Visit our US Site
Your shopping cart is empty!

Creating an Autism-Friendly Environment

Written by on . Posted in Advice, Sensory Rooms, Sensory Solutions, Handy Hints and Tips
Creating an Autism-Friendly Environment

When creating an autism-friendly environment, it is important to think about the range of needs different autistic people have; although it is not possible to cater for all needs, making some adjustments could make all the difference for some.

Our guide to creating an appropriate, accessible environment for an autistic person looks at some of the challenges and triggers an autistic person might face, and ways to help circumvent or minimise them. We consider what needs to be addressed when creating your own autism-friendly environment checklist, as well as the differences in creating an autism-friendly environment at home, school, work and in public spaces.

Autism-Friendly Environment Checklist

One of the most important considerations when creating an autism-friendly environment are the key senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, body awareness and balance. Autistic people can experience either over-stimulation to these senses (hypersensitivity), under-stimulation (hyposensitivity) or both. 

As we have mentioned before, autistic people have their own preferences and triggers, and when creating an autism-friendly environment, individual differences should be taken into account wherever possible.


Under-sensitive autistic people may perceive objects to be darker or even lose some of their features. Often their central vision can blur while their peripheral can be hyper-focused and sharp, and light can appear to jump around.

Over-sensitive autistic people can be highly sensitive to lights, in particular fluorescent lights. Their perception of colours and patterns can also be heightened, causing overstimulation or even discomfort. They may also experience distorted vision where images appear to fragment. It can be easier for them to focus on small areas of detail rather than the whole object. 

When creating an autism-friendly environment, consider the light source. 

  • If it is artificial light, is it fluorescent? Can it be dimmed, or the colour be changed to a softer glow? 
  • If it is natural light, will there be direct sunlight? If so, can the sunlight cause reflections within the autism-friendly environment? Can a screen or blackout blind, or curtain be installed to enable you to adjust the light levels?
  • Explore positive uses of light such as fibre optics, LED wall panels, and interactive floor systems.

Consider choosing appropriate colours and patterns.

  • Pinks and lilacs can help to create a calming environment. While greens and blues can promote a soothing experience.
  • Keep patterns to smaller objects such as toys.


Under sensitivity can cause limited hearing in one or both ears or no hearing at all. In order to create some stimulation, an autistic person may enjoy noisy places or banging doors. Over-sensitivity can cause sound to be magnified, causing overstimulation and physical pain.

Think about all the ways in which sound can infiltrate a space and how you might minimise this in an autism-friendly environment. 

  • Is the environment close to a window or door where outside noises can filter through? 
  • Does any of the furniture or equipment make noises? 
  • Does the room allow for sound to be absorbed as opposed to reverberate? 

Trying to create an environment that is as quiet as possible will allow the use of sound to be used in a controlled way for enjoyable stimulation.

  • Sensory music has many benefits, such as environmental control, and artistic expression and is incredibly accessible.
  • Bubble tubes and bubble walls offer a calming and soothing gentle bubbling sound.


Under-sensitive autistic people may enjoy holding others tightly, chewing on items and finding heavy objects soothing. A great addition to an autism-friendly environment is weighted blankets that can help provide that feeling of heaviness to reduce anxiety. 

Over-sensitive autistic people experience touch completely differently. Often touch can cause high amounts of discomfort and physical pain. Clothes and fabrics also contribute to the overstimulation of touch for an autistic person. 

Try including a range of different textures that can be touched, such as a fibre optic carpet, fibre optic tunnel, or our wide range of sensory soft play equipment that can be used to engage the brain and body.


Under-sensitivity to taste can influence the amount of spicy food an autistic person may prefer to eat as well as having an interest in eating non-edible objects such as stones, soil or metal. Over-sensitivity to taste often means flavours in food can be strong and overpowering. Food textures can also play a large role, often more so than taste itself.

In an autism-friendly environment, food is best kept contained to limit the odour that they produce. 

