When choosing holiday decorations stay away from stimulating colors such as reds, oranges, and yellows. When everything else in the world is stimulating and overwhelming you will want to be able to go home to a sensory-friendly safe zone. Blues, deep purples, creams, greys, dusty pinks, and other soothing colors are good choices to help reduce stimulation for Autistics during the holiday season.
In the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven chose red and green for Freddy Krueger’s sweater because he had read in Scientific American that red and green are difficult for humans to perceive at the same time. This is due to green being a calming color and red being a stimulating color. Wes Craven used this to his advantage by dressing Mr. Krueger in his signature red and green sweater in order to induce discomfort in audiences so it enhanced the perception of anxiety and fear when Freddy Kreuger was on screen. You may be asking what the heck does that have to do with the holiday season, right? Well, the two colors that are associated with winter holidays the most are red and green. When we are exposed to these colors, whether or not it is in a horror movie, we still have a difficult time processing green, a calming color, and red, a stimulating color, at the same time and it increases our anxiety and discomfort during the holiday season. To help diminish the anxiety associated with the holidays ban red and green combinations from your holiday decorations at home. This also goes for other stimulating/calming color combinations such as red and blue, yellow and blue, orange and green, yellow and green, and other similar conflicting color combinations. Mix relaxing colors with each other such as grey and dusty blue or choose monochromatic decorations in a calming color.
Skip the metallics! We all love tinsel and glitter. We love the mirrors under candles and the sparkling table runners. Unfortunately, our nervous systems think otherwise. Shiny metallic decorations can increase stimulation, as do mirror ornaments, and other reflective decorations. The sensory experience they provide and the light they reflect can be disorienting and lead to overstimulation and rumbling. We may not even realize that may be the culprit of our stressed-out mood. Try skipping the shiny stuff in your holiday home decorating and you may see your anxiety go down.
Be super picky about the lights you choose to use on your tree or windows! Forget about the super bright LED’s. No Autistic needs bright blue/white light keeping them up all winter long. That defeats the purpose of winter! Instead, stay with lights that complement your calmer decoration colors. Once again you will want to stay away from contrasting colors so if you have a green tree shy away from red lights. However, oddly, red lights in and of themselves are not stimulating. It’s actually quite the opposite. Red lights won’t stimulate the brain at night and disrupt sleep patterns. Red lights are a good choice for around windows where light may shine into a bedroom window possibly keeping people awake. Good colors for trees are golden, clear, blue, and green lights all the same color or even intermixed with purple, orb style lights that give the tree more of a glow are also a good choice. Multicolor lights can add to increased stimulation when mixed with the colors of other ornaments and it may be wise to avoid them. Also, consider forgoing chasing or dancing lights.
Don’t stress about decorating your entire house. The point of decorating is for you to celebrate as you see appropriate. If all you want is a tree with clear lights then by all means just have a tree with clear lights! If all you desire to put up for the holidays is a wreath on your front door and nothing more then go for it! The point is to lessen your meltdown potential during the holiday season by making it a sensory-friendly haven for you. It’s all up to you and what your unique Autistic nervous system can handle.
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.
When creating a Sensory/Meltdown Room for an Adult it may come as a surprise but the first consideration you should make is color choice. During a Sensory Session you don’t want the colors in your room to irritate anxiety or set off a Meltdown. If you also use the room for a safe space for Meltdowns then you don’t want the color combination to make the Meltdown worse. So we are going to go over the bad, good, and great color options for a Sensory/Meltdown Room. Trust me, you want to pick the color options first that way you can build your safe haven from the World around them and make your room a better place to seek refuge in. It will create a cohesive and streamlined room that will assist in maintaining your Autistic Nervous System.
You know you better than I know you or your doctor’s or parents or anyone else. So if this room is for you, you choose the colors that bring you peace and joy. Calming hues and tones that don’t aggravate your sensory sensitivity and shades that put you at ease are best. This is a purely subjective matter so do not let someone tell you what you should pick, you pick what works for you! If you are going to be sharing the room with other Autistics, like I will be sharing mine with my spouse, you need to agree on a base color that you both unanimously find peaceful. I will discuss this more a little later.
