Thursday, 24 January 2013

Creating an Aspie habitat

House in the Inner City of Chicago, Illinois ... 08/1974If our homes are our castles and our sanctuaries, we might as well make them places where we can be as comfortable as possible.  And there are ways we can "Aspie-fy" our homes, for the benefit of the people on the spectrum who live there.

This will be different for everyone.  We've all got different sensory triggers, different executive function and self care needs, and different personalities.  But here are a few things that are working at my place:

Put it where you can see it:  If there are things you need to be reminded of - putting out bins, dealing with mail, charging your phone - put those things or reminders of them in clearly visible places.  I'm OK with the bins, because I have enthusiastic elderly neighbours who put out their own bins at 3pm the day before, thereby helpfully reminding the whole street that Friday is rubbish day and whether or not it's recycling week.  But I have a chronic problem with mail, so these days it lives in the middle of the dining room table where I have to look at it every time I eat or walk past it until I get around to actually dealing with it.

Put it where you use it: My mobile phone charger lives beside the bed, because I use my phone as an alarm clock and I'm in a routine of plugging it in every night to recharge while I sleep.  My kitchen scale is actually in the spare room, because I don't cook but I do use it for weighing stuff I'm selling on Ebay.  The stuff itself (people who take online selling seriously call it "inventory", as in "I need inventory so I'm going to an estate sale to buy dead peoples' stuff") is also in the spare room.  So are the pens, sticky tape, post satchels, a white sheet draped over a chair to act as a photo backdrop, and a printed-out guide to parcel prices stuck to the wall for easy reference.  So when listing day rolls around, I just take the laptop into the spare room and everything I need to do the job is there waiting for me.

In the face of executive dysfunction, this is essential if I'm going to get anything done.  I own a thousand pens and there's a mug in every room full of the things, because that way I can always find one when I want one.  I have five hairbrushes which undertake a circular migration between bedroom, bathroom and lounge room.  I have sunscreen, bottles of water and a full set of eating implements in the car so I don't have to remember those things when I go out for a day.  I have sets of house keys at work, in the car, and in a secret outdoors hideyhole so when I inevitably lock myself out of the house I have a spare set to get back in again. Having multiples of common items might seem excessive and un-frugal, but it means I don't spend half my day like my mother, looking for her single comb/pen/notebook, which she's misplaced for the fourteenth time since breakfast.

Keep visual clutter under control: Sensory triggers are different for everyone, but personally visual clutter really annoys me.  I have very little ornamentation going on in my home, few pictures on walls and not a lot of stuff on display.  What I do have is usually organised rather than being a big chaotic mass of colour and shapes.  I also like simple blocks of colour - plain walls, plain floors, plain rugs, plain sheets, plain shower curtains, plain tablecloths.  Busy patterns overwhelm me.  Too much stuff distracts me from the things I need to see - which takes us back up to point one.

Keep the noise down: Noise is a massive trigger for me, so I never have a radio or TV on "for company" or for "background noise".  I once spent a whole morning experimenting with sticking bits of wood and folded paper under the fridge to get it perfectly level so it'd stop making a groaning noise.  I put the washing machine on before I go out so I don't have to hear it, and very seldom use a dryer because I prefer the sun, which is not only silent but free.  I now have - by luck rather than design - a microwave that beeps once when the meal's finished and then shuts up, rather than doing that 'beep beep beep beep beep beep BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEP COME GET YOUR GODDAMN FOOD, FOOL!' thing so many of them do.

Overall, it's about knowing what your own triggers are, and finding ways to work around them and create a space in which you're happy to live.  Our homes should be our safe places, our sanctuaries, and they need to be spaces were we feel comfortable and, well, at home.

Photo: House in the inner city of Chicago, Illinois, August 1974 from the US National Archives via Flickr Commons.