How To Create an Autism-Friendly Dining Space

Autism-Friendly Spaces: Fostering Inclusivity and Comfort

Our homes are meant to make us feel safe, calm and held, so understanding our sensory preferences is crucial. Typically, bold and vibrant colours and patterns can cause too much stimuli and discomfort and may trigger sensory overload. Friendly dining spaces go beyond mere aesthetics; they prioritise inclusivity and comfort, providing individuals on the autism spectrum with environments where they can thrive and feel at ease. Due to increased sensory-sensitivities, special consideration needs to be paid to the sensory elements of design, which range from acoustics, materials, colour and layouts. Feeling comfortable when sitting is more than acknowledging the physical sensation of the sofa or chair; it’s about being comfortable in the surroundings. Listening to the specific needs of individuals to understand which sensory elements foster a calming atmosphere will not only reduce triggers but also offer a calming space to regulate when the individual suffers from being overwhelmed. By minimising stimuli, such as loud noises or harsh lighting, we can create a more comfortable and enjoyable dining experience during mealtimes

Tips for Creating Calm Eating Spaces:

Soothing Colour Palette: Individuals with autism tend to find muted colours calming. This includes warm neutral tones, such as putty, cream, biscuit, and beige, which are gentle on the eye, as well as shades of blue and green with a subtle grey undertone. These understated hues are known to soothe and make the ideal backdrop for the dining area, allowing individuals to eat without feeling distracted and overwhelmed. You might consider ‘zoning’ an area by painting a soothing colour on just one wall or in a block. Adding colour accents through accessories, artwork, and plants can have the same relaxing effect. If the spaces need to appeal to younger children, consider adding items in their eye line that bring them comfort, such as family photos or artwork they have created.

🌟 Gentle Lighting: Soft, dimmable lights help avoid harsh glare, which can be overstimulating and stressful. Lighting plays a significant role in shaping a space’s mood, and opting for gentle and soothing lighting can make all the difference.

🌟 Noise Pollution Control: Try to avoid loud TVs and appliances during mealtime. Minimising auditory distractions by opting for quiet background music or ambient sounds can make a huge difference. Younger children can find sitting down at mealtimes extremely challenging due to food tastes, textures, scents, and the pressure of having to eat certain foods. This is why it’s important to do everything possible to make the experience as stress-free as possible.

🌟 Respectful Communication: Foster open, supportive conversations without bombarding individuals with overwhelming questions. Creating an environment where individuals feel understood and respected fosters inclusivity. Whilst it’s lovely to hear about your child’s day, they might not be able to communicate as they are still trying to regulate after being overstimulated at school. This might look like coming back from school, not speaking, and just wanting to sit at the dinner table without communication. This isn’t rude; it’s just processing and regulating.

🌟 Sensory-Friendly Seating: Comfortable, supportive seating options cater to sensory needs and promote relaxation. For younger individuals, incorporating fiddle toys, such as Velcro under the table or elastic bands on chair legs, can provide sensory stimulation in a discreet and non-disruptive manner.

Autism-friendly spaces are more than just physical environments; they are places of inclusivity, comfort, and understanding. By incorporating thoughtful design elements and prioritising sensory considerations, we can create spaces where individuals on the autism spectrum feel valued, supported, and at home.

If you would like to learn more, take a look at our article about sensory design

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