Tough Rooms for People with Autism or Brain Injury

Walls that are kick and punch proof

Unpainted 6′ x 4′ MDF on walls.

The intention of this article is to help parents of children with severe anger management issues keep their kids in their own home rather than sending them to an institution. Violence in the home is rarely acceptable but for many families anger and its expression in a physical form is a regular occurrence. In the case of families with children/teens who have sustained brain injuries or have specific types of developmental disorders,  the containment of uncontrollable outbursts of anger is an accepted part of day-to-day living.

When the anger becomes physical the target is often the home; doors get slammed, walls get punched and kicked, curtains are pulled down and closet doors are pulled off their rails. The results of an outburst lasting a few minutes can be a heartbreaking amount of damage to a home. Kicked-in walls, broken closets, door ways with unusable locks, damaged jambs and smashed doors are some of the consequences of a violent episode. Living with physically damaged walls and doors is incredibly stressful for a family, but repairing them is costly and the likelihood of future damages is quite high.
For the past few months I have been working with families who had special needs teens who occasionally became violent and damaged the house. We put together a strategy to make areas of the home more resilient to physical violence but still retain a homey, non-institutional appearance. The following describes some “tough room” home modifications that make a home more resilient to physical violence while retaining a non-institutional home-like appearance.

 

Walls

Most house walls are built with ½ inch drywall attached to 2×4 wooden studs. Well placed punches and kicks between the studs will result in large, expensive-to-repair holes. To preserve the integrity of the walls we took 4’x8’ sheets of MDF of  ½” thickness and covered all the walls. MDF is a glossy, heavy material made of glue and paper.

 

A hole in the wall is a reminder of an angry outburst.

A hole in the wall is a reminder of an angry outburst.

Hole covered with a sheet of painted MDF, baseboards on top and bottom. Electrical outlet flush with MDF.

Hole covered with a sheet of painted MDF, baseboards on top and bottom. Electrical outlet flush with MDF.

Walls that are kick and punch proof

Unpainted 6′ x 4′ MDF on walls.

MDF on walls after being painted.

MDF on walls after being painted.

 

It is almost impossible to kick a hole in it once it is installed and when painted it is indistinguishable from a normal wall. Depending on the height of the person and the way they assault the walls you can install the sheets length-wise so the covered area is from the floor to a height of 48”. This is ideal for preserving the wall from kicks. If the resident is taller, or will punch the wall, installing the 4×8 sheets height-wise so they run from the floor to a height of 8’ is a better installation.

Before attaching the MDF to the wall it is essential that you cut holes in it to allow for light switches and electrical outlets. There are 2 ways to do this. The first way is to cut a large hole that will allow for access to the outlet through the MDF. There is no loss in structural integrity as outlets and switches are usually attached to a stud, so kicks and punches on an outlet will not break the drywall.  The second, and nicer looking option, is to cut a smaller hole, remove the outlet from the electrical box and attach it to the MDF. This requires a special insulation adapter be installed for safety purposes. The faceplate goes directly on the surface of the MDF. Cosmetically, this is a very nice looking solution.To paint the walls use a primer that is appropriate for glossy surfaces. MDF does not absorb paint very well and painting it without primer will not look good. For a nice appearance and to prevent prying fingers from pulling the MDF off of the wall attach baseboard that is ½” thick along the top of the MDF and seal it in place with a bead of silicone.

 

Doors

Most doors in a home are hollow and constructed of thin sheets of wood glued to strips of cardboard. They are not designed for punches or kicks. For $60-$90 you can buy a solid core door that is made from pine or filled with glue and sawdust. Either of these options are much more resilient and difficult to break. Installing a door is a little more difficult than one would think, drilling and cutting spaces for the hinge and door knob installation is precise work.

Another area of weakness for a door is around the door knob. Even a solid door will break if it is kicked while in a closed or locked position. The break will occur at one of 2 structural weak points, the hinges or the area around the door handle. To preserve the integrity of the door around the handle, install a metal security sleeve.

A kicked door when closed or locked often breaks by the handle.

A kicked door when closed or locked often breaks by the handle.

A security plate on door can make a door significantly stronger.

A security plate on door can make a door significantly stronger.

A door that has been kicked, repaired and then kicked again.

A door that has been kicked, repaired and then kicked again.

A stripped screw hole in a door can be fixed with a strong metal anchor.

A stripped screw hole in a door can be fixed with a strong metal anchor.

 

Where the hinges connect to the door or the door frame is another weak area. When attaching the hinges to the door frame, use extra long screws that will go through the jamb and well into the studs supporting the frame. Where the hinges attach to the door, sometimes the screws will be torn out, resulting in a hole too wide for the screw. A metal anchor, often used for hanging heavy pictures on a wall can be installed in this hole, allowing you to reattach the hinge to the door.

Curtains and closet doors

In one of the homes there was a young boy who would pull on his closet doors or pull down his curtains when angry. Closet doors are not designed to be pulled off of their rails and the part of the door connected to the pin at the top was broken. Rather than replace the closet doors we used industrial Velcro to attach a cloth curtain to his closet. This Velcro comes in strips about 20’ long and 2” wide. I installed a strip of 3” wide baseboard along the tops of the window and closet areas. The Velcro has a sticky surface that sticks to the wood and I used a few staples for extra sticking power. The other side of the Velcro was attached to the curtain using small rivets. When he had an angry episode and tore the curtain off the closet or window, it was easy to put it back up.

 

Velcro above window, attach other side of velcro to a curtain using a small rivets.
Velcro above window, attach other side of velcro to a curtain using a small rivets.

 

At Senior Property Services we work closely with families to understand their specific needs and family dynamics. Our goal is to provide families with a physical home environment that reduces their challenges and helps all family members  live safely and comfortably.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>