed to be lived in. Children LOVE our home. We are also obsessed with books, so we make sure to keep the books that inspire us or are magical or written well and give away the ones that do not.

Cushions and blankets are very important to Autistics (but in the right fabric...some are too scratchy while others feel too dry!)  I love to shop at thrift stores or antique markets. I ONLY bring home that which I truly love and when I splurge, I spurge on lighting, blankets and plants and books. I cover up old boxes with blankets or fabrics to use as shelves ect.

The Kitchen"The Cozy Coven":
We are not exactly cooks so our kitchen is not used a ton for cooking major meals. We eat simply with gluten, preservative, sugar free alternatives. In our kitchen we have the same non toxic cleaners as the bathroom.

*I am a rule breaker. I believe if it is lovely to you and it works- DO IT. So I use fabrics and store books in my kitchen. However, I make sure these things are away from water sources and the stove.

We only keep the very basic and minimum amount of dishes that we need. This helps us all feel less overloaded.

*Contrary to what one may think- we are not overloaded with our walls and stuff because it is what we enjoy and we live in 8 months of white- seriously WHITE outside for eight months of the year. Do what YOU enjoy. I know other Autistics who have nothing on their walls because it goes the other way for them.:) If I see a blank space I need to fill it. I have a very hard time sitting in blank rooms...they echo...and my ears feel off and I feel dizzy. I find I am most grounded in a home that is full of life and colour...But that is just kids are also like this. I have nothing except my Christmas decor in storage, because everything I love is out to use. If it needs to be stored- my rule is that it should probably go out of the house (minus useful items that are at least going to be used quite regularly in the future like tools or such.)

 *Filtered water, supplements and tea are staples in our kitchen. Autistic gut is not a laughing matter. Healthy water is important and we often need a dietary support thus the reminder with the filtered water system and vitamins in the  picture below.


*Bedrooms depend on each person. The standard issues for MOST Autistics are: Colour, lighting and cozy hide outs. We make sure that in each room there is a secluded place where the child can hide or retreat. It usually is a small space with comfortable items. This is akin to Temple Grandin's squeeze machine but not as obvious when they have friends over ect. It just looks like a hide away. Pretty, sparkly items that reflect light are important to both my boys and my daughter.

When the children were under five they all shared a sleeping room and had a playroom next door. I wish I would have kept that longer as it worked beautifully but I caved into the pressure from peers and family to give them each their own room based on gender. I regret that. My daughter STILL asks to sleep in her brothers room every night (she is eleven.) I realized that with anxiety disorders and Autism, they were better off having nights together and playtime in the bedroom next door. We now allow them to sleep in each other's rooms whenever they wish and I do not believe this damages them in any way. My daughter now has our old room as we have renovated our basement:
"Enchanted Winter Woodland":

My eldest son loves space. He wanted a canopy like my daughter had...and I realized most boys really appreciate canopies, so I saved for his birthday. His quilt was his only Christmas present from us one year and he was very happy with it. I prepared him by getting him to help pick it out, telling him the cost and what it would mean if he obtained it (no other Christmas presents) and how special it would be if he actually received it. He was ecstatic at Christmas. Our children receive enough toys from grandparents at Christmas and Birthdays, so we often buy them room stuff as gifts for our budget. In the long run it pays off in their emotional safety and comfort.

*I find that comforters, wall stickers and paint are the main items in a room worth paying for and if invested in and chosen wisely, they usually last a long time.
The pictures below were the Whimsical playroom when my children shared a sleeping room. I really wish I would have kept this arrangement longer. We all loved this room.
 The "shelf" the toys are sitting on is an old water bed top I found at a garage sale for five bucks. I asked the lady if I could just have it without the frame as I immediately saw the use in it.

