Color & Autism

autism-awareness-ribbon-car-magnetWith Autism now affecting 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys, it’s imperative that architects, interior designers and color professionals be aware of the specific design requirements for this growing population.  Special consideration needs to be given when selecting colors and finishes, particularly for public spaces where children frequent.

Autistic children frequently have difficulties with sensory integration, which are the senses that are experienced through sight, touch, sound, taste and smell.  They rely on their visual senses to tell them what is happening since they often have difficulty decoding verbal cues.  Here is another important fact that we need to keep in mind when selecting color for children’s spaces. 

9dacbce77a9ef7c9a5374a56a0d68fcdResearchers have found that autistic children’s rods and cones (components of the eye) have changed due to chemical imbalances or neural deficiencies.  Colors appear more vibrant to autistic children.  Of the autistic children tested, 85% saw colors with greater intensity than non-autistic children. The color red for example, looks fluorescent and vibrates with intensity.  Environments with too much stimulus on walls, floors and counter surfaces can wreak havoc in neurologically delayed individual’s minds. 

Declutter!   Disorganized, cluttered environments make it difficult for everyone to concentrate, especially for autistic children.  For this reason it is essential that their space be simplified.


  • Use non-defined patterns in fabrics, flooring and wall covering.
  • Color schemes should minimal hues; muted colors are preferred.
  • Put books, toys and other distractions out of sight; place them behind cabinet doors.
  • Draperies and shutters are distracting; use simple, inside mount blinds
  • Although color preferences vary from individuals, studies have shown that many autistic children favor pale pink.
  • Reduce the use of primary colors to light weight toys, which can be removed from the space if needed.
  • A monochromatic color scheme instantly creates a peaceful environment.
  • Cool colors such as blue and green typically have the most soothing effect.

deniseDenise Turner, ASID, CID, CMG is an award winning international colorist and speaker, color and design trend forecaster, Color Therapy specialist, marketing expert, author, and president of the Color Turners. She is an authority on cultural colors for the US and international market Denise regularly appears in the press, as a media spokesperson for ASID National and CMG Expert Speaker’s Bureau. She is an ASID professional member, former ASID chapter president, Certified Interior Designer, CMG Chair Holder CCIDC (California Council for Interior Design Certification) Board Member, ASID Designated Seat and UCLA graduate.

2 Comments on this Post

  1. melanie kelley

    Nancy thank you for posting this
    Melanie Kelley

  2. Diana Kempton, IIDA, LEED-AP ID+C

    Denise, this is valuable information, thank you! It also brings up a topic I’ll need to research so I can discuss this topic in my Color and Design this fall: the challenges of deciding on colors for a nursery. Typically, autism is not diagnosed in infancy, and I am curious as to when the autistic child first can “read” color as compare to the normal child. When in the course of development do those rods and cones change for the autistic child?
    Typically, I recommend designers advise their clients to select colors children can SEE in infant nurseries, which are typically more saturated hues, as pastels and other low-key colors are not visible for a while; in a pale room, the child will have very limited awareness of his/her surroundings–much like they are “floating in a cloud.” Is there research indicating the autistic child notices ALL colors earlier than others? Might be a “safe” color scheme that stimulates the normally developing child without over-stimulating the autistic child not yet diagnosed? If a family has a history of autism or Asperger’s, would it be best t to go with achromatic backgrounds, introducing colors one at a time to watch for a response, or advise parents to design nurseries for the normal child and change the decor if they notice a negative response later on?


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