Creating a Home Where Your Child Can Thrive with a Disability
When your child is disabled, whether because of the way they were born or after an accident or injury, you instantly turn from simply a parent to an advocate. It's your job to give your child the best possible start in life, embracing the different abilities so your child can thrive. However, sometimes this is difficult to do in a traditional home layout. If your child, for example, is in a wheelchair, and you have narrow hallways, then getting around your home may be difficult, if not impossible. Home modifications can help you make your home into a place where your child is safe, comfortable and thriving. At HomeCity, we want to help you with the process of modifying your home. Here are some tips to make it a little easier.
Modifications for Kids in Wheelchairs
When your child is in a wheelchair, your home becomes a difficult world to navigate. Your goal, as a parent, is to create a safe haven where your child's differences are not highlighted every time he tries to navigate the area. Here are some ways you can improve your home to make it more wheelchair-friendly, so you can truly provide a place where your child can feel "at home."
Modifications in the Entrance
You need to ensure your child can get into your home without hassle. To accommodate, the ADA recommends:
- Modifying at least one entrance with no steps and a low or flat threshold.
- A minimum of a five-foot-square maneuvering space at the entrance.
- A wheelchair ramp or gently sloping path leading to the home.
- Handrails to make it easier to navigate the entrance.
- Excellent lighting, and consider adding motion sensors to ensure it is always lit.
Modifications in the Bathroom
The bathroom can be very difficult to navigate, because they are rarely made large enough to move around with a wheelchair. In addition, your child is going to need to get out of the chair and into the tub from time to time. Consider these modifications:
- Install grab bars near the shower, tub and toilet.
- Choose a roll-in or walk-in shower option to ensure your child can get into the shower.
- Install safe, non-slick seating in the shower or bath.
- Lower the shower controls so the child can reach.
- Ensure ample space around the toilet for toileting needs. Specifically, ensure that the toilet area is 48 by 56 inches with at least 18 inches from the side wall.
Modifications in the Kitchen
Your child isn't going to need to cook, but that doesn't mean that wheelchair-friendly features aren't needed in the kitchen. Consider these changes:
- Have at least one wheelchair-height counter for baking and other kitchen activities.
- Consider adjustable counters that pull out for your child, providing knee space underneath.
- Create a 60-inch turning circle in the kitchen.
Other Interior Solutions
In addition to the entry, kitchen and bath, consider these solutions throughout your home.
- Doorways with 32 inches of clearance
- Hallways with 42-inches of clearance
- Bedroom on the main floor of the home
- Low-pile carpeting or hard flooring
- No area rugs
Modifications for Kids with Visual Impairments
When you can't see, navigating a home is an overwhelming task. If your child has a severe vision impairment, you need to make your home a safe place for her to thrive. Here are some tasks you can tackle, room-by-room, to make your home safer.
- Use a non-skid rug.
- Use non-spilling pump dispensers for liquid bath products.
- Install a grab bar.
- Add additional lighting.
- Use towels and rugs that contrast strongly with the wall or floor color.
- Limit obstructions in the main traffic path by arranging furniture well.
- Keep electrical cords out of the path.
- Keep belongings organized so the child can find them by feel.
- Create a space where safe snacks are readily available.
- Keep dangerous things out of reach so your child doesn't accidentally grab them.
- Use tactile markings on water and ice controls so your child can get a drink.
- Keep all paths clear to prevent trip and fall hazards.
- Remove all low-lying objects, like coffee tables and footstools, that your child could trip over.
- Keep electrical cords out of all walkways.
- Avoid area rugs, but use nonskid padding when you must have them.
- Make sure you have three-foot wide clear paths around all rooms.
- Insist that things are put away when not in use, so your child can find things that they need.
- Use textures whenever possible so the blind child can find what she needs.
Remember, the goal is to create a home where your child can find what she needs and can navigate without tripping. Check out the American Foundation for the Blind for more advice about modifications for children living with blindness. For children with visual disabilities, you will need the entire family to get on board with the necessary changes!
Modifications for Kids with Sensory Concerns
When you have a child with intense sensory needs, you may need to modify your home to make it a "safe" place for the child. Sometimes, even the normal activity of your home is too much for a child with a sensory issue. Consider these changes made throughout your home:
- Install dim lighting, or use natural when possible.
