Interior designer uses environment to calm children with autism

Children living with autism face constant struggles in their everyday lives, including with their surroundings.

NBC’s Chief Medical Editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, met one mother who says it is all about figuring out what stimulates the child, and what calms them.

Jodie Rozencwaig’s son Brandon, 6, has autism. He also has trouble making sense of his environment.

“The reason I go with the sensory integration therapy is because his body is disorganized,” says Rozencwaig.

Sight, smell, sound, touch and taste.

These are all senses most of us use everyday to understand the world around us, but for children with autism this is often difficult.

“I thought it was a great idea to create an environment that would really satisfy his sensory interests,” explains Rozencwaig.

Deborah DiMare is an interior decorator, but she also designs spaces for children with developmental and sensory challenges.

“A sensory environment is a room or a space that touches upon all of the sense. It can either calm someone, it can excite their senses, it can inspire focus or concentration or creativity,” says DiMare.

To make sure that children’s needs are met, DiMare works with an occupational therapist.

“We need them to feel like they’re in harmony. And the way that we do that is instead of them doing it from the inside out, we create an outside space so that it happens from the outside in,” explains Nancy Amar, an occupational therapist.

Brandon is a child who needs stimulation in some area, and grounding in others. To meet his sensory needs, his bedroom was re-designed.

The walls were changed from a bright blue to a more calming tone, and less structured toys were brought in to promote imagination.

Brandon likes rocking, so a rocking chair was added.

Brandon is considered “low tone,” which means his muscles are very loose and floppy, so his new mattress is firm and low.

“His bedding, I changed out all of his bedding because I felt the bedding wasn’t heavy enough,” says DiMare. “He needed that pressure on his body to calm him and to anchor him.”

Different textures were also added to expand Brandon’s comfort zone.

“It’s not about creating a space that’s just pretty, it’s about designing the space around the child, and giving them a great environment to thrive in,” continues DiMare.

His mother, Jodie, agrees. “You want to see inside and see how he’s feeling, and how hard it is for him not to communicate. We really just want to provide him with the best resources we can and help him reach his potential and be a happy and healthy kid.”

Recent studies show 1 in every 150 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism.

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