Interior Design for Children with Autism


A recent post by one of our authors demonstrating what it’s like to have autism inspired me to research the effect of color on children with autism, with the intention of offering suggestions for creating peaceful physical environments for them.

Color is a major issue in the design of spaces for children with autism and researchers have even found anomalies in the eye components of these individuals. Their rods and cones appear to have changed due to chemical imbalances or neural deficiencies.

In a test of children with autism, 85% saw colors with greater intensity than neurotypical children, with red appearing nearly fluorescent, and vibrating with intensity. Only 10% saw the color as neurotypical children do and only 5% of the children with autism saw muted colors. This small percentage of children would be alone in seeking out primary and other vibrant colors because they perceive everything as gray.

Muted colors have a calming effect upon children with autism. Pale pink has been demonstrated through tests to be their favorite color overall. Cool colors such as blue and green are also soothing. A monochromatic color scheme is preferable, designs in fabric and wall hangings should be non-linear and non-obtrusive. Primary colors should be limited to lightweight toys that can be put away.

Simplifying and reducing the amount of stimuli is of paramount importance. Keeping toys and books out of sight reduces clutter and stimulates verbal requests from the child. However, items such as coat and hat racks should remain in clear view to help the child learn the skills of independence.

Shades, with their multitude of lines, as well as drapes can be distracting. Inside mount blinds are optimal, with the window frame painted the same color to create a uniform effect. 

While carpeting is recommended for its noise reduction and safety features, a pre-finished hardwood floor overlaid with a 100% wool carpet, along with a jute back is best for its low toxicity and minimal chance of provoking allergies.

Lighting is also an important consideration as glare, noise and flickering can create sensory havoc. Uplighting or diffused lighting is suggested to reduce glare. Florescent lights are to be avoided.

Furniture should be heavy or bolted to the wall or floor. Bean bag chairs are touted for autism, but the suffocation risk is very real. Chairs are now made on the same principle, but stuffed with foam. 

I recently bought a papasan chair and my sons with autism adore it!

Yard sale season is upon us — good luck in clearing the clutter and creating a soothing home environment for your child with autism.

37 Responses to Interior Design for Children with Autism

  1. Debbie K. says:

    In our house, it doesn’t matter so much color anything is so long as it has Mario on it! ;-)

  2. Interesting ideas, but this makes it sound like all people with autism are alike. I would recommend you just ask the person. If they can’t speak, show them a couple different colors and see if they will point.

    Also, you make some great suggestions like the blinds inside the windows which would look “normal.” The problem with many people is that they think the big “A” Autism means “special.” Certainly one has to meet the individual needs of a specific child/adult. But, really, there are not that many differences in terms of the environment for most people with autism. We can either focus on the differences, or the things that are the same. I choose same.

  3. Debbie K. says:

    What I *meant* to say was, “In our house, it doesn’t so much matter what color anything is, as long as it has Mario on it!” I really do have an English degree. Just forget to proofread! ;-)

  4. Susan says:

    Of course, not all kids with autism are the same,and it’s not to say they can’t choose their own colors, but the idea is minimize sensory overload and create a space that is calming. For instance, I have two kids with autism and never knew that red is practically florescent for them. It makes sense retrospectively that neither of them ever choose red objects or clothing. Similarly, I didn’t know that the many lines in Venetian blinds are very distracting, but they were both excited when I got rid of them.


  5. Debbie K. says:

    I’m sure as with everything else about autism, there’s a spectrum. My son is very high-functioning and he seems to prefer red. He has tons of red shirts (all with Mario on them). It really makes sense, though, to consider how colors and furnishings around the house can affect children who are hyper-sensitive. Maybe if I organize his room and make it a calmer, less chaotic place, Jack will decide he can sleep thru the night there and stop coming into our room to sleep on the floor. Girl can dream!

  6. Susan says:

    It’s definitely worth a shot to see if he’d stay in his room, or what other effect you notice.

    I remember fondly my sons’ Mario phase…


  7. Very interesting to read your point of view and some research information on color choices for individuals on the autism spectrum. I also just wrote a blog post on emotions and color at the Your Therapy Source blog. There was recent research on the color red and its effects on muscle strength. Very interesting results.

    I plan on adding a this information on my blog post. Thanks.

  8. Susan says:

    Thank you! I’ll check out your blog, sounds interesting.


  9. Doug says:


    Any citations or links to the color research you cite?


  10. Vicky Theroux says:

    I am a peds OT and work with children with Autism as well as varying degrees of ADHD. These color suggestons for both kinds of kids generally hold true. That is NOT to say you should make EVERYTHING muted… and she is NOT saying that.

    Think of the sensory sytem as a glass of water. If the color on the wall and the lighting ALONE, fill the cup 3/4, then ANY other load to the sensory system, like noises, clutter, a few toys or picture with bright colors… well the system overflows with VERY little additional input. In my Therapy space.. ALL the walls are muted blues and greens. I can then PICK a variety of sensory activities (music, vestibular stim, etc WITHOUT overwhelming the sensory system. These children tolerate multisensory activities better when the “background noise” of the room does not competed and pre-load the system for easy overwhelm.

  11. Autism Key says:

    @Doug. Sorry, I thought we embedded a link to the source in the story, but as it turns out, we did not.

    Here you go:

    Thanks for visiting.

