Best Room Color for Children with Autism

When thinking about decorating your classroom, colors play a huge part of it. Typically, we as teachers like cute, adorable pops of cool colors. But have you ever wondered how the colors in your classroom could be effecting your students? Particularly your students with autism spectrum disorder?

This blog is going to break down how different colors can impact autistic people and different ways you can decorate to prevent sensory overload and promote an optimal learning environment.

It is important to know that even if you are in an inclusive classroom, making simple adjustments like these can even support neurotypical children! Let’s break down some of the psychology behind colors, suggestions for lighting, and some other supports you may want to consider adding to your classroom!

Color Psychology

Did you know there was a whole psychology behind colors? Like even big brands choose certain colors to make you feel a targeted way in hopes you’ll purchase their product. When I first learned about this, I felt like it was unlocking some secret code- so I want to share it with you too. Once you know it, you are going to see how different brands choose different colors in your everyday life!


Color psychology has a profound influence of colors on our mood and behavior it can even impact your emotional responses in various environments. Colors have the power to evoke specific emotions and influence our psychological state. Let’s break down what some of the different colors can do.

Warm tones like red and orange are often associated with energy and excitement.

While cooler hues like blue and green tend to promote calmness and relaxation.  

This can have a big impact on your color choices for your classroom. Even if your favorite color is red, you may not want to evoke excitement from students all day, but rather create a calming sensory experience for your students. 

Neutrals have a wide spectrum of shades, including beige, gray, taupe, and off-white, and typically have a subtle appearance. Despite their lack of boldness, neutral colors possess a unique ability to evoke a sense of balance, simplicity, and versatility in various settings. 

These can be a great choice when choosing a primary color for your classroom. Neutrals and muted pastels are going to be some of the best bets for the colors in your classroom.

Furthermore, colors can impact cognitive processes, affecting attention span, concentration, and overall productivity.  This is why it is so important to take this into consideration and not buy the bright colors we are used to.

In the context of autism, where students may have a sensory processing disorder or are more sensitive to colors, the impact of colors on these students can be even more pronounced. Certain colors may either exacerbate sensory sensitivities or help create a more soothing and supportive environment.  

Therefore, the careful selection of colors in autism classrooms becomes crucial, as they can significantly affect the sensory experiences and emotional well-being of students. Opting for colors that foster a sense of calmness and focus can enhance the learning environment, promote positive behaviors, and contribute to a more comfortable and inclusive space for individuals with autism.

When choosing colors, it is better to have less colors as well. Having a lot of changing colors or patterns can add to sensory overload and then not have the calming effect you are striving for. So those polka dots you love so much- they may have to go. I promise even if you don’t LOVE the change, I bet you will love the impact it has on student behavior!

Sensory Friendly Lighting

Sometimes you cannot change the color of your classroom, which can make it challenging. But you CAN add different lighting. Sometimes the bright overhead lights make the colors of the room too bright and stimulating. Here is a list of sensory pleasing lights that can be used at specific times. There are so many fun options out there. 

please know that some of these are affiliate links, but I only recommend things I truly believe in!

Sensory Lights

Lava Lamp

If you ever had one of these growing up, you know they are fun. They can be calming because they are slow moving and the colors you can choose can be either calming or exciting. You can grab some here.

LED Cubes

These are a great option too because they are not very bright and can come in different colors. Since they are made with LED lights, many times you can choose the color you want to be projected, so they can changed depending on what your specific student wants. Students can look at these up close and use them to engaging in sensory seeking behavior. Check them out here.

Fiber Optic Lights

These are fun because they are hands on as well as lights. They also come in many different forms, such as wands or floor lights. They are very visually pleasing and safe to handle. Here are some that you can look at!

Bubble Tubes

These are tubes filled with bubbling water that can change colors. They can be used to calm or to stimulate. People with Autism many times love to watch the bubbles and use it as a way to calm and regulate themselves. There are so many options out there, but here are some for you.

LED Projector

This option is great if you have limited space. You can pull out the projector when it is needed, and then put it away when you are done. It can transform a room to have autism-friendly colours and create a significant difference for those with light sensitivity. Check this one out here.

If you have bright fluorescent lighting in your classroom, this could be impacting behaviors without you even realizing it. However, you need light to be able to be productive in the classroom! Another option is to use cozy shades. They go over your overhead lights to make a softer light, which is helpful to all students- not just those with special needs. You can check them out here.

