6 Easy Ways to Make Your Home Autism-Friendly

For many people with autism, the world is a minefield. School, work, playgrounds, social and cultural events, even birthday parties are loaded with possibilities for sensory overload, bullying, frustration, confusion, or just plain unpleasantness. With a minimal amount of fuss and money, you can turn your child's home into an autism-friendly sanctuary where they can finally relax.

Girl Relaxed with Headphones
Steve Prezant / Getty Images

Why Ordinary Activities Can Be Overwhelming

Many people on the autism spectrum are unusually sensitive to any kind of sensory "assault"—ranging from loud noises to bright lights and crowds. They're also more likely than typical peers to find changes in routine, new foods, new people, and new settings to be overwhelming or upsetting. Even a trip to the grocery store can be extraordinarily difficult.

Barriers to an Autism-Friendly Home

Given the difficulties of daily life for a person on the autism spectrum, it makes sense that home should be, at least some of the time, a real sanctuary. Unfortunately, though, that's not always possible or practical. Here are just a few of the issues standing in the way:

  • Siblings and parents also have needs and may choose to invite friends, make noise, select new foods, or otherwise change up and complicate home life.
  • Many of the therapies recommended for children with autism are home-based, meaning that after hours in school (with school-based therapies tossed in), children may return home to yet more hours of therapy provided by parents and/or mobile therapists.
  • Family life is not always predictable or calm. Emergencies and life-changing events often mean at least a brief period of turmoil. A sibling is injured, a grandparent gets sick—and things just have to change.

Making Your Home More Autism-Friendly

Given the reality that no real-world home is going to be a perfectly calm oasis in a world of strife, what can families do to promote a relaxed experience for a family member with autism? Here are some real-world recommendations:

  1. Provide a realistic schedule that you and your autistic family member can expect to follow, at least most of the time. That may be as simple as "Come home, change clothes, watch TV for one hour, eat dinner, take a shower, do homework, go to bed." Put the schedule into a visual format, and be sure that everyone understands what's expected. This type of schedule is usually just as appropriate for siblings as for youngsters on the autism spectrum.
  2. Give your child space and time to relax alone. For many people with (and without!) autism, downtime and alone time are absolutely essential.
  3. Keep preferred foods in the house, so that your autistic family member can expect to eat at least one item he or she actively enjoys. That doesn't mean "never eat anything new," but it does mean that your autistic family member can look forward to eating something expected, tasty, and comforting. 
  4. Scout out and remove smells, sounds, and lights that are really bothersome. Yes, you need to use cleaning supplies—but you may be able to find some with minimal odors. Yes, your other children can listen to music—but they may be able to use headphones. Yes, you need light in your home—but fluorescent lights can be really uncomfortable for someone with sensory challenges.
  5. Limit at-home therapies to what's really useful, necessary, and relatively pleasant for your child. No child should come home in a state of dread, knowing that hours of unpleasant therapy lie in store! Often, it's possible for parents and therapists to provide play-based therapies or relaxing sensory or occupational therapies in the home. These types of therapies are most likely to be fun for the child—and help to build rather than strain family ties.
  6. Keep a weather eye out for signs of stress in your autistic family member. They may not be able to communicate exactly what's bothering them, so you may need to do a little detective work to determine that, for example, the smell of cabbage cooking is driving them nuts, or their younger sister's constantly-buzzing cell phone is making them crazy. Once you've zeroed in on a problem, you can brainstorm simple solutions (skip the cabbage, put the phone on mute).
2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Suarez MA. Sensory processing in children with autism spectrum disorders and impact on functioningPediatr Clin North Am. 2012;59(1):203-14. doi:10.1016/j.pcl.2011.10.012

  2. Hazen EP, Stornelli JL, O’Rourke JA, Koesterer K, McDougle CJ. Sensory symptoms in autism spectrum disordersHarvard Review of Psychiatry. 2014;22(2):112-124. doi:10.1097/01.HRP.0000445143.08773.58

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.