picture of mum helping autistic child express emotions

How to create autism-friendly environments in homes and public places

In recent years, there has been a commendable shift towards creating inclusive environments for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some shops, restaurants, cinemas, and other public places now offer services tailored to people with autism, from exclusive ‘autism hours’ to complete experiences that take into account their individual needs and preferences.

Charles Clinkard's initiative in creating safe spaces for autistic children within retail settings is a great example of this. Before your appointment, you can contact any Charles Clinkard store directly to request things like sensory packs or the dimming of lights, in-store videos, and PA systems. Charles Clinkard stores will also keep your child’s preferences on file so that they have it to hand before your next visit.

However, the principles and strategies employed in such settings can and should be extended to wider contexts, including in our homes and a wider range of public spaces. By embracing and adapting these tactics, we can create more supportive and accommodating environments for individuals with autism, ensuring they feel valued and included in all facets of life. Below, I’ll share a few tips for doing so.

How to create a safe space at home

The essence of creating safe spaces lies in understanding and catering to the unique needs and sensitivities of individuals with autism. In public settings like shops or restaurants, this often involves sensory-friendly lighting, quiet zones, and visual cues to aid navigation. Translating these concepts to the home environment requires a similar level of attention to detail. Simple adjustments, such as minimising clutter, using soft lighting, and providing designated quiet areas, can make a world of difference for an autistic child when visiting or staying in your home.

picture of a happy child in a wigwam reading with blankets

How to create a safe space in public

Of course, when venturing into public spaces like shops, cinemas, or restaurants, the challenge is slightly more complex due to the unpredictable nature of the environment. However, with thoughtful planning and consideration, it is possible to make trips out a positive experience for individuals with autism and their families. Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Advance preparation: Call ahead to inform staff about your child's needs. This allows them to make necessary arrangements, such as turning off the background music, dimming the lights, or providing information and menus in advance.
  • Visual supports: Utilise visual aids, such as picture menus or social stories, to prepare your child for the dining experience. This can help reduce anxiety and facilitate communication.
  • Noise reduction: Choose shops and restaurants with lower noise levels or request a quiet corner away from busy areas. Bringing noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs can also help create a more comfortable environment.
  • Sensory-friendly dining: Opt for places with sensory-friendly features, such as adjustable lighting or flexible seating options. Familiarise yourself with the shop or restaurant's layout and amenities beforehand to identify potential triggers.
  • Patience and understanding: Be patient and understanding with your child's needs and behaviours. If you can, educate restaurant staff and fellow diners about autism to promote empathy and acceptance.
  • Reward system: It can help to implement a reward system to incentivise positive behaviour. This could involve small treats or preferred activities upon successful completion of the shopping or dining experience.
  • Practice and exposure: Gradually expose your child to different environments to build confidence and familiarity. Start with quieter establishments and gradually work towards more challenging settings.

It is essential to recognise that creating safe spaces is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour but requires ongoing adaptation and sensitivity to individual differences. As we continue to learn and understand the needs of children with autism, let us strive to make every environment, whether retail, home, or public space, a place where individuals with autism feel respected, understood, and valued.

By incorporating these strategies, we can begin to create inclusive environments that cater to the diverse needs of individuals with autism. 

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