Considering and meeting the sensory needs of autistic people in housing

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This project was commissioned in 2020 from NDTI by the Care and Health Improvement programme and co-produced with a group of people with lived experience.


Smell is pervasive – it is not possible to close our nostrils as we can close our eyes.

As many autistic people do not ‘habituate’, a smell will remain distinct and present, though neurotypical people might only notice a smell when they initially experience it, for example when entering a room.

Certain smells can really help to calm and soothe me. On the contrary other smells can make me feel quite unwell. For some autistic people the sense of smell can be so strong that it feels like you are being force fed.

Challenging sensory stimuli and suggested alternatives

Outside smells

This can be very difficult to control, so may be an important consideration when choosing location.

Paint smells

Use low odour paint. Consider timing of use.

Cleaning products – including air freshener, toilet cistern blocks, bleach, surface wipes, floor cleaner.

Use unscented. Involve the person in choosing the product where possible. Consistency may help. Many eco products are less smelly.

Laundry powder and conditioners

This is often scented, though some unscented varieties are available. Choice and consistency may help. Involve the person in choosing the product where possible. Limit changes to products used. Washed clothing often smells stronger wet than when dry
 Where will clothing be dried? Is there a separate area? Avoid drying clothes in bedrooms, and where possible also avoid drying clothes in living areas.

Household smells

Consider how smells can be contained if areas are not separated. Shut doors between rooms to limit smells drifting.

People smells

Limit use of perfumes and aftershave. Consider personal smells including smoke.

Dining room / eating locations

Many autistic people prefer to eat alone. Are there choices for where to eat? Could there be?