This page is designed to answer the following questions:
- 2.4. Describe how to create a ‘low arousal’ sensory environment. (Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Autism, Sensory processing, perception and cognition in individuals with autism)
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Creating a ‘low arousal‘ sensory environment for individuals with autism involves designing a space that minimises sensory stimulation and promotes calmness and relaxation. This approach is particularly beneficial for individuals who are prone to sensory overload or who have difficulty processing sensory information. Some of the key elements of such an environment are explored below.
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Creating a ‘low arousal’ sensory environment for individuals with autism starts with careful consideration of lighting. Bright, artificial lights, especially fluorescent ones, are often overstimulating and can contribute to sensory overload. To counteract this, it’s beneficial to utilise natural lighting as much as possible.
In cases where artificial lighting is necessary, opting for lamps and dimmable lights can help create a softer, more calming atmosphere. This approach reduces the harshness and intensity of light, which is crucial for individuals sensitive to visual stimuli. Additionally, avoiding lights that flicker or emit a humming noise is important, as these can be particularly distressing. For some individuals, the use of color filters or shades can also be helpful in modifying the quality of light to better suit their sensory needs.
Noise control is another critical aspect of a low arousal sensory environment. Reducing background noise can significantly decrease sensory stimulation. This might involve soundproofing the room or using soft furnishings like carpets and curtains that absorb sound.
Providing a designated quiet space (see below) where individuals can retreat from auditory stimulation can be particularly beneficial. For those who find certain sounds comforting, consider incorporating gentle, rhythmic background noises or white noise machines, which can provide a soothing auditory backdrop without being overstimulating.
Simple Visual Environment
The visual setup of the environment is equally important. To avoid visual overstimulation, it’s advisable to maintain a simple and uncluttered space. Avoiding busy patterns, bright colors, and excessive decorations can help in creating a visually soothing environment. Organising materials and belongings in a clear, predictable manner, and using visual labels where helpful, can also contribute to a sense of calm and order. Such an arrangement not only reduces visual complexity but also aids in navigation and spatial orientation.
Comfort and sensory support are key when selecting furniture for a low arousal environment. This includes choosing pieces that are soft and offer a comforting tactile experience, such as bean bags, soft chairs, or furniture with pleasant textures. The use of weighted blankets can be particularly helpful for individuals who find deep pressure soothing. Additionally, the layout of the furniture should allow for easy movement within the space, ensuring that it does not feel overcrowded or confining.
Maintaining a comfortable and consistent temperature is an often-overlooked aspect of creating a sensory-friendly environment. Extreme temperatures can be distressing, so it’s important to ensure the space is neither too hot nor too cold. This consideration extends to the materials used in the environment, such as the fabrics of furniture and window treatments, which should be chosen for their thermal properties as well as comfort.
Having a designated ‘safe space‘ or sensory retreat within the environment is essential. This area should be a place where individuals can go to self-regulate and decompress when feeling overwhelmed. It should be easily accessible and equipped with items that aid in calming, like cushions, weighted blankets, or sensory toys, tailored to the individual’s preferences.
Lastly, personalising the environment to fit the unique sensory preferences and needs of the individual is crucial. This personalisation may involve collaboration with the individual or their caregivers to understand what types of sensory inputs are soothing and which are overstimulating. An environment that is tailored in this way can greatly enhance comfort and the ability to cope with sensory challenges.
In conclusion, creating a low arousal sensory environment for individuals with autism involves a holistic approach, considering various aspects of the physical space to ensure it meets their specific sensory needs. This can make a significant difference in their comfort, ability to process sensory information, and overall well-being.