The Integrative Approach to Autism part 11: Suitable Bedroom Environment

Feb 07 2013

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series, developed over 18 years of research, experience and collaboration. Today Part 11: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: Suitable Bedroom Environment

Designing a suitable bedroom for your sensitive baby:

During the first six months of life, babies do not need a separate bedroom, nor should they have one. It is very important the baby shares the same bedroom and ideally the same bed with the parents. This supports the baby’s ability to cope with being a separate entity on earth for the first time. A sensitive baby should never lose sight of her mother and ought to feel the mother’s warmth during sleep too.

The longer parents can maintain this system the more emotionally and psychologically stable the baby is going to be in the long run. After the initial period of habituation to an independent life, the baby can eventually be moved to a separate bedroom. This should happen after the first six months and preferably not until the baby is two years old. When the time comes to give the baby a separate room parents tend to enrich the baby’s room with all sorts of furniture, drawings and toys. Parents naturally want to do the best they can for their child, and some feel pressured to out-decorate their friends. More furniture and décor means more distress and longer period of habituation by the baby. A sensitive baby’s room should contain only the minimal basic furniture and amenities. Anything not actually needed for the baby’s comfort should be removed. Anything placed there for the convenience or vanity by the parents should also be removed. Anything that makes noises, flickers, or smells should also be removed. The parent’s sense of what looks good or what fits in with the rest of the house is simply irrelevant here. Sensitive children need a minimally stimulating uncluttered environment to thrive. They do not thrive in a crowded or noisy environment. Sensitive children also need an environment into which they have ample input in order to thrive.

Moving your child from your bedroom to her bedroom should be a gradual process with multiple short exposures done over a couple of weeks. The child should spend an increasingly longer time in the new bedroom while the mother is in sight. The room should consist initially of a bed covered with simply designed sheets of not more than two colors. No patchwork, stripes, flowers or busy prints.. The room should also consist of a small table, chair, non-intrusive chest of drawers for essential clothing and maybe another piece of furniture such as a toy box. The walls and ceiling should be painted with a light yellow color or a variation thereof. Bright colors or a confluence of colors can be very stressful. The room should be farthest possible from the street and living room and other noisy or stimulating situations. Windows should be fitted with opaque drapes to produce absolute darkness during sleep.

This is not a soviet-era Russian prison for babies. It is not too depriving either. It is a comfortable and level starting point upon which one can build later. Once the baby settles in to the room, other furniture, toys or amenities can be gradually added. The additions should come as a means to meet growing needs and more importantly only as they meet the approval of the primary occupant of the room. Alternatively, the additions should meet the requests of the occupant. Admittedly, a sensitive baby may not develop a sense of her needs until later, but exposing her to possible additions inspired by her cousin’s bedroom or a model at a furniture store may help awaken her senses. In addition, exposing a child to the possibilities may help her point to things she needs but could never put into words in the past. Allow your child to have determining input into everything about her room. Never impose your will or sense of style or fashion. Always ask for your child’s input before making changes. And whatever you do, never ever move stuff in her room that she put there. Another note, some sensitive children may have a problem handling too many choices at once, in this case, parents are advised to narrow down the choices to two or three for the child to choose from.

This system should carry a baby throughout childhood and into puberty and the teenage years. I remember as a child I had a little white table full with glitter and stars and various colorful shapes in my bedroom. I actively hated it. But I could not manage to get it out of there because I never knew how to dispose of it or to get someone else to do it for me.

The fact that a toy has been sitting there for six months and your child has not touched it yet does not mean she never will or that she does not like it. It only means she will get to it in time. However, if your child expresses in any way discontent with an object or a piece of furniture, it is time for this thing to go and disappear from the house for good. On the other hand, many sensitive children have a hard time letting go of old toys or worn out clothes or furniture. As a parent, you are well advised to respect that. Sensitive children often develop attachments to objects. Commonly known as ‘security blanket’ these old toys or clothes that do not fit anymore are very important for your child’s emotional stability. Your child should be allowed to decide on her own the time when to let go of these objects. In fact, holding on to archaic objects maybe a sign of an insecure mother-child bond. The insertion of a sense of danger into the bond leads children to look for safety in objects.

Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
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