Decorating a Teen's Room: Introducing Changes to Teens with Autism

Health Writer

Children and teens on the ASD spectrum often find change difficult. They thrive on routine, structure and their environment staying the same. Some changes, such as a move to a different city, divorce or the death of a loved one are significant changes hard for all children and teens but may be more manageable in children not on the spectrum. Even small changes, though, can prove difficult.

Rita is the mother of Ethan, an almost 17 year old son with Asperger's syndrome. He is high functioning, doing well at school and planning to go to college in two years but hasn't decided if he wants to stay at home or live away from home. He has friends at school and gets together with them occasionally, although he rarely invites someone over to his house. He likes the comfort of his home.

A few weeks ago, Rita took a good look around Ethan's room. A Little Tykes shelf still sat in the corner. There was a Star Wars comforter and curtains. The decorations hadn't changed in years, although certainly Ethan had changed. Even so, whenever she suggested changing, he insisted the room was fine just as it was. It wasn't that Ethan was still attached to the decorations from his childhood, he wasn't the sentimental type, it was that they were familiar and he didn't like change.

Even so, Rita decided it was time to create a teen room. Here are some of the things Rita learned:

Plan your changes before doing anything. Write out all the changes you want to make and talk to your teen. Give him (or her) time to to get used to the idea.

Mix in new with familiar. Rita decided not to paint the walls; they would remain the same. Ethan could still walk in the room and feel the familiarity of the blue walls. Instead, she made small changes, such as swapping the Little Tykes shelf to a more teen oriented shelving unit.

Create a place for familiar objects. Devote an area of the room for your teen to keep old, familiar objects. Rita added some additional shelves and transferred all the objects from the old shelve onto the new one. There was a place for the trophies, medals and souvenirs Ethan had collected and they were mixed in with some new items. There was also plenty of space for Ethan to add new items. You may want to use crates or chests to deposit the outgrown items your teen just doesn't want to throw in the trash.

Involve your teen. Although he may fight the change in the beginning, once he gets used to the idea, he may have some great ideas and input on what he would like to have in his room. Keep him involved in the process.

Consider making small changes over a period of time rather than a single day. Rita decided to make a couple changes each week. The room slowly transformed from a little boy's room to a teen's room over several weeks. First she changed the shelves, next she painted the furniture (again keeping the old but making it look new), the following week she changed the comforter and curtains and in the final week she changed the posters and such hanging on the walls.

Think practical. What does your teen spend time doing in his room? Using his laptop? Playing video games? Reading? Relaxing? Make sure to include practical ways for your teen to continue doing what he enjoys. If he prefers to do his homework in the privacy of his room, add a desk. If he plays video games, create a space he can do that. If he reads, make sure there are plenty of book shelves. Teens on the spectrum are usually logical and practical, so adding these types of items help him see why redecorating the room is a good idea.

Take cues from his current interests. While Ethan was once thrilled with the Star Wars theme of his room, his interests (at least some of them) have changed. Rita took stock of what Ethan was interested in and which interests had survived through the years. She decided on a martial arts theme and bought wall decorations that matched that interest.

When she was finished, Rita asked Ethan what he thought. Ethan, she knew, wasn't big on showing enthusiasm, so she didn't expect much. But he said, "the shelves are useful, the sword on the wall is cool, the chair and table will work when I am using my laptop." That was it - he didn't mention the new comforter, the new curtains, the new (sort of) furniture. But Rita was thrilled, "useful, cool and will work" were high compliments as far as she was concerned.