How to Create a More Comfortable Environment for an Autistic Friend
by Tricia Lee
The image source is Pixels.
Individuals with cognitive disabilities must receive the same amount of inclusion as those with neurotypical brains. Autism is one of the most common cognitive and developmental disabilities, and chances are that one day you will make a friend with this condition. To ensure they always feel included and comfortable, no matter the environment, consider the tips below.
The best way to learn how to make an environment more comfortable for your autistic friend is to, quite simply, ask them. Talk to them about things that may be overwhelming or where they would like to see more inclusion. Researchers at Cogentica even have surveys that provide information from individuals with varying disabilities about how to include them if you want a place to start. Plus, there are blogs written from a firsthand perspective to help you better understand. The article by Jenna Breunig is also on this site and is very informative on the needs of autistic individuals.
Before you invite an autistic friend to your space, try to get organized. Clutter and disorganization can lead to these individuals feeling overwhelmed, as they prefer a sense of structure. If you and this friend are co-workers, consider keeping your office areas organized too so that they always know where supplies should be. In this school or employment environment, you could even help them develop a schedule so that they always know what to expect most days.
If you cannot help the overwhelming stimulants in your environment, create a safe space for them. Have a room in your home at a party, for instance, where your friend can retreat to when they need to take a break. Make sure it is a large enough room so that your friend does not feel cramped and can move if necessary. Bring in comfortable seating arrangements so that they can more easily unwind too.
People with autism often become overwhelmed due to different sensations, whether those be related to touch, smell, sight, or sound. Whether at your home or work, make sure your friend has furniture, as mentioned, that is comfortable to sit on with a smooth surface. If you do not have these types of seats in your house, look for cushions that you can place down to make your loved one feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed.
Other sensations, as mentioned, that your friend with autism can become stressed from are those that are visual. Sometimes, as seen with migraine sufferers as well, autistic individuals face problems when encountering bright lights. If you are in a space with allowance, turn off or down the overhead lights. Consider ambient lighting instead, such as lamps. If it is daytime, however, open the blinds and curtains and allow the natural sunlight to pour into your home or office.
Just as you should not have the lights turned up, try to reduce some of the bright colors in your home. If you are able, take down any decorations full of neons or other reds and yellows. When decorating for a party, consider a neutral color palette or even a pastel theme that is not overwhelming. Again, if you need the brightness, however, or your walls are bold, create a room where your autistic friend can take a break when overwhelmed.
If your event or workspace requires music, try to use that which does not contain loud beats or sounds. If you only listen to these melodies at your place of employment to help you focus, listen to ambient noise or classical songs. The same goes for if you and your autistic friend are roommates and you need music to sleep. You could even choose a noise when listening to white sounds that are soothing to help alleviate the overstimulation your loved one experiences.
Just because someone has autism does not mean that you cannot be friends or work closely with them. Make the adjustments necessary to ensure they always feel included, no matter the activity. Remember, in most instances, autistic individuals become overwhelmed when there are loud sounds, bright visual stimuli, and rough textures. Reduce these as much as possible.