Home Design for Hyper and Hypo Sensitivities
Designing for children with sensory processing challenges.
Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition with which an individual has trouble receiving and processing information through the five senses. These disorder is seen more in children but can also affect adults in everyday life.
Experiencing overstimulation or lack of stimulation leads to individuals feeling uncomfortable and can hinder their ability to learn, difficulties with social communication, social interaction and social behavior.
For individuals impacted by a sensory processing disorder, sounds may seem painful, bright lights or colors can become overwhelming and certain textures and materials can become unbearable to touch.
It’s also fair to say that no two autistic kids are alike. It is often said that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. However, designing with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) sensitivities in mind may create a more calming, helpful, and synergetic space.
Children with hyposensitivity or “sensory seeking” tendencies are looked at as being under-sensitive. Potential signs of sensory-seeking include:
- not recognizing personal space
- making loud noises
- inability to pick up on social cues
- frequently touching objects and people
- having a high pain tolerance
Hypersensitivity, on the other hand, is when an individual is oversensitive and in turn, avoids certain experiences. Potential signs of hypersensitivity include:
- avoiding touch
- being easily scared
- finding clothes too scratchy or itchy
- finding lights too bright
- avoiding crowds
- easily affected by noises
No matter which kind of reaction autistic children have to stimuli, the most important thing to consider is whether or not your child feels safe in the space being created.
Designing for someone who is incredibly sensitive, or not sensitive enough, can be a daunting task.
The first step of the process involves getting your child’s feedback. Asking questions about his/her sensory experience may shed light on his/her specific needs. Get your children to be as specific as possible about what they like or don’t like about a sound, feeling, or other sensory experience.
Integrative design by sensitivity type
Design for hypersensitivity
SIGHT: Be aware of lighting. Lights can be distractingand uncomfortable for someone who is sensitive to brightness and glare. Light sensitivity is a predominant characteristic of Autism.
- use a calming color palette
- include dimmed lighting
- avoid fluorescent lighting
- Use blackout shades in bedrooms to help facilitate sleep
SOUND: Children who are very sensitive to sounds hear noises amplified. Sounds can easily seem muffled and distorted.
- create sound blocks or barriers
- consider sound-proofing one or more rooms in your home
- choose a quieter area of the home for your child’s bedroom
- use noise-cancelling headphones or ear plugs when needed
- use carpet, textiles or other materials used for sound absorption
SMELL: Smells can be overwhelming for those with Autism. They can be intense, distracting, and physically impairing.
- eliminate odors: choose a bedroom far away from strong smells (kitchen, bathroom, etc.)
- ventilate the room regularly by opening
windows, turning on fans, etc.
- prohibit scented products like candles, lotions, etc. in your child’s room
TOUCH: Hyper-tactile children may avoid being touched. Touch can be painful. They do not like having their hands and feet covered. They can only
tolerate certain fabrics in clothing and bedding.
- use textures or materials approved by your child
- have your child help pick out pillows, blankets, etc. based on how he/she feels
VESTIBULAR: These children have a fear of swings, slides or stairs. They have a difficult time playing active sports where motor skills are necessary.
- include a space where your child can sit comfortably by him/herself (i.e. a chair or nook designed for a single person)
- create a distraction-free study area (high walls, no visual or tactile stimuli)
In short, hypersensitive autistic children benefit from a less-is-more approach. Try to imagine a room which functions as a retreat from daily life and all its sensory overload. The use of subtle light,colors, and sound set the tone for a calm and collected ambience.
Design for hyposensitivity:
SIGHT: Individuals who are under-sensitive do not see images clearly. Objects appear dim or dark. One’s central vision is hazy and blurred, though the peripheral vision is clear.
- avoid changing the room layout regularly for easier spatial recognition
- avoid or limit bright lights and mirrors to prevent distraction
- use pelmet lighting or other more subtle lighting
- Clearly illuminate pathways and stairs. Consider night lights to
help guide in the evening and morning hours. Led strips under cabinetry in the kitchen and bathrooms can facilitate movement in a
- Round edges on corners to prevent injury.
SOUND: Children who are not sensitive to noise sometimes are hard of hearing in one or both ears. They might not be able to register certain tones at all or be unaware as to where the sound is coming from all together. Hyposensitive children enjoy loud places and tend to bang doors and objects.
- Children unable to hear well may need visual clues. Placing cards with pictures in various rooms can help the child understand directions without relying on hearing.
- Because sounds are exciting to them they look to create noises in places such as the kitchen. Make sure that kitchen cabinets are secured to prevent injury from sharp objects.
SMELL: Children who cannot smell efficiently may fail to notice obvious and powerful odors. They can even fail to notice their own body odor.
- Provide a safe and inviting cleaning area in which they can bathe or shower to encourage cleanliness
- prohibit candles in his/her room
TOUCH: Those who are hypo-tactile do not feel pain or temperature. They are prone to injury and seem unaware that they are hurt at all. Children who are under-sensitive can cause self-injury, such as banging their heads on the floor orbiting their hands.
- Use weighted blankets for your child’s comfort
- Make use of sensory walls or have a sensory station where they can explore.
When it comes to hyposensitive children, safety and structure are key. The idea here is to give them more visual and physical cues to meet them halfway.
Having a child with autism means seeing the world through a different set of eyes. Remember to get your child’s input and you’ll be well on your way to a happier, healthier home.