Posted on Oct 24, 2023, 1 p.m.
When a child is neurodiverse, it simply means their brain functions differently than what’s considered typical. Many conditions can fall under the neurodivergent umbrella, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and dyslexia.
Regardless of whether they have one of these conditions, neurodiverse kids have distinct strengths and challenges that impact their mental functions and how they learn and behave.
Their challenges, in particular, can make it hard to feel safe and comfortable in their surroundings. And if they never feel secure and comfortable, it can become difficult to achieve certain milestones in life.
Fortunately, parents can be proactive about making sure their neurodivergent children have a haven they can retreat to. A place that caters to their unique sensory needs helps them take care of their well-being and find healthy ways to cope with the hard parts of their neurodiversity.
Create a sensory-safe environment for your neurodivergent child using these tips.
Identify Your Child’s Unique Sensory Needs
Every neurodiverse child is different. The sensory sensitivities, calming mechanisms, and personal needs of one aren’t the same as those of another. Finding out exactly what your child needs to feel secure and calm in their surroundings is a critical first step.
Make a visual to help you define your child’s unique sensory needs, like a flowchart or mind map. Document what sensory sensitivities your child experiences as a result of their neurodivergence.
For example, if your child is autistic, they may be over-sensitive to certain noises, temperatures, and tastes. Or, if your kid is living with ADHD, they may have sensory processing issues and get easily overwhelmed when presented with too much information at once.
Once you detail their sensory sensitivities, write down what they do or need to overcome them.
Keeping with the examples above, your child living with autism may need noise-canceling headphones and a designated quiet space at home. Stress relief techniques and concise communication may be go-to's for your child living with ADHD.
You can better tailor your child’s safe space to them when you fully understand their condition, behaviors, and unique needs.
Involve Them In the Design Process
If you can help it, don’t take over the design process for your child’s sensory safe haven. You’re creating the environment for them. So, they should have the final say on all decisions about how it’s crafted.
There are situations where you’ll have to take the lead in designing, like if your child is very young or communication barriers are present. But even then, you should rely on what you’ve observed about how your child soothes themself and what they gravitate to.
Let your child choose the room for the physically safe space you’re creating for them at home. Color, furniture, fabric, and accessory decisions should also be theirs. Furthermore, when they tell you something is overwhelming their senses, dig into why so that you can better understand how to care for them.
Go Beyond Their Physical Environment
It’s essential to go beyond your child’s physical environment when helping them feel safe and comfortable. They’ll need other techniques to help them intentionally restore or nurture their psychological and emotional security.
For instance, you can help your child feel better and raise their self-esteem by allowing them to express themselves through fashion. They can choose clothing, shoes, and accessories that help them feel most at ease.
In addition, you both can explore accessible and sensory-friendly clothing options. Having clothes that don’t just look good but function in a way that makes your child feel more supported and included can make all the difference in their comfort and self-esteem. Sensory-friendly clothing options include:
- Dull-colored clothing to accommodate visual sensitivities;
- Shoes they can step into rather than tie up;
- Apparel made of natural fabrics to reduce skin irritation;
- Jackets and pants without zippers and buttons that are easy to put on and take off.
Another way to strengthen their personhood and help them feel secure in who they are is to encourage socialization. Genuine friendships with children navigating some of the same struggles can help your child not feel so alone in their journey.
Consider hosting sensory-sensitive parties for your child to improve their social skills and grow their confidence.
Plan your events well in advance to give parents plenty of notice. Discuss concerns with any performers. And incorporate sensory-friendly activities, like crafts and scavenger hunts, in your gathering to ensure everyone can participate and have a great time.
Teach Your Child Reliable Coping Mechanisms
To further support your neurodivergent child's mental and emotional health, teach them reliable coping mechanisms for sensory overload. It will happen. And a lot of the time your child will be outside of the home, away from their secure environment.
Having special coping mechanisms on hand to navigate sensory and information overload will give your child the tools to create a safe space wherever they are.
So, explore breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, crafts, and any other techniques that may be helpful in a difficult situation. You can also use devices, like tablets or smartphones, strategically to help soothe your child. But don’t lean on them too heavily, which may cause an overreliance.
Neurodiverse children are different. And this is by no means a bad thing. It just means you’ll have to do some extra work to ensure they’re as safe and comfortable as possible in their environment. But it will be the best trade-off considering what a sensory-safe space can do for your child’s well-being and quality of life.
This article was written for WHN by Charlie Fletcher who is a freelance writer from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for social activism and her search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on Contently.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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