As an architecture student at the University of Colorado Denver in 2017, Jenny Arzberger found an unexpected purpose for her studies. “I devoured what it meant to design a space that would help [my son] Jaxsen,” she says—the then seven-year-old had been diagnosed with autism when he was a toddler.

Arzberger converted her home’s rarely used formal sitting room into a “sensory gym,” a calming space with soft seating and muted hues where Jaxsen could retreat when overstimulated by sights, sounds, and social interactions—common triggers for individuals on the autism spectrum. “The room facilitated his self-soothing capabilities and contributed to his overall sense of comfort and equilibrium,” Arzberger says. This parental win quickly led Arzberger to launch Jarz Design Studio, which creates living and learning spaces tailored to the distinct needs of neurodivergent clients. For a glimpse into her process, we chatted with Arzberger about the tools she uses to soothe and engage.

The Trigger: Bright lights, vibrant colors, busy patterns
The Remedy: Harsh, artificial lighting can bother, well, everyone, but it can especially vex neurodivergent folks. So instead of LEDs and fluorescent fixtures, Arzberger installs large windows and skylights whenever possible to take advantage of mood-boosting natural light. If that’s not an option, she pairs soft, warm lights with dimmer switches to mimic the day-night cycle. Arzberger also weaves calming hues—think blues, greens, and pastels—throughout each space. “Shades of red and orange can trigger a stress response,” she says.

The Trigger: Traffic noise, shrill voices, loud chewing
The Remedy: Sound sensitivity and intolerance are common in people with autism or ADHD. “Something as little as the rattling of an HVAC system can make them have a horrible day,” Arzberger says. So she relies on acoustic panels, sound-dampening curtains, and upholstered furniture to reduce echoes and muffle dins, while double-glazed windows, well-sealed doors, and high-quality insulation absorb bothersome street noise.

The Trigger: Understimulation, lack of focus
The Remedy: “What works for one child may not work for another,” Arzberger says, noting that some clients tend to avoid tactile sensory input (read: tight clothing and scratchy textures), while others seek it. For the latter, she includes weighted blankets and cocoonlike fabric swings—both of which provide a gentle hugging sensation—in her projects. She also adorns walls with fidget elements such as zippers, ropes, and slabs of knotty wood that can help sensory seekers concentrate or redirect their attention.