Autism-Friendly Lighting: Sensory Lights for Light Sensitivity

Lighting affects everyone. As unique individuals who move about the world, every person’s experience is different, driven by how our minds process sensory information. Many of us hardly think about this, but for people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), lighting can have a huge impact on how they react to certain stimuli and environments.

While it’s easier to implement autism-friendly lighting at home, engaging with the community can present challenges. Some individuals with sensory processing dysfunction (SPD) or light sensitivity may have a negative reaction to or go out of their way to avoid certain stimuli such as neon signs, flashing lights, fluorescent lighting, bright skylights, and more. And it isn’t always the light, itself. People may experience difficulties due to a light shining down on a reflective surface such as a floor or countertop, or the placement of a light overhead rather than being set on a desk or table. These difficulties may lead to sensory overload, a phenomenon that happens when the brain cannot prioritize what stimulation to focus on.

Families report that behaviors associated with light sensitivity create social isolation for their loved one—and consequently themselves. Not being able to participate in certain activities or enter environments due to light sensitivity has a negative effect on their daily living and stunts their social engagement. As a result, interventions and assistive devices that help individuals with autism process sensory information such as sensory integration therapy and sensory lights are among the most requested services by parents of children with ASD.

Come along with us as we explore calming lights, sensory toys for autism, LED lights, and more autism-friendly lighting options. But first, let’s talk about creating a space where all of these elements can come together.

Sensory Rooms: A Calming Space

A sensory room is an environment designed to calm, focus, and comfort children and adults with sensory processing problems, which often includes people with ASD. This controlled and adjustable space is filled with various specialized equipment such as fiber optic lighting, disco balls, soothing music, tactile walls, water beds, vibrating cushions, and other tools to stimulate, develop, and balance an individual’s sensory system.

Research on the connection between autism and light sensitivity has brought public awareness to how color affects mood. For example, certain colors, like blue, can help foster creativity and calmness, with ambient lighting creating a happy, creative environment. Studies have also shown that natural lighting has a positive impact on a person’s mood, health, and attitude; and dynamic lighting supports learning. These are all important things to keep in mind when designing your own sensory room.

Calming Sensory Lights

Today, there are several sensory toys and lights developed specifically for individuals with light sensitivity. These lights can often be found in sensory rooms.

  1. Bubble tube lamps help individuals build a positive response to color and movement as they track the bubbles.
  2. Reflective balls help individuals develop and sharpen their visual sense, as people with autism and ADHD have less of the ability to process visual sensory information.
  3. LED light strips help direct soft lighting in the desired location to create a calm and relaxed environment. For non-verbal individuals, color-changing LED strips can be a useful way to communicate their emotions.
  4. Mirror Balls reflect light onto the falls, ceiling, and floor to create a therapeutic multisensory experience.
  5. Fiber Optics are tactical and safe to touch, and they come in a variety of forms from strands to sprays, curtains, and carpets to encourage mobility and floorwork.

These are just a few examples of popular sensory lights and toys. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping individuals with light sensitivity. What matters most is creating a safe, calming environment that is adjustable to the needs of each person.


Covey’s Commitment to Individuality

At Covey, we value individuality. This means we see the person first, not the disability. Everyone who comes to our door whether in Oshkosh or Appleton, Wisconsin is regarded for their talents and the unique perspective they share with us and the world around them. Therefore, we believe that simply because someone may not process sensory stimuli as others might expect them to, it is not something to be “fixed.” Instead, we focus on what factors make that individual feel most comfortable and what tools we can use to help them live their best quality life.

For more information on sensory integration and other calming practices, contact us today at info@covey.org.