In general the worst colors to have and ones to stay away from when planning a Sensory/Meltdown Room are bright colors that stimulate the nervous system in an overwhelming stimulatory way. Colors that are known to excite, arouse, and agitate the nervous system are vibrant and bright Reds, intense and vivid Yellows, Fluorescent colors, brilliant Blues, bright whites, and other colors that would get the heart and blood pumping. This is the exact opposite of what we want to do, what we want to do is to choose colors that bring down blood pressure and put us in a place of relaxation. Even though many “Autism Friendly” rooms and sensory spaces are brightly colored they are designed by Neurotypical people who are judging what they assume Neurotypical children like. This is not the case with Autistics as many of us see colors more vibrantly and sometimes they come off as being way too intense. First we are not NT and second, we are not children. What is good for an NT isn’t always preferred by Autistic people, especially us Adults. If you like these color’s that’s fine, try to keep them outside of your Sensory/Meltdown spaces and even your bedroom. Even if they don’t bother you normally they may be too much to handle during the Autistic Neurological Event commonly known as a Meltdown.
You may also wish to stay away from warm color combinations such as Spice, Golds, Burnt Orange, Coppers, etc. These, while not as stimulating as the colors mentioned above, can be stimulating to the point of being counter productive in your calming goal and again they may be calming to you now but they may not be calming in a full blown meltdown. Keep these colors in the Kitchen or Breakfast Nook where they will be more useful at waking you up in the morning. However, they may be used as accents if you desire to do so. A couple of examples are pairing a Blushing Pink tone with a Darker Grey or a Deep Warm Chocolate Brown with a soft understated blue in order to balance out the warmth of the color.
I did a poll via Survey Monkey, it was a small sample, however it was from the Autistic Community. The top colors that were preferred were Greys and Purples. These colors seem to bring the most calming effect. Followed by Greens, Blues, and a blend of Neutrals, Blues and Greens. The survey also revealed that the majority prefer Monochromatic (meaning the same color) but different tones of the same color. So if you were to pick a Dark Blue Grey then you would also have a light Blue Grey and possibly a Neutral Grey. This technique gives depth throughout the room and can help separate the room into functional stations if that is something you wish to do. I will address this in another article.
As far as a shared Sensory/Meltdown Room goes you will want to collaborate with the people you will be sharing it with. Whether it’s your spouse, kids, or the whole family. Usually I would say to include everyone in the home but this room is specific to Autism so the Autistic’s in the house get to make the decision on the primary base color of the room. My husband and I chose Dark Grey and an assortment of lighter Blue Greys. We are thinking about a deep Charcoal Grey as an accent color mainly because foam cubes are common in that color.
Once you figure out your color palette choose your wall color. Before you paint remember to:
Ask your landlord, if you have one, for disability accommodations due to Autism. Explain to them how you need a certain environment to thrive in and that painting is in both their and your best interest as it will have a positive effect on your medical condition. Have a doctor’s recommendation if you can get one to back your claims.
Remove all curtain rods, nails, screws, etc. from walls except from the outlet covers. Fill in the holes with spackle and sand them until they are flat. You will be painting over them. This will make sense later when we go over the safety proofing part of the Sensory/Meltdown Room segment.
If your executive function is not up to par to do this yourself don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. We are trying to improve our lives in order to live better ones. It’s okay to ask for help to be able to get to that point.
You will want most of your walls painted the same color. If you want to make your room to feel small then paint all four walls in the same color as well as the ceiling. If you desire to make the room feel larger there are painting tricks to do this as well. Here is a link that explains how to paint a room to get the effect you want https://www.thespruce.com/paint-colors-change-feeling-of-a-room-1835371
You do not have to worry about painting on your own right now. I am only bringing this up so you can do a little planning ahead if you so wish. I will be demonstrating what to do when painting and how to do it in a YouTube video in the future. Right now just focus on the color’s that you want. Painting can be a bit pricey and a big job. In order to not become overwhelmed focus on color choices first. If you can, save up for the supplies that you will need. Don’t worry about time limit as you can always watch the video over again.
If you have a room available just for the purpose of a Sensory/Meltdown Room while you’re waiting for the painting tutorial you can clean the room out, wipe down the walls, remove nails, etc. in preparation.
This article was just about paint choice so focus on that first and have fun with it. This is for you!
If you do not have a room set aside for this stay tuned and I will give you tips, tricks, and ideas on how to set aside an area in your house to use specifically for a sensory friendly corner.
Until then go to different home improvement stores and see what is available to you and what kind of paint you can afford. Collect color samples that you might like your room to be and think them over. Choose the ones that bring you the most joy!