 As you can see, every toy was in sight. All the toys are out in the open as options but hopefully not too overwhelming.
*My eldest son prefers his toys to be categorized in boxes with his lego spread out on tables. This is what we do for him now in his own space. It depends on the child.
*I NEVER get rid of any toys that are sentimental because this causes huge meltdowns. It may seem insignificant to me, but it could be a big comfort to them. However, we also have quarterly cleaning out times where we sift through excess stuff. I believe this teaches them discernment. It is important, if doing this, to constantly communicate and explain the feelings of each person as they get rid of stuff. Autistics/ Aspies especially need more time to process.

Since this post was written we turned the two little rooms pictured above into a library. We took out the walls, added a bay window from Habitat for Humanity and my husband did a boxed ceiling to cover the previous joint marks. A library helps give the home soul. Here are the updated photos:

Re painted:

This is my youngest's room. My husband built corner shelves- which make a HUGE difference in feeling organized. His room is called "Evergreen Forrest";


My son is obsessed with stuffies and forests. He says his stuffies are his family and treats them as such so I wanted him to have a space that reflected that.
My eldest son's room is focused on space. He wanted it all dark blue so I made a deal with him that he could have blue accents and a blue ceiling if he had a gold wall. He had a meltdown but I did it for his peace of mind...after it was done he loved it and was glad it was not all dark blue- His room we dubbed "The Celestial Garden":

 His room is very long so I broke it up in "two" with the sleeping area slightly divided by a desk my husband made with a star canopy...This is on the other side as his Lego area which is his other obsession and he is very picky about his sets so it keeps him organized.

 His another built in my husband created.
Our House is a Hobbit Hole in many ways with tended gardens, comfortable blankets, low lights, classic stuffies, magical books, and not many interruptions.

Master Bedroom "Charmed Winter Cottage":

We decided to build our Master bedroom in our basement with a bathroom suite around the corner by the purple chair and a walk in closet behind the red curtain. We take up half the basement with our boys on the other side (their rooms are pictured above.) From the outside our home looks like a typical starter home but because of the price and location we wanted to make it a forever dream home. Even if it was not the home we planned on having for a dream home we made it into a home of our own dreams thinking creatively. This gave us great joy and a feeling of rooted ness that I think is lost in our culture. I spend money on bedding, curtains, mirrors and flowers but otherwise I find discounted items from garage sales, estate sales, Kijiji and repurpose items around the home. For instance we had an extra door so I decided to use it as a headboard with a Lord of the Rings quote from Etsy. To make the bed look fluffy and feel heavy I put two feather quilts in the duvet. Since the basement is cold this works well. The closet is behind the red Curtains. Fireplace mantel still needs to be finished.
These were dead trees in a lot we had that we spray painted white for a wedding and then used in our basement.
The rule of three:

My husband made these beautiful shelves and I kept the decorating simple with a few things we value.
The Lord of the Rings Quote on the Door Headboard:
Custom closet under stairs built by my husband. A little detail goes a long way.

*If I don't like a picture I change it. I buy a higher quality magazine full of pictures I love and make a collage (see picture below.)
*Music is also important for both our plants and our family:) We make sure to get a little bit of everything. My eldest son hates all music and needs quiet time- thus we moved his room to the quietest part of the house and he has noise cancelling headphones as well. My daughter prefers pop and classical music and her Ipod is VERY important to her. My youngest likes old rock and can not clean his room without putting on a cd...or he cries with frustration. It may not seem important but it is to him and it's the only way he can seem to manage cleaning his room. We all take turns with music or each put on headphones with our own devices.
*There is also plenty of quiet time with all electronics turned off. But electronics are also key to Autistic's communication, so we do not ban electronics in general.

Laundry Room:
Using a natural brand of detergent like 7th generation or  Costco's Ecos Laundry detergent or Lavender Kirkland Naturals is crucial to overall health. *Regular laundry detergents contain harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, phosphates, NPEs/APEs and more that can cause allergic reactions, irritation and even cancer. Use a fragrance free Bounce or a Ball for the dryer for static.
* My children HATE tags so we cut them out and we only buy fabrics that they are comfortable with. They are involved in picking out their clothes with some guidance. We want them to feel at their optimal. I find the same rules apply to myself. I actually like to buy at a place like Plato's Closet or Consignment where the clothes are already shrunk and worn in so I know which I will love (plus designer items are cheaper.) I made the mistake of buying fabric has caused light rashes on each of us...try to be as natural as possible.