- Avoid bright, bold colors on walls and floors.
- Reduce visual distractions in the home by eliminating clutter and unnecessary decor.
- Invest in organizational structures to ensure your child's toys and belongings are organized and stored well.
- Avoid using items with strong odors.
- Use weighted blankets in the bedroom for better sleep.
Create a Sensory Corner
Children who get overloaded easily can benefit from having a quiet, sensory corner. The sensory corner should include:
- Blankets and pillows for nesting
- Quiet imaginative toys
- Tape player with headphones
- Squishy seating, like beanbag chairs or pillows.
Provide for Sensory Input
Many parents think of sensory avoidance when they think of sensory issue, but a number of children with sensory issues actually crave sensory input, rather than trying to avoid it. If you have a sensory seeking child, your home can quickly become damaged as the child rams into walls or rubs against the carpeting. Avoid these problems by providing a safe place for sensory experiences. Whether a room, playroom or basement, consider adding:
- A small trampoline for jumping movements
- Safe, padded spaces for crashing into
- Noisy toys.
- Rocking toys.
- Seats that wiggle and bounce.
Remember, the goal is to create a home or a space within your home that meets your child's specific sensory needs. Take the time to figure out exactly what those needs are, then you will be
Modifications for Autistic Children
Children with autism require a special home environment to remain calm and less agitated. However, because many autistic children do not communicate well, understanding their needs is not always easy. Here are some changes that can help children with autism feel safe and comfortable at home.
- Pay Attention to Sounds - Children with autism are more attune to sounds that others may not even notice. Traffic, wind whistling through a window and even music in the background or the sound of the dishwasher running. Whenever possible, avoid those sounds that agitate the child. When not possible to avoid a sound, provide headphones to help cancel the noise.
- Reduce Visual Stimulation - Another way children with autism can become overwhelmed is through visual stimulation, so reduce the amount of clutter in the home. A very busy environment is difficult for the autistic child, so keep wall decor and other clutter in the home at a minimum.
- Change the Lighting - Fluorescent lighting pulsates, and this can tire a child with autism quickly. Consider investing in lights with high-speed ballasts if you must use fluorescent lighting, or choose incandescent lighting when possible. Some children seem to do fine with CFL bulbs when traditional fluorescent lighting does not work.
- Give Attention to Color - Some autistic children are drawn to a specific color, while being repelled by another. If you notice that your child has an aversion to a particular color, try to avoid it in your home. Use favorite colors in the areas where you want your child to feel safe and comfortable.
- Remove Temptations - When you have a child with autism, you are going to need to learn to limit the times you have to tell your child "no." Over time, your autistic child is going to become immune to your "no" reaction. So, when it comes to valuables and dangerous items, rather than trying to keep our child away from them, control access by packing them away or putting them in high cabinets. Keep those things that are easily accessible to items that it's safe for your child to explore.
- Build a Playroom - Therapies are important to a child with autism, so consider building a playroom to do your work with your child. The goal of this room is to create an environment where it's easy for your child to focus on you and the activities you are introducing.
Because the playroom is such an important part of your home when you have a child with autism, it may require some home modifications. If you are building a new playroom, keep these considerations in mind:
- Create an area about three meters by three meters at a minimum. Keep in mind that a large room can distract your child from the focus you want.
- Remove as many visible distractions as possible. Toys even should be up and out of sight so your child can focus on only those activities you are introducing.
- Have a table and chair that can adjust to your child's changing height.
- Cover windows with a covering that allows light through but does not allow visual stimuli through. Make sure non-natural light is light your autistic child is comfortable with.
- Consider building the playroom close to a bathroom, or adding a bathroom.
- Consider a padded floor for your child's safety and your comfort, as many activities will be done on the floor.
- If you will be using a therapist in your home, consider a one-way mirror or closed circuit television to allow you monitor what your child and the therapist are doing.
How to Adapt a Home to Medical Equipment
If your child's physical needs mean you have a bit of medical equipment, you are going to need to make a few adaptations. Here are some things to consider:
- Create safe storage for medical supplies. Store your medical supplies and equipment where it is readily accessible, but not necessarily in the middle of your day-to-day life.
- Consider adding power - If your child's medical equipment is powered, consider adding outlets or other power options to ensure you always have a convenient way to utilize your child's medical gear.
