I apologize for taking so long to get this second part out about the Sensory rooms! I have been valiantly battling a horrid Kidney Infection. Illness can have a greater effect on Autistic’s because the sensory stimulation from pain, fever, etc. and it can overwhelm the system and make them less like themselves than if, for example, a Neurotypical had the same level of illness. In an eggshell, a scratch can feel like a gaping wound. That is not what this article is about though!
This is the second article on Adult Sensory rooms! Last time we talked about picking colors that were soothing to our particular nervous systems needs. No two people are alike and therefore no two Autistics are alike. As a result, all of us are in different living arrangements. Some of you live with family, some of us rent, some of us own our own home.
If you are blessed to own your own home and you have a spare room or area to turn into a sensory area you are lucky! You don’t need your appeal for accommodation to be met or approved by anyone but yourself and/or your spouse. For the rest of us, we have Parents and Landlords to respect. If you live with parents, or other family members, sit down and speak to them about what is available as a sensory area. As for this article, I am focusing on what to do if you are renting an apartment because my husband and I live in an apartment.
Since my husband and I live in an apartment we can’t do much as far as changing the structure of a room without physical needs such as a wheelchair but we can do plenty as far as changing the aesthetic of the room to create a relaxing sensory room or a place to de-escalate a meltdown. In order to do this, we need to ask the landlord for some Reasonable Disability Accommodations/Modifications.
List everything you need to do to make your area more accommodating because it all needs to go in a letter!
The first thing we need to do is decide what we need to do to make the area calming and make a list. Keep in mind these are requests to do these and cover them out of your own pocket of they are modifications and accommodations are at the expense of the landlord from what I understand. Do you want a different paint than what came with the apartment so it’s more soothing? My husband and I would like to do the area in Greys. Would you like to have a light fixture switched from a florescent bulb to a LED so you don’t get a headache? (The landlord should cover an expense like this but if he doesn’t make sure you can cover the cost of an electrician and/or fixture in case they won’t cover it or let you have maintenance help you switch it out.) Do you need to have noise restrictions loosened in case of a meltdown so a complaint doesn’t get you kicked out? Put that on the list too! If you desire a different mode of communication aside from speaking on the phone or in-person then that should be included as well. List everything you need to do to make your area more accommodating because it all needs to go in a letter! It’s easier to make a list to take with you to write a letter than going back and forth and trying to remember what you need. This way you don’t miss anything.
Now from what I understand requests don’t need to be in letter form and can be made and granted in person with an oral agreement. However, life has taught me that paper trails are an Autistics best friend. It is always good to get things in writing to protect yourself in the future. If for some reason problems arise you need to be able to defend yourself. Having a letter of request and a letter granting the request is a good way to do this. (First, call your housing management and ask if they have specific forms they would prefer you to use before writing a letter so you don’t run into frustration having to backtrack and do it over with their forms.) You can send this by email if it’s to an official email address that is linked to the Apartments Management if that is not an option make sure you send it certified snail mail with a signature request so you can prove they received it. Anything in which you can prove that you sent it will work. (If you have official forms from your Landlord then copy those before and after you fill them out. Before so in case you mess up you have spares, after so you have a record.)
It’s understandable that you may not want to disclose that your Autistic to your Landlord due to the risk of discrimination so you may want to use an umbrella term to describe your accommodation needs. When I spoke to the property management company that owns my building I used the term Neurological Condition and Sensory Processing Disorder. You may also use the term Asperger’s is you so choose. Asperger’s is trendy and, sadly, it may be more accepted than straight-up Autism. I understand that Asperger’s has controversial origins and I agree with filtering the term out of Autism discourse however this isn’t the time to make an issue of that. You will have plenty of time to educate everyone once you have gotten to know them better. We are focusing on requesting accommodations in a way that you feel safe and secure. (Keep in mind if you do say Autistic then you are still covered against discrimination but this is about your sense of well being.)
I wrote a Sample Accommodation/Modification Request Letter however there are probably far better examples on the internet than I am able to provide, please, feel free to look them up. You may want to request in the letter that they respond in writing as well whether an email or a return letter in the mail.
When you have written your letter print two, one for your records, and the other to take it into your Doctor or other Health Care Professional and ask them to write a letter confirming and verifying your request. This is your letter of support that you will be turning into your landlord with your letter or request forms. Your medical professionals do not need to disclose any medical information that is not part of the request so, if you need to paint in a calming color that isn’t as bright to your eyes as white, that is what they need to focus on. What they do not need is information about things that do not pertain to the request. So if you are, for example, HIV positive or Diabetic the Management doesn’t need to be informed if your requests do not to pertain to these conditions. HIPPA does matter! Your privacy matters.
Make a certified copy of the Doctor’s letter (a notary public can do this, many banks have them for free) or have him write two copies so you have a copy for your own records with his signature (it’s always good to have backups). If you are mailing it then put the letter/forms, signed with a pen, put it, and a copy (duplicate or notarized copy) of your Doctor’s letter in a business-size envelope. Fill it out like your normally would and take it to the Post Office. Tell them you need to send it Certified Mail with a Signature on Delivery. Keep any receipts as proof and so you can track it.
If you are sending an email then scan the letter or forms into your computer. (I do not doubt you know this however sometimes I get overwhelmed to the point I do not think of the trees in the forest and I just see the problem. I am simplifying for ease for those that read this in a time of high stress and require a higher level of support.) Write your request letter in the email. Attach the scan of the Doctor’s Letter. Send. Make sure you don’t delete your sent mail so you can prove that you did in fact send it.
Keep in mind you shouldn’t start on any accommodations or modifications until you have the go-ahead from your Landlord. If in a letter or email save it for your records. In case there is reason to believe that the Landlord will contact you by phone to grant permission or deny your request then put a call recorder app on your phone if it doesn’t come with one pre-loaded. That way you still have proof of permission or denial. As I said I’m a big fan of evidence trails!
*If you do not live in the United States such as a US territory or another country then check with the local authority on regulations for disabled renters.