Day #22 of our #AsIAmChallenge for World Autism Day is about helping prepare for an autism-friendly environment.
We often think of this as a strictly sensory exercise and that’s certainly a crucial part of the process. Building the best setting for a person on the spectrum to live and work in, however, involves much more than making sure that the lights aren’t too bright or that they have a safe place to stim.
Autism is a spectrum condition which means that adaptability and a willingness to learn about the condition are vital from professionals and partners interacting with those on the spectrum. AsIAm is challenging you to get started on making your setting autism-friendly. Check out our tips below!
BE ACTIVE LISTENERS & WATCHERS
Reaching out for help is one of the toughest challenges for many people on the spectrum and their families. Whether out of difficulties in communication and socialising or fear of the stigma surrounding autism, making the first move and openly talking about one’s needs is hard – especially around those who can make the biggest difference.
To that end, it’s important that you listen and watch out for anyone you know who’s autistic. If they mention they have trouble understanding instructions or are finding the setting overwhelming (lights are too bright, noise too loud, the room too hot or cold, etc), ask them what they’d like changed.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
The best strategies for creating any autism-friendly space are made with an open mind and a willingness to learn new things about the condition. As a spectrum condition, not everyone diagnosed with autism will feel the same or have the same needs. It’s therefore important to be adaptable and know that one strategy that works well for one person may not for another.
CONDUCT A SENSORY AUDIT
AsIAm has developed a sensory audit toolkit for this purpose. Our guide provides a step-by-step guide for professionals on how to help create an autism-friendly space. A clear criterion of best practices is set out and how they can meet the sensory needs of autistic people living and working across a range of different environments.
Download our sensory audit checklist for more information.
CREATE A SENSORY SPACE
Sensory rooms are spaces where autistic people can calm themselves during moments of overstimulation. Many schools, as well as an increasingly number of workplaces, have designated rooms for this very purpose and outfit them with a variety of different sensory tools designed to help users stim. The rooms’ designs are mindful of the typical sensory challenges facing autistic people, and so their lighting and furniture are installed in a way which encourages relaxation.
A common myth is that sensory space needs to be in a self-contained room and is therefore too costly to make. This is not the case. A sensory space that fulfils its purpose need only be a select place in a classroom or office, with only a few cushions and beanbags. When creating any space, it’s worth asking the person it’s intended for what they would like in it and where it should be.
ASK THE PERSON WHAT THEY WANT
It’s often easiest for everyone involved if you simply ask what the person’s likes and dislikes are. By actively including them in the process, you’ll not only be showing you take their opinions seriously, but you’ll also have taken proactive steps in the wider journey for autism inclusion.