January 17, 2016

Designing a Home for Autism

I’ve spent my career working for technology companies in Silicon Valley. But I almost gave it up
to become an Interior Designer. In the end, I decided to keep my tech job, but planned to use
my skills to make my own home beautiful.

Then we had kids. And one kid in particular, my eight year old, Moe, has influenced my new
design style. I use that word loosely. Our home is designed purely to make things easier and
safer for Moe. Let’s call it “nouveau practical” or “Moe­nimalist.” (It’s okay to groan.)

Moe’s Room

When we’re out with Moe, we have to hold his hand nearly constantly. So home needs to be the
place he can have some freedom. It’s hard to make an entire house safe for Moe, a strong and
active kid, with Spiderman­like climbing skills, but little sense of safety or rules. I want Moe’s
room to be his sanctuary.

Moe’s room has only a bed, some soft pads on the floor and a big crash pillow. The dresser that
my husband painstakingly stained when I was pregnant had to go because Moe was climbing
on ­ and jumping off ­ it. We put a tall narrow dresser in the closet instead.

The room, though bare, doesn’t scream “autism!” I even attempted a bit of a retro­surfer theme,
complete with surfboard decal and comforter. But look closely and you’ll see that the surfboard
blanket is weighted. The closet that holds Moe’s clothes also contains a diaper genie because
he’s still in pull­ups. There’s a drawer dedicated to chewies. And a lock on the closet door.
There’s a carabiner hanging from the ceiling so we can hang a swing, a comfortable spot for
Moe to use his iPad or look through magazines.

Our most ingenious invention was created to keep Moe from jumping off his window ledge. We
were afraid he was going to hurt himself, so we installed a sheet of clear acrylic across the
window. This also allowed us to hang blinds, in between the window and the acrylic. Prior to
this, he tore his wood blinds down, and we had to put a nearly opaque film on the window so it
would be dark in the room at night.

I think Moe really likes his room. When his “motor is running high” he can go there to calm
down. He has figured out an ingenious way to spin the swing really fast when he wants
stimulation. The walls are dirty from Moe’s feet as he pushes the swing. There are bits of the
magazines he likes to tear up all over the floor.

Everywhere else

The rest of the house varies by room. Every door, including closets, is childproofed. A couple of
doors have keypad locks so my daughter can get into her room and the bathroom without
needing help.

We’ve got a trampoline and locked toy cabinet in the living room and a locked toy cabinet. (The
latter more for mess control than safety.) For a while, as part of Moe’s homeschool program, we
had little pieces of blue painters tape with velcro on them in front of every room in the house.
There’s a baby gate across the kitchen. It doesn’t keep Moe out but it slows him down a little.
Some rooms, like our office and master bedroom are full. My daughter has a lot of toys and art
supplies that I’d much rather keep in a common play area. Other rooms are nearly empty. There
are no curtains in the living room and very few paintings on the wall. I can’t have shelves to
display knick­knacks or family photos. Our floors are beat up and need to be refinished. I
agonized over which white to choose for our walls. Instead of “Winter White,” I should have
found the best paint match for the marks Moe leaves as he slides his fingers along the walls.

I could go on. There are so many ways we’ve altered the design of our house and the design of
our lives, to meet Moe’s needs. I’m not always happy about it. My house can feel closed and
dark, when I really want open and light. It isn’t beautiful. But Moe is safe and comfortable here.
And there is beauty in that.

This post was originally written for Autism Speaks.

1 comment:

  1. "Spiderman like skills," love that description! Can I borrow that? Our walls are bare and we had to take down our IKEA bookshelves because my 3 boya were using it as a climbing apparatus. We used to have sofas...but don't anymore since the boys ripped at them from jumping off so much. I think my oldest pretends to be Rapunzel when he puts a quilt on his head and jumps from our dining room table. I'm investigating chalkboard paint, since our walls are inked with crayola, pen and other writing utensils. Yes, when a family has a child(or in my case,children)on the spectrum, the house gets a safety face-lift. Thanks for sharing!

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