Updated: Nov 12, 2022
Photo credit: Robo Wunderkind for Unsplash
My forever advice for Autistic adults and parents of Autistic children is to adopt a neurodivergent lifestyle to make life calmer and more enjoyable for the neurodivergent family members and for all family members.
The world is made for neurotypical people. That creates challenges for neurodivergent people on a regular basis. Creating a neurodiverse lifestyle pushes out things that don't work and makes room for what helps us thrive.
A neurodivergent lifestyle is one that centers on the needs of the neurodivergent person or people. The details of the changes needed will vary from person to person, but in general, these changes are soothing and enriching and offer a life that is less chaotic and busy and more predictable and calm. A neurodivergent lifestyle is one that accommodates and offers comfort to neurodivergent people, one that meets the individual's particular needs.
What adopting a neurodivergent lifestyle means is this: stop trying to fit into a world not made for you and make a world for yourself--make every aspect of your life work for you. Or at least as much as you can.
Sensory issues are a huge part of being neurodivergent, and these needs being met means clearing the way for other issues to be addressed and daily life to happen with less struggle.
I suggest that you make a list with each person in the household and go over sensory aversions and sensory affinities and then try to meet those needs creating separate spaces if possible for places where those needs conflict.
You will find that if possible, people will meet these needs on their own. Children and adults with high support needs will need assistance. Here is a brief list of my aversions and affinities and how I accommodate them:
Bright light inside
Warm yellow and colored lights
Stained glass lamps
Bright lights outside
Golden hour sun
Strong savory smells
Strong sweet smells
Candles with sweet scents
Multiple sources of noise
Low volume tv or music
Only 1 source at a time
rocking or bouncing
Rocking chair/Yoga chair
Activities with few people
Planned event times with few people
Places that feel uncared for/unclean
Leaving unclean spaces/creating beauty
Doing "important" things
Rigid, uncomfortable clothes
Sensory needs move with the person, but where individuals spend most of their time should be designed and decorated with sensory needs in mind.
Clothing is very much a part of the sensory experience. Wear what you want to wear. Seriously. It's ok. Whatever you want for comfort, for expression.
Sensory needs include food. Access to desired, safe foods and drinks for each neurodivergent person is a must. Keeping in stock is helpful to have things on hand but can also serve as a comfort for those with anxiety over food or very restrictive diets.
Neurodivergent homes should be made to meet our needs. This is true in both form and function.
Form: What does it look like? What we can do with our home spaces is dependent upon some factors that aren't within our control. If you rent, you might not be able to make physical changes to a space. If money is tight, there are limited options available for buying something new or making changes to a space like painting or installing a swing, etc. For me a space being attractive and cozy is important to my comfort. Wall color, artwork, furniture, and decorative items are extremely important to me. My tastes aren't extravagant, but they are specific. I have a vision for each space. I also work with my husband and daughter, who are both also Autistic, to create spaces that they find pleasing as well. The design of their specific spaces reflects their requests and needs.
Things to consider in the design: how do colors impact your mood? Do you prefer an uncluttered space or lots of things to look at? Does each space have a theme? Are your special interests reflected in the design and decorations? Are there things that bother you in the space that you want to cover or conceal? What's missing?
Function: How does it work? You should make some modifications that make things easier for you and your family members. You should consider what your challenges are. Do you have socks and clothes all over the house? Put laundry baskets in every room. Collect cups in your office (Guilty!)? Put a bin under your desk to make it easy to take your cups back to the kitchen en masse. Keep notebooks in each room to keep track of things that might come up when you're in that room. Keep phone or device chargers in each room to prevent looking for them all the time when you need one. Get a tracker for your keys like a Tile, and keep a spare set. If you like blankets, have a throw in every room. Or two! If you love Legos, display them. Set up a small desk just for you to work on them. This is your house! You're a whole adult--you can do whatever you want!
A swing and a yoga ball in the living room along with a Christmas treat put up the first week of November.
Sensory needs should absolutely be included in the process of creating spaces in your home. That goes for both form and function. Aesthetics are a part of sensory needs, but other issues related to the senses are even more important. If movement is important for you or your family members, including items in the room for meeting those needs should be a primary focus. In our house, we have swings for my daughter in three rooms and outside. We have a 6-foot trampoline in my office that she and I both use. We also have a row machine and an elliptical that help with meeting the need for movement. We have a large chalkboard by the front door where we have the day's agenda and upcoming events including appointments for all of us to see. We each also benefit from having our own spaces to retreat to when needed. My daughter has her bedroom and the guest room, which she calls her "second bedroom." My husband has his office, and I have my own. Each of these spaces is decorated with the individual in mind and offers items that meet sensory needs, executive function needs, and special interests.
Example: My office. My office has a beautiful mural of one of my special interests painted by a local artist, Corie Hinton. I have multiple notebooks and datebooks where I keep everything. The rower and trampoline are here so I can get in some movement especially when I need writing breaks. I have a Portal for video calls that won't interrupt writing. I have bookcases with supplies for everything I need. I get lovely afternoon light and can keep my overhead lights off most of the time. I have a moon lamp that brings me a little joy. It's often messy as I'm forever on my way to do something else.
Corie Hinton, muralist, finishing up in my office
Photo credit: Alondra Rogers-Clements
Relationships and Boundaries
This section could be so long that I decided to make it super short instead else I'd be writing a whole book.
You are under no obligation to maintain relationships that are harmful to you. You can let go. You can walk away. Build friendships and other relationships build on authenticity and openness. Decide what you want and then be clear about your needs and rules for engagement with you. Be clear with others when they have crossed a line. Be accountable when you have.