Setting up a Sensory Bedroom for a Child with Autism

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental brain disease we are still learning a lot about. As the “spectrum” of the term implies, symptoms and severity vary from child to child. While the two disorders are not always co-occurring, many children with autism also have some form of sensory processing disorder, or SPD. Children with sensory processing issues have atypical reactions when exposed to everyday stimuli. They may over- or under-react to information processed through the senses, but however their symptoms manifest, they can lead to physical, emotional, and social problems down the road. SPD often makes it difficult for children to accept transitions and deviations from their ideal environment.

Sensory integration therapy is a proven method for helping children learn to adjust to unfamiliar stimuli. By exposing children to sensory stimulation in a structured and repetitive way, occupational therapists help children with SPD adapt so they react to processes more efficiently in the future. While traditional sensory integration therapy may not help all kids with processing difficulties, parents who believe their child may be struggling with SPD should consult a specialized occupational therapist to see if it may possibly help.

Beyond structured therapy in a controlled environment, many parents like to implement some aspects of integration at home. A designated area can serve as a safe space where the child can go in order to feel comfortable when overwhelmed by stimuli. However, the room as a safe space can accomplish the dual objective as an area where the child may feel comfortable when experimenting with more challenging sensory information.

For most families, the best location for a sensory room would be the bedroom. Generally, kids don’t have multiple rooms that can be decorated based on its intended purpose — they just have the one with the bed. Of course, if your family has extra space — for instance, a playroom — that can serve as a sensory room, that is amazing as well. Wherever you decide to set up, the following sensory room features will help establish the right atmosphere.

Sleep Tight

A good night’s sleep is essential for your child’s health. Having the right bed outfitted with a comfortable mattress and linens will help ensure your child easily gets the sleep he needs. Look for bedding that addresses your child’s specific needs. For instance, children who have trouble sleeping because they feel too hot at night need a mattress with breathable layers that both absorbs body heat and circulates air to help keep them cool. Sheets and blankets should be made of breathable and natural fabrics like cotton or linen.

Swing, Swing

Installing a lightweight swing in a sensory bedroom provides a whimsical touch. Kids love having their very own spot where they can sit and read or simply contemplate their day. Swings are great for kids with sensory processing issues because they help them adjust to gravitational insecurity. Swings are also handy when it comes to developing fine motor skills and coordination. Furthermore, swinging can be a gentle and calming activity that helps children gain composure when feeling overwhelmed.

Light Right

Getting the lighting right in your child’s sensory bedroom is very important. Many children with sensory processing issues become uncomfortable and agitated when confronted with an excess of bright lights. Blocking out the sun’s harsh rays and outdoor light pollution with blackout curtains makes the room a blank slate on which you can draw your own idea of the perfect lighting scheme. Add soft but fun features like LED toys, lava lamps, and marquis boards to help kids become adjusted to artificial light.

Many children dealing with autism also experience sensory processing issues. Sensory integration therapy helps these children with structured and repetitive stimulation that helps the brain adjust. While parents should enlist the help of an occupational therapist for these services, they can help facilitate sensational normalcy at home with a sensory bedroom that acts as a retreat and a laboratory for experimenting.

Photo by Marisa Howenstine on Unsplash

Jenny Wise is a stay-at-home parent to four children. She and her husband made the decision to home-educate when their oldest was four years old. During this journey, they have expanded their family, and faced many challenges along the way. With every challenge, they have experienced great rewards.


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