As the awareness of autism increases, families, schools and workplaces are establishing safe areas where autistic individuals can go to receive a break from stimulation and regroup themselves. Safe areas can either be set up in a separate room or a designated portion of a room, such as in a quiet cubical or tent. Some safe areas are even set up in large closets with curtains that take the place of doors. Other people use their bedrooms as safe areas. Therapists and professionals such as Lindsey Stone strongly encourage that all autistic individuals have a safe area they can visit when feeling like they have become over-stimulated.
What Is Contained in a Safe Area?
In school or work environments where there is more than one autistic individual, safe areas may be equipped with a variety of sensory items that promote calmness. Some examples of sensory items are tablets or computers, books, bean bags, stress balls, large pillows and fidget items. Safe areas for children may include favorite toys, picture books and stuffed animals, and some adults may also appreciate these items depending on where they are on the spectrum. The environment in these safe areas is always one that induces relaxation. The lighting is usually low, and sometimes soft music can be playing in the background. Safe areas can even be individualized to fit the needs of each person; this is especially easier if they are used by only one autistic individual.
There is even greater flexibility when safe areas are set up in special needs schools or at home. More sophisticated sensory items can be included, such as a sensory swing, trampoline, large ball pit, oral stimulation tools, over-sized tents, rope chairs and LED bubble tubes.
Encouraging a Break
If individuals see that an autistic person is becoming too upset or over-stimulated, it is crucial to calmly encourage that they to retreat to the safe area to take a break. This way, full-blown meltdowns can be avoided. Furthermore, teachers and school administrators need to allow autistic children to have a break card that they can present when needing to retreat if using words is a problem. Adults on the spectrum can also benefit from the use of a break card that they can show in case they are too over-stimulated to speak.
Praise for Using Safe Areas
Some autistic individuals do not realize when they actually need a break. They will continue to socialize or stick with an activity until becoming upset or overloaded. Anyone who can identify these people must not only encourage breaks but also offer praise when safe areas are used. Offering praise will help these autistic individuals to learn to recognize when a break is needed and take their leave.
To autistic individuals, these areas are associated with feelings of safety and tranquility. When autistic individuals know they can retreat when things become too much, they feel supported, respected and understood. These areas are a safe haven when times get too rough, and they reduce anxiety because autistic individuals know they can have breaks whenever they are needed.