- Purchase equipment in order of priority - Depending on your child's struggles, you may need a number of pieces of equipment. Start with those that are the most important, such as those that are life-sustaining or that give your child mobility. Then add the other pieces as your home's layout and your family's budget allow.
- Give attention to stairs - If your home has stairs and your child is mobility challenged, consider installing a lift system to give your child access to the top floors of the home. However, make sure the home is modified so that all medical equipment is accessible on all floors.
- Install a generator - Would your child's medical needs be met in a power outage? Consider a backup generator to ensure you have power no matter what the weather brings, so your child's life-sustaining equipment is always usable.
How to Modify a Home While Staying in Budget
When you start considering modifications for your home, you can quickly see the dollar signs adding up. None of these changes are cheap. While you don't want to spare any expose for your child's safety, comfort and overall well-being, the reality is you also need to feed and clothe your family, pay the mortgage and keep up with your other responsibilities. Here are some ways to do your modifications while staying on a budget.
- Prioritize - Some modifications are immediate needs, while others would be nice, but could wait. Prioritize so you know what needs to happen first.
- Consider a loan - If you own your home, you may be able to use its equity to make these modifications. Talk to your bank about lending options after receiving the cost estimate from your chosen contractor.
- DIY when you can - Sometimes it's cheaper to DIY a project, so consider doing so when you can, but never at the sacrifice of the security of your child or the sanity of your family.
- Purchase equipment second hand - Some adaptive equipment can be purchased second-hand from a child who has outgrown it. This can help you save money ,but always talk to your child's doctor or therapist about whether or not the type of equipment you need is safe to purchase second-hand. Common items include mobility equipment, therapy toys and adaptive furniture. Medical equipment that needs to be sanitary may not be a good choice to purchase second-hand.
Where to Get Financial Help
Modifying your home for a differently-abled child is costly, but you will find some financial help to get you through this process. If the bills are starting to add up, or you want to get financial help so you can focus your family's resources on other things, consider looking for help from these organizations:
- National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification - This organization focuses on the needs of the aging population primarily, but they may be able to point you in the right direction to get help with the home modification you require for your child.
- Rebuilding Together - This nonprofit organization provides home modification for people with disabilities and low income families.
- Easter Seals - Contact your local Easter Seals chapter for more information about financing options and loans to pay for home modifications.
- Access Loans - Many banks offer access loans that are designed for families to make building modifications and purchase devices they need to assist a family member with a disability.
- HandiRamp Foundation - This nonprofit helps families raise money for modifications they need.
- House Financing Agencies - Your local house financing agency may have a program for families with a member living with a disability and in need of funding for home modifications. These programs vary based on the budget and regulations of the local HFA.
- Center for Independent Living - Check to see if your area has a local Center for Independent Living, which will help create an independent living environment for someone living with a disability through financial aid and other programs.
When Does It Make Sense to Move Instead of Modify
Modifying an existing home to accommodate a child with a disability is not easy. Sometimes, the cost of the modifications is astronomical, and it makes more sense to move instead of modify. Here are some situations where moving is a more appropriate choice.
- When the costs to modify the home far exceed its worth.
- When serious modifications are necessary, such as widening the hallways or doorways, moving to a home that already has wider areas makes more sense.
- When living in a two-story home would mean your child could not access the second floor of the home.
- When the bathroom is not large enough to accommodate the necessary modifications.
- When the necessary modifications are simply not possible with the floor plan or layout of the home.
- When the home is in a noisy area and your child is dealing with sensory concerns or autism.
In these instances, you may not be able to modify the home, so you may need to start shopping for a new home that is either already modified or is easily modified to meet your child's needs. If you are facing this reality, HomeCity is a great place to start your search for a new home. Let us help you find a home that will accommodate your child's needs more readily!
Resources for Special-Needs Parents in Texas
In Texas, a number of resources are available to help parents and kids who are dealing with special needs. Some of the state-wide resources include:
Dallas Area Resources for Special-Needs Parents
When it comes to raising a child with special needs, it really does take a village. In Dallas, special needs parents will find a number of resources available to them to help with everything from medical care to home modifications. Here are some of them.
Resources for Austin-Area Special-Needs Parents
For parents of special-needs and differently-abled children in Austin, a number of local groups and organizations can provide help, support and advice.