If it is possible to use dimmer switches (this is only really an option for newly renovated classrooms), do it! Limiting the amount of light can help students. If this is not an option, you can also turn off some of the lights if you have multiple switches. Working in a dimmer area or lower light levels can help calm the nervous system of those with sensory difficulties. 

What should you do if you can’t change the color of the walls?

Not every classroom allows you to paint the walls, in fact I would guess that many don’t. You may walk into a classroom full of bright primary colors and just know that it does not match up with what your students need. So what can you do about it?

Here are some tips to meet the sensory needs of your students if you cannot paint the walls:

  • Incorporate color through furniture, rugs, and decor.
    • You can find a large carpet that can dramatically change the feel of the room. You can get a large tapestry in the specific colors your think would work best for your students. 
  • Use removable wall decals or posters
    • Decorate the walls with removable decals or posters. I would urge you to be cautious as this would most likely lead to adding more colors and a sense of business than you may want. 
  • Implement color in your storage solutions
    • Opt for specific color of bins, baskets, or shelves to organize classroom materials while adding visual interest.
  • Introduce sensory-friendly lighting
    •  Utilize lamps or string lights with colored bulbs to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Even just having lamps in the classroom provide a warm lighting as opposed to the harsh lighting of overhead fluorescent lights. Natural light is also a great way to add calmness to your classroom. If you have a window, make sure it is not blocked or covered for most of the day. It can be helpful to put a curtain up so you can create a dark sensory space if needed as well.
  • Utilize the colors of your teaching materials
    • Think about the colors of your teaching materials. This is a time when bright colors can be good! You can incorporate colorful educational materials, such as flashcards, charts, or manipulatives, to engage students and brighten up the classroom.
  • Create designated color zones
    • You may have students that who has a color preference for those bright, loud colors. It may provide them with Designate specific areas of the classroom for different activities or sensory needs, using colorful rugs or floor mats to define each zone.

Create a Sensory Safe Space

A study done that surveyed autistic students and their parents noted that for sensory spaces, “that it is critical to consider visual aspects at the preliminary design stage to ensure a good balance of visual elements and features in the built environment to make it a safe, secure, accessible, appealing, and comfortable for autistic children.” (Nair, 2022). Muted, pastel, and dull colors were reported to have a positive impact on calming students down.

Bright, bold colors like a bright red or a deep blue were proven to be less preferred and can even add to behavioral issues, concentration difficulties, or impact moods. It is important to consider how the overhead lighting impacts these colors as well.

But we both know that there is more to the classroom than the light and color of the walls. So here are some additional things to consider when creating a sensory safe space in your classroom.

Items to consider in a sensory safe space:

Weighted blanket

Weighted blankets can have an immensely calming effect on students. They give input to their bodies that is different than just visual like the lamps we previously talked about. When using these, it is important to consult your occupational therapist as well as parents. Parents should know and give consent for use with the student prior to implementing it.

It is important to consult the parents so they know it is being used as a tool as well to know if there are any underlying health conditions that could be impacted from the additional weight placed on the body. Here is one to check out.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

These are great for more than just a sensory corner. These can be helpful in the classroom, lunchroom, assemblies, the playground and more. These are a must have for any classroom. Although not a visual support, auditory stimulation can add to the sensory overwhelm students feel. These are my favorite.

Tactile Input

Even adding in things that students can touch and feel can support them in calming themselves down and giving them the input they require. You can do small things like placing velcro under their desks so they can rub their hands or you can go bigger and have a wall of different textures for students to touch and feel. This can have an additional soothing effect when planning in conjunction with the color palettes of the room.

When planning your classroom, it is always good to be thinking ahead with the colors and different sensory activities you can add to support your students throughout the day. These small changes and additional can have a significant impact on student learning and behavior.  Remember to also consult your occupational and physical therapists for suggestions on the different sensory activities to add. They will be your experts in exactly what your students need.

Citations

Nair, A. S., Priya, R. S., Rajagopal, P., Pradeepa, C., Senthil, R., Dhanalakshmi, S., Lai, K. W., Wu, X., & Zuo, X. (2022). A case study on the effect of light and colors in the built environment on autistic children’s behavior. Frontiers in psychiatry13, 1042641. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.1042641

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