Small Changes Can Make A Big Difference: Shaping the home environment to promote your child’s communication
I am excited about this month's post, which has been written by our guest, Mui Kometsopa, Centre Manager of The Rainbow Room Foundation, Architect and mum. Mui has merged her expertise in architecture with her experience of working with families who have children with special needs to bring you these practical tips below.
As an architect, I strongly believe that physical environment can influence human behaviour, especially social interaction within that space. With just minor arrangements and a few adjustments, you can actually set up home environment that fosters interaction and improves your child's communication. The keys to shaping the home environment are to maximise opportunities for a child to communicate their needs and to minimise sensory distraction.
Here are 9 tips for parents:
1. Open up living space
Light up the room, ideally with natural sunlight. Removing partition or furniture that blocks the flow of space will help to create visual connection within the room. The open living space will encourage people to see what others are up to. The more we see each other, the more opportunities there are for social interaction.
2. Identify specific areas for specific activities
A well-structured and organised environment will enable a child to predict the situation and tasks they have to do in a certain area such as dining, reading, homework, play, etc. Clear structure will help to reduce anxiety and promote self confidence.
3. Re-position furniture
When we need a child’s attention, the position recommended to maximise interaction is to sit directly in front of them. For example, rather than push your child’s working table up against a wall, float the table to allow extra seat on the opposite side.
4. Use padded flooring
In play areas, a padded floor is recommended not only for your child safety, but also for your own sake. Since the best position to create ‘joint attention’ is at your child’s eye level, you will be spending a lot of time on the floor, rolling, crawling - playing with him. A padded floor will be more comfortable for you and safer for your knees.
5. Put the shelves up high
High shelves can certainly help to minimise visual distractions. When toys and other objects are out of a child’s reach, they will need an adult’s help to reach them. This provides more opportunities for communication. Open shelves are better since they allow a child to clearly see what is available to play, which helps reduce anxiety.
6. Categorise toys
Toys can be categorised conceptually or thematically. You can put pictorial or written labels on the boxes so they are easy to use and maintain. Toy boxes can be rotated to reflect interest of your child in that day. Toy grouping can encourage a child to build a connection between related toys and create a story while playing. Thematic play also motivates expressive language and social interaction.
7. Label up!
Labels are handy. Not only can they help to expand your child’s vocabulary, but they also can help you organise the entire house! Labels on enclosed containers such as storage boxes or solid cabinet doors can reduce anxiety for some children (and adults).
8. Ensure safe exploration
As a parent, you probably realise how much kids love to explore household items. While your child is roaming the house to learn new things, make sure your space is child-safe. Cover electrical outlets, and store dangerous or breakable objects up high. Locking unsafe items away can reduce situations where you have to use the word ‘no’ or ‘don’t’, allowing you to interact with your child in more positive and enjoyable ways.
9. Create display wall
A little wall of your child’s art, writing or print display at home is a powerful reinforcement to promote his self esteem. The wall should be located where everyone can clearly see it and talk about it. This can be placed along the hall way, in the living room, or on the fridge door. Be as creative as you like but be aware not to bombard the space with pictures which might cause visual over stimulation.
Many children with hyper-sensitivity experience sensory overload which can be distracting and interfere with their focus. The basic principle is to remove or reduce sensory disturbance from the environment. It is essential to be aware of your child’s sensory sensitivity and how the environment might affect them.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I did and took away these practical tips to apply at home!
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