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Why modify the creative environment for people with autism on the spectrum?

Mindfulness and art go hand in hand, but if our environment is not compatible with a state of flow, how will we get all those proven clinical benefits when using art as therapy for people with disabilities?

In this article I am going to show you step by step how you can make some minor changes to your creative environment that reduce sensory overload for those with disabilities.



Colour has been proven time and time again to have a profound impact on our emotional state.

Brainwave studies have shown that colours affect the neural pathways, hormonal activity and emotional state. This is esoecially notable for people with autism on the spectrum. Filli Boya (2017) states on their website that "Researchers suggest that people with an autism spectrum disorder have anomalies in their eye structure. The rod and cone cells experience changes due to chemical imbalances and neural deficits. Studies have revealed that 85% of the children in this spectrum perceive colors more intensely in comparison to children displaying normal development."

Red, for example you will never see in a dementia unit or therapeutic environment. It is, in fact triggering. A study was done with a group of macaque monkeys and the results were intriguing to say the least. Food was offered to the monkeys from people wearing red, blue and green. They stayed away and refused food from the people wearing red. This suggests that on a primal level is a triggering and dominant colour.

That that we are aware of the importance of colours in a therapeutic environment, lets take a closer look at 3 colours we should avoid and 3 colours we should use.


YELLOW: Yellows are deemed too stimulating and may induce feelings of anxiety, anger and hyperactivity.

WHITE: White may also be distracting as it may be deemed to cold and hard on the eyes.

RED: Red is perceived as a dominant colour and may induce aggression and agitation


Blue and green are the two top reccomended colours that promote health and wellness.

This is no surprise, they reflect colours found in Nature! Be sure though, to make the colours pale greens or pale blues.

GREEN: Amira Disablitity suggests that the colour green may also help alleviate depression,

BLUE: Blue, slows down the breathing and violet may calm the nervous system.



PALE PINK: A survey conducted to investigate the preferred colours to be used amongst children on the spectrum showed that pale pink was the top preferred colour.

When I collaborate with art students who are on the spectrum, are hyperactive or have learning difficulties or who may have depression, I take colour choices in the art lesson into consideration for their program.

People on the spectrum I will encourage pale blues and greens to reduce stimulation. I will also eliminate the reds, oranges and yellows.

People with depression I will encourage yellows, oranges and purple as they are stimulating and may improve mood.



Noise plays a huge role when we are trying to create a calming environment and backgorund noise or loud music can often be distracting with people with disabilities. . However, for people with autism, every day noises can prove to be particularly excruciating as hear the world very differently to how we may hear different sounds, This can be particularly distressing to the person and must be taken into account when setting up an environment where you want your student to thrive .

These noises, may also be not what you'd expect! so, lets dive in and take a closer look at some potential audititory distractions and how to eliminate them:


This is characterized by an emotional reaction, such as rage or anger, to certain sounds. The trigger for this is usually a soft sound that’s often related to breathing or eating, and can be connected to people who are close to you. For example, you may be driven to distraction by the sound your significant other makes when they chew their food. However, a similar noise made by someone else may not even bother you in the slightest.


Also called sonophobia or ligyrophobia, phonophobia is an unusual and persistent fear of either specific or general environmental sounds. If you suffer from phonophobia, you may try to avoid ever exposing yourself to the sounds you’re scared of, and could in time end up being housebound due to your anxiety.

Hyperacusis Often accompanied by tinnitus, hyperacusis is an intolerance of everyday generalized environmental noise.

Hypersensitive Hearing at Certain Frequencies

This issue often goes hand-in-hand with autism. When you’re suffering from this, it’s likely that you’re able to handle most sounds, as long as they’re at a regular level. However, this changes when the sounds change frequency, particularly when they rise above 70 decibels – say when you hear a vacuum cleaner running

So, how do my private one -one art classes accommodate hearing difficulties with those on the spectrum?

  • The environment is very quiet, excessive and unnecessary noise is eliminated

  • Weather permitting, we sit outside in the garden

  • We have a discussion with you or your carer about any potential distractions or distressing sounds that we will need to be aware of and create a list of sound solutions



People with autism may have photophobia or light sensitivity and so many autistic people are visually defensive - that is, they avoid eye contact with a specific thing, and, or, may have trouble keeping their vision focused on one object.

There hasn't been major breakthroughs with direct research into light sensitivity and autism, but several hyposthesis do exist:

1: Some research suggests that autisic individuals may have an altered pupillary light reflex, distorting how the eye reacts to changes in light.

2: Structural differences have been found in the nervouse system, making them have a lower neurological threshold to changes in environmental stimuli.

Natural light gives comfort to students, increases their concentration and reduces hyperactivity in children. (Dunn and Dunn, 1993; Brand, Dunn & Greb, 2002). However some people may find certain lights overload their senses.

What to do:

FLEUROSCENT LIGHT Avoid fluorescent bulbs and replace them with incandescent a variety . A study revealed that fluorescent lights increased stereotypical repetitive behaviours in children with autisim.

CLOTHING Wear sunglasses, hats or visors to reduce the brilliance of the sun during sunny days or when bright lights can not be avoided.

REDUCE VISUAL DISTRACTION Reduce visual clutter in the room: Put things away in cupboards when possible. Avoid nick-knacks in the home. Keep the decore colours muted.

CURTAINS Add blinds or room darkening curtains on windows to keep bright sunlight at bay

Use natural light where possible.

How do our art lessons reduce visual overload?

The Bright Vic location has minimal visual clutter, and light dimming shades. We use natural light where possible and, weather permitting, we hold the art class in the tranquil garden. The colours in the class room are muted greens and greys. We also avoid where possible, using fluorescent lights.

Samantha will also collaborate with you or your carer to ensure a person centered approach is used to catering to your specific needs.

If you would like to find out about Samantha's Private art classes for plan or self managed NDIS participants, simply click on the link below.

Filli Boya The Effect of Color (Renk Etkisi) 2017

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