One of the most vividly offensive portrayals of autism I can remember reading before I had a firm grasp of what autism really was, was the Babysitter’s Club novel, Kristie & The Secret of Susan. It was written back in the 70s,-80s, before anyone had a good idea of what autism was, and it was described as juvenile schizophrenia in the book. Medical anachronisms are one thing, but one nonmedical aspect that stood out to me as being noxious and stupid was Kristie (the narrator) describing the bedroom of her autistic charge, Susan. Paraphrasing here, Kristie noted with sadness that Susan’s room was, “Like a hotel room. No personality to it, whatsoever.” She contrasted this with her neurotypical adopted sister, who loved teddy bears and had them decorating her room.
Well, I’m autistic, I am about to move into a new room, and you bet I am going to relish decorating it and putting the mark of my own distinct, unique personality on it. 🙂
It just so happens that my taste in decorating just also has to take into account my sensory issues, which colours are pleasing to my autistic eyes, and make sure that I don’t hang anything particularly distracting or I will watch it, kitten-like, for hours while neglecting everything else. But apart from that, I decorate my room just like any person does, and I consider it one of my favourite parts of moving into a new place.
I’ve already poked around the room I am going to be living in, it looks like this:
I was blessed with a single room, for which I offer many thanks to the housing gods, since I was not looking forward to sharing my space with a stranger. I’ve already yammered on about buying bedding, but what else can be done to make this an autism-friendly Nominatissima-cave?
In so few words: Squishy pillows, quilts, bookshelves, art supplies, herbs, and fabrics. These are the things I use to declare a space my own. I scatter soft, oversize pillows around any place I get to call my own, because they make good places to sit down, nap stim, and relax. Nesting is a deep rooted instinct in me, and after a long day of studying, sinking into the pillows is heavenly. Same reason for the quilts, they allow me to stay warm while among the pillows, or allow me to practice yoga moves while on the floor. They’re also handy for tacking up in the windows to keep out the sun when it’s too bright.
Bookshelves full of books are the single biggest indicator that I am feeling at home. I already noticed, seen above in the photo, that there are shelves available above the desk, but this is not enough for the staggering amount of books I own. If I ever find a bookshelf large enough to accommodate my collection but small enough to fit into that limited space…
My art supplies I keep all in a single pine carrying case I got as a birthday present. It fits all of my pens, paints, brushes, oil pastels, you name it. If there’s no policy about thumb tacks in the move-in guide, I plan on tacking up a large piece of paper on the wall over my bed, so I can doodle, sketch, and write down anything interesting I come up with, even if it’s in the middle of the night. That’s also why I keep some pens and a diary on a night stand, though there doesn’t appear to be one in the dorms. Hmmmm.
The herbs were my answer to sensory seeking for my nose when moving to college, since I hate most perfumes and incense is banned for obvious reasons. Herbs like lemon balm, mint, rosemary, lavender, and sage smell delightful, and they perfume my room in a non sensory offensive fashion. They also go great on a salad or in a soup or as a rub on meat. It’s easy to buy them, keep them in a little pot by the window, and watch them grow. It also cleans the air in the dorm, which can get stale, especially on days when it’s too rainy to open the window without tempting in a mould.
Fabrics are probably the most autism-friendly way of decorating. I tie them around random objects, or keep them pinned on the wall in case I need them. Personally, swaths of play silk, satin, or cotton are my favourites, and they can serve as decoration as well as a sensory seek-out, because they’re usually beautifully coloured and decorated.
I am also a fan of posters. Not the usual ones that are associated with dormitories, like Pink Floyd albums, Che Gueverra, or Einstein sticking his tongue out. I’m a big fan of DeviantArt’s Print purchases, Etsy’s art selection, and the websites of artists like James Christiensen, Kay Nielsen, and Ursula Vernon. They’re sometimes a bit more expensive, but I think that’s the price I pay to have more interesting posters decorating my walls, and support an artist who put their heart into their work. It’s nice to have a story to tell on my walls.
See, now, how can anyone still think autistic people do not have any personality to express through decoration? 😉