Friday, 5 June 2020

How we've used our home during lockdown with our autistic kids

Child relaxing in the garden

The environment in which we bring up our kids makes a massive difference to how they function on a day to day basis, even more so while they have been stuck at home during lockdown. Parts of the house have taken on new purposes so help them through this period.  It can be difficult to make changes around a home for kids with autism but we've had some things that we wouldn't have liked to go without.

A cozy, quiet space

Our eldest has really struggled with being around us all the time.  Time alone to relax and process the day's events is a pretty universal need for those with autism. However, it can be challenging to find a space far enough away from others in the home.

Using lofts or basement conversions to create a chilled, cozy relaxation space is a great idea if you have one.  In fact, because of the separation from the bustle and flow of the rest of the home, such areas can work incredibly well for families with autistic members. Something that the whole family will benefit from as they can help to facilitate a much calmer day to day experience.

We haven't got one of these but Anthony has used his room as a place to escape and be on his own and we've also created a chill out area in the garden.  It's a space under the climbing frame with a table and camping chair that's been in the shade for most of sunny May.  There's just one chair, so it's designed for one, and it's been used by all the kids as they seek their independent space.

Pantry

Anyone with autism or an autistic family member will know that diet can be a real point of contention.  Many people with autism have very strict preferences when it comes to what they eat. Rarely diverging from these, no matter how much begging and pleading are involved.

With that in mind, and with the early panic buying we did stock up on a few items that would make life very difficult if we ran out.   An area in our utility room has doubled as a pantry, with a few extra boxes of Shreddies, some UHT milk, apple juice and tins of macaroni cheese.  Sounds odd to some maybe, but I've had to use the 'spare' pack of Shreddies more than once from our little food store because they've just not been in the shops on the day I've gone.

Light

'Don't strain your eyes' my mum used to say when she'd find my reading a book in a room that had gone dark.  Particularly when people are working from home it's easy to have lots of lights on. However, too much light, particularly things like fluorescent lighting, can be very distracting for someone with autism.

Most of our rooms have dimmer switches so we can make sure people can see but that things aren't too bright.  Of course, as the months have gone on it's actually been getting lighter and we've had the opposite challenge in the evenings with going to sleep.

Blackout curtains and blinds can do a stellar job of minimizing interference when it comes to bedtime and sleep issues. Something that makes them a worthwhile investment for any home looking to be more autism-friendly, but we've just got dark curtains with a good lining that means most of the light is blocked out in the lighter evenings.  This has meant we've been able to keep the bedtime routine and that helps with everything during the next day.

Using our storage

Many people with autism can struggle with over or under-stimulation. Of course, this can make it challenging to know what the right balance is to strike.

However, a smart approach to this is to ensure that there is plenty of neutrally coloured storage around the house. Such as cabinets where TVs and other entertainments can be neatly packed away.  DVDs and playstation games can go in a cupboard.

Then, if the issue is over-stimulation, the room in which you are in can be quickly reduced to a calming space. While if the problem is under stimulation, the stimulating objects and equipment can quickly be revealed to the opposite effect. We have a folding ball pit that David can use when he needs to but it can also be packed away when we need to.

Sensory items

We are so fortunate to have swings in the garden.  These have provided endless entertainment and sensory feedback.  We've also used a peanut which is a bit like a gym ball, the ball pit and the trampoline on the odd occasion.

We've also used a great deal of tech for sensory input and it's fair to say that when the broadband has struggled, so has out household.  We've got the best we can get in our area but sometimes it's not just about usage and other things in the local area cause problems that lead to meltdowns here. 

Ultimately we can only go with the space we have and services we've got. But we've definitely found these things have made our lives a bit more bearable for the kids while they've been at home.  Hopefully they will also help in settling them once that start back at school too.


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