  12. This is an important subject. When you look at brain research (specifically the work of Dr. Casanova on minicolumns) you see that the brain with autism is overwired. So it makes sense that different color wavelengths have greater impact on the visual system. I agree though, low stim colors would be best for all kids/adults who need to focus. Visit your local Waldorf school, if there is one in your town, and FEEL the environment to see how this impacts you personally. Great article!

  13. Susan says:

    Thanks. There’s so much we are unconscious of in our environments that make a big difference, esp. to kids on the spectrum. I’m learning a lot as I write.


  14. shipra chenji says:

    Thanks! This article is a great help to me as I am designing a living space for a child with special needs.
    I always knew how colours play an important role in our lives , this has left me certain.
    Nature inspires us all the time.It’s amazing how much nature has in store for us to learn and adapt.

  15. Susan says:

    Glad it was helpful.

  16. Fallynn says:

    Please check out my blog, it relates to architecture and autism I need all the help I can get

  17. Catherine A. McClarey says:

    There’s no funding to get my young-adult autistic son into a sheltered workshop program in our state (Illinois), so we’re “creating” a clerical/janitorial job for him at my spouse’s small law firm as part of his transition plan. The office manager will be painting a room which will be our son’s “office/break room” soon, so we were looking for ideas on what colors to go with, and in general how to make it a comfortable & relaxing environment for our son. The paint color we need to pick out this week (sounds like something muted would be best), but for the rest we have 1 school year left to get everything ready for him.

  18. Renae Bliss says:

    I am a single mom with ADD, who has 2 kids with ADHD. I have created a business/service involving interior decorating & Consulting for families with ADD & Autism. The website is the link to my Facebook page. If you’d like more information, please contact me.

  19. Catherine A. McClarey says:

    Our son was given several paint chip cards (all muted pinks, blues & greens), and immediately gravitated to a dark muted pink – although the paint that actually got used in his future “office” looks more like a dark muted orange (maybe because of the existing dark orange carpeting?) Hope he’s OK with that color!

  20. Momof2 says:

    As a mother of 2 very different Autistic children ( one high functioning Aspbergers and one moderate w/ DD) I agree that color and any clutter, noise etc can be maddening to either. A child may pick a color that unknowingly makes the “hyper” or agitated if given a choice. They may like a color that “excites” them, mania is fun to most children. Low stimuli and DEFINITELY shelving with doors or curtains is extremely helpful. Even with curtains on the shelves at school, my sons school is way overstimulating and he hates school!
    My oldest (Aspbergers) son is 21 and my other is 6 so I have lots of trial and error and life experience with this. Give it a try, can’t hurt, right?
    On the red comments.. Although every child is different ( my ” average health” 16 yr old loves red) my oldest always hated red and to this day will not wear red clothes. I always wondered why? I , as a child, would not even eat any red food. Had much been known about Autism in the 70′s, I may have diagnosed as well.

  21. Brenda says:

    My son is 15 and gets very overloaded and very loud and threatening, He has autism(high functioning) but also sensory integration. I took up all the carpet in my house thinking it would be cleaner- he screams at me often if my shoes(not even heels) make sound on floor. sounds disturb him terribly!even computer sounds or any sound if hes trying to do something and sometimes just in general. my walls were a goldish yellow i repainted all a neutural color,,,that helps some but I so need to find a way to get carpet and rugs-being a single mom its about impossible. He has always told me his favorite color is pink-he even asked for his room to be pink but i did light blue-now I read this and see that pink is a good choice,,he keeps his curtains closed and i routinely open them to let light in….. Ive always been on the ball with his sensory issues, and was told many yrs ago every behavior has a reason,I think the last yr has been really rough…I may have been side tracked thinking the behaviors were that of a teenager -basic disagreeance,,fould mouth etc,,,Im glad i read this….maybe Ive expected too much of him because of all the teachings about autism and puberty–but that was yrs ago-early puberty is very common he looks like hes 20 something,,,,,

  22. Susan Moffitt says:

    Glad the article helped. Sounds like you should doff shoes at the door and put on slippers until you can get area rugs. Also, noise reducing headphones work wonders for sound sensitivities.

  23. Terry Lobb says:

    Thanks Susan for your article. I have work with our local IHC in the past and have now been asked to assist with a special needs classroom who mainly work with Autistic people from all ages. It was good to read your article confirming how I work.

    Keep up the good work!

  24. Susan says:

    cool. thanks.

  25. Kelly says:

    My son has high functioning autism…I agree sounds get him highly agitated but the strange thing he loves the color red everything red…he has all of the sensory issues typically involved with the spectrum…I painted his room a shade of soothing green I had researched all sea blue trim as his obsession compulsion lies with fish/sea life but even still he wants me to paint his room red

  26. kim says:

    Logan just turned 7 and loves The Avengers and the associated colors….but something is setting him off in school to the point of acting out. What can I do to help him since I’m not there….

  27. Catherine McClarey says:

    Kim, could the special-ed people do some sort of “sensory inventory” in regard to your son? And maybe videotape a complete day at school for him, to help troubleshoot what’s triggering the acting-out? If a sensory integration issue is triggering the acting-out, it could be something visual, tactile, or even a noise he picks up on that maybe isn’t noticeable to others in the room. Or he could be responding to other people’s behavior (staff or students). You might be able to observe a day at school yourself; however, Logan might behave differently around Mom than he would around just school staff.

  28. Susan says:

    great advice…

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  32. Susan says:

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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