  • Providing an option to select a variety of safe foods for an autistic person can alleviate any anxiety they may feel around the food. 
  • Offering a variety of food types, including sweet, sour, spicy, crunchy, smooth etc, can help stimulate hyposensitive tastes. with a variety of tastes and textures
  • For orally-focused people, finding safe things to bite and chew can be very beneficial. If not food, offering things like chewellery or food-grade chewable pencils toppers can redirect the need to chew.


Under-sensitivity to smell can reduce the amount an autistic person may be able to smell. They may fail to notice strong odours or have no sense at all. Over-sensitivity to smell can mean subtle smells appear intense and overpowering.

When adjusting an area to create an autism-friendly environment, consider what smells there may be in the room, even if they are subtle. 

  • Is the environment close to a kitchen, window or door where smells may come into the area? 
  • Are there any candles or other scented room sprays? 
  • Who will be using the space, and are they wearing deodorant or perfume? 

Trying the keep the environment as fragrance-free as possible will help to reduce the overstimulation an autistic person may feel and provide a neutral place to ensure carefully-selected aromatherapy can be enjoyed.


Also known as the vestibular system, this relates to balance and movement. Under-sensitivity to balance can be a need to swing, spin or rock in order to produce some sensory input. Over-sensitive autistic people may find controlling their body during some sports difficult and may be more prone to car sickness.

  • Consider how much space you can give in order to cater for swinging or arms and spinning. 
  • Incorporating balance beams and swinging chairs can provide a great opportunity to develop balance.

Body Awareness

Otherwise known as proprioception, the sense of one’s body in the physical world around them, body awareness can be a challenge for autistic people.

Under-sensitive autistic people may stand too close to others if they struggle to be aware of personal space. They can have difficulty judging the space around a room and navigating to other areas. 

  • Keeping furniture around the edge of an autism-friendly environment allows for a wider space in the centre and clearer navigation to exits and entrances.

Over-sensitivity to body awareness can create difficulty with fine motor skills and utilising small objects. Think about offering activities within an autism-friendly environment to promote the use of fine motor skills.

Benefits of Suitable Sensory Environments for Autism

Creating an autism-friendly environment has countless benefits for autistic people as a way to reduce negative sensory stimuli and enrich a positive sensory experience. Adjusting a sensory environment for autism can help to reduce stress and anxiety, develop communication skills, improve focus and enhance sensory stimulation, to name just a few. What’s more, it can provide a vital space for autistic people when the world around them gets too much.

Photograph from Disabled and Here

Differences in Creating an Autism-Friendly Environment at Home, School, Work and Public Spaces

Creating an autism-friendly environment at home, in a school, at work or out in public spaces needs careful consideration; each environment will be used differently. When thinking about where the autism-friendly environment will be, think about; 

  • Who will be using it, and what are their needs? Will this be a space for just one individual or many with their own strengths and challenges? 
  • How will it be used? Is this a separate space altogether for the sole purpose of providing an autism-friendly environment? Or will it be multifunctional? Will you be adjusting an environment such as a bedroom, bathroom, hallway, office space etc, that will have multiple purposes?
  • Why are you creating a sensory environment for autism? Is it to provide a safe area to escape to? Is it to provide a more suitable space than the one that is currently used?

Here are some suggestions for creating a sensory environment for autism.


In a home, it is easier to tailor an autism-friendly environment to the needs of the individual. 

  • Reduce smells such as deodorants, spray, scented candles, food and drink and replace them with fragrance-free products.
  • Make light levels adjustable with blackout blinds.
  • Include positive sensory toys and equipment to contribute to relaxation and development.
  • Take time to learn the individual’s preferences, triggers and needs to really customise the space.


