Color and Light in Interior Spaces for Children with Autism

For children diagnosed with autism, their surroundings play a crucial role in determining their sense of ease and overall health. Extensive research has delved into the correlation between color and light and the well-being of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In this article, we’ve compiled key insights from these studies.

Enhancing Interior Spaces for Children with Autism: A Guide to Color and Light

We were intrigued by the discoveries unearthed in these studies and felt compelled to share them. We aim to equip architects, designers and business owners who are creating autism centers, ABA therapy facilities, and other spaces dedicated to those on the spectrum. We hope these valuable insights help to craft environments better suited to the needs of these children. Read on for more.

Understanding Autism

Autism is characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction. People with autism may also have sensory sensitivities, making them particularly sensitive to stimuli in their environment, such as colors and lights.

Light and Color on the Autism Spectrum

In a recent study by Sardar S. Shareef and Guita Farivarsadri titled “The Impact of Colour and Light on Children with Autism in Interior Spaces from an Architectural Point of View” [1], the role of color and light in interior spaces for children with autism was investigated.

Key Findings:

  1. Color Preferences: According to the study, neutral colors like grey, green, blue, and white were generally preferred by children with autism. Bright colors like red and yellow were found to have adverse effects on them.
  2. Light Preferences: Natural light was favored whenever possible, while artificial lighting, especially fluorescent lights, was generally disliked due to flickering and negative effects on perception.

Grey color has no effect, either positive or negative, on those with ASD. White colors if used alone were found to have a negative effect.

Preferred lighting techniques to be used in spaces for people with autism include more natural styles of lighting:

  • Indirect sunlight, controlled with the use of curtains
  • Indirect tungsten lighting
  • Indirect white LED light
  • Use dimmers to control artificial lighting

A study conducted by Marine Grandgeorge and Nobuo Masataka on “Atypical Color Preference in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder” [2] has similar findings. This study provides valuable insights into the atypical color preferences of children with autism spectrum disorder.

Children with ASD exhibited distinct color preferences compared to children with typical development (TD). While TD children showed a typical preference for red and blue, boys with ASD displayed an aversion to yellow and a heightened preference for green and brown. These differences were consistent across different age groups within the ASD population.

Example of an ABA therapy center with underwater theming.

The aversion to yellow in children with ASD may be linked to their heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, particularly luminance. The preference for green and brown aligns with anecdotal reports and may reflect a unique perceptual experience in children with ASD. Neurological explanations suggest disruptions in color processing pathways, contributing to these atypical preferences.

To add on to these findings, another study, “A case study on the effect of light and colors in the built environment on autistic children’s behavior” [3], found that the sensitivity of autistic children to colors plays a crucial role in their perception and interaction with their environment. Research suggests that the choice of colors in interior spaces can significantly impact their mood, behavior, and learning outcomes.

By incorporating autism-friendly color palettes such as pastel shades and muted tones while avoiding bold and bright colors, indoor environments can be designed to provide a soothing sensory experience for autistic individuals.

This study also explored how visual aids like landmarks and color-coding can simplify navigation for autistic individuals. Researchers observed children’s behaviors in their classrooms beforehand. Implementing a simple navigation system with color-coded paths can make it easier for visually sensitive autistic individuals to move around without fear. Also, colorful mats were utilized to create color shapes on the floor, enhancing the accessibility and navigability of areas for autistic children.

Church classroom signs with animal themed rooms.

What Are the Implications for Designers

  • Use neutral and muted colors, avoiding bright and saturated hues.
  • Prioritize natural lighting and minimize the use of fluorescent lights.
  • Consider the use of color coding in wayfinding solutions.
  • Consider the individual needs and sensitivities of each child when designing spaces.

Children’s spaces are meant to be colorful, and when crafting a business tailored for children, embracing vibrant and playful colors becomes essential for creating an inviting and engaging environment. If your space caters to all children, you don’t have to be scared of yellows, pinks, and reds! Whether it’s a daycare center, a toy store, or a children’s clothing boutique, incorporating bright hues and cheerful designs can captivate young imaginations and foster a sense of joy and excitement.

However, when creating specialized spaces for children on the spectrum, it’s important to be mindful of color and its effects. Designers should prioritize light, color, and space considerations in environments that cater to autistic children. By understanding their preferences and sensitivities, architects and designers can play a crucial role in enhancing the well-being and comfort of these children in interior spaces, ensuring inclusivity and accessibility for all.

Further research and attention to this area are needed to continue improving design practices for individuals with autism.

For our article today, we reference the studies found here:

[1] The Impact of Colour and Light on Children with Autism in Interior Spaces from an Architectural Point of View

[2] Atypical Color Preference in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

[3] A case study on the effect of light and colors in the built environment on autistic children’s behavior

If you would like to learn about creating welcoming spaces for children, check out these additional resources from IDS:

Enhancing ABA Therapy Centers with Themed Decor

The Healing Power of Fun Decor in Children’s Hospital Environments

8 Color Schemes and What They Mean for Your Office Vibe




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