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Sensory-Friendly Spaces for People with Autism

03/14/24  9:15 AM PST
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Sensory experiences can be overwhelming and cause discomfort for people living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells can be particularly challenging for those with sensory sensitivities. And these are all too common in many public spaces.


Sensory-Friendly Rooms

It is possible to create sensory-friendly spaces that are more comfortable and welcoming for people with autism. Whether it be a bedroom, school classroom, or workplace, here are some tips for creating sensory-friendly spaces:

  1. Colors – Avoid bright and bold colors. Soft blues, greens, and neutrals can be particularly soothing.
  2. Noise – Loud and sudden noises can be distressing for people with autism. If the space is particularly noisy, consider using white noise machines or calming music to create a more peaceful environment.
  3. Lighting – Avoid bright and fluorescent lighting. Softer, warmer, and natural light is ideal.
  4. Smells – Avoid strong smells, like perfumes or cleaning products. Use scent-free cleaners where possible.
  5. Textures – Some people with autism may have sensory sensitivities to certain textures. Consider using soft, comfortable fabrics for furniture and flooring.


Sensory-Friendly Shopping

Sensory-friendly hours were spearheaded more than a decade ago by museums and other cultural institutions that cater to children, and have been moving into the retail spaces ever since. Sensory-friendly shopping has become a widely-demanded concept, and it’s not just for those living with autism.

Chains such as Walmart, Chuck E. Cheese, and AMC Theatres have added ‘sensory-friendly hours’ in all of their US locations.

  • Walmart offers its sensory hour every day from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. local time in all US and Puerto Rico stores. They will turn TVs onto a static image, turn off radios, and dim lighting where possible.
  • In partnership with the Autism Society, AMC Theatres offers a regular schedule of sensory-friendly films. “We turn the lights up and the sound down, so you can feel free to be you at these unique showings for people living with autism or other special needs”.
  • Chuck E. Cheese holds its Sensory Sensitive Sundays, with early openings that feature “a quieter environment, dimmed lighting, and a trained and caring staff to ensure each guest has a safe, fun-filled visit.”

If your preferred local market or store doesn’t offer sensory-friendly hours, consider speaking with staff about suggesting inclusive shopping.


Sensory-Friendly Work Places

Only 20% of people with disabilities, including those with autism, are employed, despite having the skillset and desire to work. By accommodating the needs of autistic employees, employers can tap into a valuable talent pool, harnessing unique perspectives, problem-solving abilities, and skills.

Here are some tips for creating sensory-friendly workspaces:

  1. Communication – Managers should provide clear and explicit instructions, avoid figurative language, and be patient when seeking responses from autistic team members.
  2. Timing – Managing time effectively can be a challenge for some autistic individuals. Collaborate with employees to establish clear priorities, deadlines, and time management strategies.
  3. Colors – Consider allowing the employee to select stationery and workspace accessories in colors that they enjoy.
  4. Noise – Offering autistic employees a quieter workspace, and/or noise-canceling headphones, can help mitigate sensory issues.
  5. Lighting – Avoid bright and fluorescent lights directly above their workspace.
  6. Smells – Avoid placing their workspace around areas prone to smells, such as lunch rooms or supply areas.



By creating a sensory-friendly space, we can make a big difference for people living with autism. Making simple modifications can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone.

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