*What is important to me will not be important to you perhaps, but I recommend keeping colour, lighting, music, plants, toxicity, socialization, security and inspiration as the top ingredients to an Autistic haven. Also keeping all the senses in mind and feeding the senses with the least upsetting scents/feelings/sights and sounds. The most important information from this post are the top five points I put at the beginning in bold. Find what eases life for you.

Questions or Suggestions? What am I missing that works for you?

I love this song. 80's rock is my ultimate feel good music genre...and this is how I feel when I decorate my house:)


musingsofanaspie said...

Wow! I think your home is gorgeous! So welcoming and colorful and homey. You’re a decorator, right?

Okay, now that I’m done gushing over your house, I love the post. It’s so cool the way you went room by room detailing all of the big and small elements that are important to your space. And it’s really interesting to me to see how many beautiful things you surround yourself with because my house is the exact opposite. It’s almost spartan in its simplicity (we sold about 95% of our possessions when we moved 2 years ago, part mid-life cleansing and part “I’m not paying to move all this cross country”) and that suits me perfectly.

Kmarie said...

Thanks:) LOL- I would not want to move all my stuff! I get that:) And some personalities find more calm with nothing on the walls but a calming, inspiring colour and perhaps some plants or one thing of art. I decorate as a hobby and will help friends on occasion, but generally its an obsessive interest in my own home. I do it instead of art when I am bored I change a room around:) I also seem to have an eye for the details and balance…

S said...

Thank you for sharing all the photographs, Kmarie. Your home has a welcoming spirit and a lived in feel to it. Just like you, I also find it cosy ! I can see how much you care for every room of yours...there is a personal touch in all the rooms...every object, every plant, book, fabric...has been put on with so much care and with so much thought can be seen ...I believe that a home must reflect one's personality and your home represents your spirit and personality. The fact that you and your family feel peace and quiet in the rooms- that is the most important thing- to come back to a home which makes you never go out again and stay there forever...that should be the essence of a home...when I look at my home, I think that I wish I would never leave my gives me that kind of a safe feeling.
By reading your post, I am reminded of the times in my childhood and youth. I had some shutdowns...I did not like bright light and loud noise ( even the t.v. noise was too much for me ) ...I loved silence even at that time...but I did not know how to make my home comfortable for my sensitivity. My mom did her best by decorating the house but still, I was not aware what was I lacking.But now I know and do my best. I love mild fragrances, aromatic soaps and oils, plants, dim/ low lights and soft music...also flowers...mild coloured fabrics...books ..particularly spiritual books so that I can read them when I feel overwhelmed...
Thanks again for sharing this post,

Kmarie said...

Thanks S! That is what I go for:) I am glad you find it cozy...I wish you could have tea with me sometime in it! I would love to see your home too as I love what you do with your pictures. Thank you for noticing the personal touch and that it DOES reflect my personality.
I understand the childhood moments...your house sounds lovely :) I would LOVE mild coloured fabrics in warmer climates:) I always love the pile of books you have in your pictures:)
Thanks for commentating:)

Unknown said...

I need a near constant stream of stimulation. I like strong perfumes, acid colors, up-tempo vocaloid music, and bright lights (preferably all at once). I also like things to be colder than most. I don't like dim lighting because it makes me feel lazy and indolent. Tide has been a regular part of my life and I have had no issues with it whatsoever. I hate tags too. (Seam rippers come in handy for this.) The little negative space I need is critical for me so that I don't feel trapped.

The pictures induced very mixed feelings for me. I LOVE the rainbow catchers. Some of the rooms were bright and inviting. The others made me feel like I couldn't breathe.

(Not surprising for an 18/20 High Sensation Seeker, huh?)