  • Create an environment to pause and process the daily information and sensory stimuli.
  • What colours are used within the school? Muted, pastel tones can reduce the overstimulation that bolder colours can have. Our guide to autism-friendly colours looks at the impact of colours in autistic people.
  • Multiple entrances or flexible start/end times provide a quieter and slower introduction to the school day.
  • Keep corridors as open and free of furniture and clutter as possible to aid in navigating from space to space.
  • Keep a clear area around the classroom board to minimise distractions
  • Consider the acoustics of the classroom and if it can absorb sound to create a sound-sensitive environment.


  • Provide areas for relaxation away from busy spaces.
  • Consider strategic desk placement away from distractions such as noise, doorways, windows, lights and strong smells.
  • Create clear pathways through the workplace environment to ease access to exits and entrances.
  • Use appropriate furniture that is easy to clean and reduces triggers relating to touch.
  • Offer relevant accommodations and speak to your colleagues or employees about how you can help them work most effectively.

Public Spaces

  • Reduce the volume of background music or sound, or turn it off completely.
  • Can the temperature of the public space be monitored and adjusted for different areas?
  • Clearly map out how to navigate a public space with visual aids.
  • Think about the type of light that is used in a public space and if this can be changed for softer lighting or adjusted to reduce the light levels.
  • Create quiet areas with minimal stimuli as a safe space for autistic people to escape to. Designing a sensory garden for autism can provide an ideal safe space.

Possible Challenges and Triggers for Autistic People

Around 700,000 adults and children in the UK are autistic. Many face regular challenges and triggers in their daily lives but not one experience is the same. Often these triggers can make the world feel scary and difficult to understand increasing stress and anxiety. Autism-friendly environments go some way in creating a space to process the information they are stimulated with. Having some understanding of the different challenges and triggers that some autistic people may experience can help signal ways in which creating an autism-friendly environment can help.

  • Social Interaction

The challenges: Autistic people often struggle to understand or ‘read’ others’ feelings or intentions, while also struggling to express their own emotions. An autistic person’s social interaction may come across as insensitive or sometimes even socially inappropriate. They might need time alone when they have been overstimulated by people, which can be interpreted as being cold or aloof.

How to help: In these situations, talking about the social interaction before it takes place can help in some way to ease the anxiety around the social interactions. Knowing where to escape when it gets too much can also ease any worries about being overstimulated.

  • Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

The challenges: Some autistic people might be completely non-verbal, some might go non-verbal for periods of time (i.e., when overwhelmed or having a meltdown) but have good language skills, others might be verbal but struggle with language skills or development. Difficulties in understanding sarcasm, metaphors, idioms or tone of voice can arise as communication is often taken more literally. 

How to help: Allowing an autistic person more time to process and interpret the information they have been given, whether that is dialogue, gestures, tone of voice or sarcasm, is one way that can help aid communication.

Additionally, having clear visual communication can help non-verbal autistic people to make themselves understood. This might be a text-to-speech app, written flashcards or using BSL instead of spoken language.

  • Too Much Information

The challenges: Being overstimulated with too much information can cause stress and anxiety for autistic people. This can lead to withdrawal or a meltdown

How to help: Making information more bitesize can help an autistic person process the information. Creating visual aids such as calendars or diaries help reduce the mental load of information and makes it more manageable. 

Additionally, try not to only offer verbal instructions or reminders – for example, information shared over a phone call might not process, so following up your call with an email summarising what you discussed can help make things clearer.

  • Space

The challenges: Often autistic people can struggle with overcrowded areas or tight spaces such as narrow hallways or busy shops. 

How to help: Identifying or creating an easy and accessible escape route can ease anxiety about limited space and provide an autistic person with a safe area to retreat to if they are struggling.

It is important to keep in mind an individual’s differing needs when creating an autism-friendly environment. It is not always possible to provide a dedicated sensory room, which is why adjusting an existing space can go some way in helping an autistic person circumvent the daily challenges and provide a safe space for a positive experience.

Take a look at our wide collection of sensory products, including fibre optics and bubble tubes, or shop by needs to support individuals.