Autism is a complicated spectrum disorder that involves consistent change of social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication. Autistic children face difficulty in communication and working with the world outside. The effects of autism show severe signs and symptoms in children. The first symptoms are revealed in children around two to three years old. But apart from this, few children present symptoms until they are a toddler. 

According to the CDC, one in 59 children is estimated to have autism. Therefore as a designer, we have a solid responsibility to design spaces for these specially-abled children.

Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet1
Autism Diagnosis_©

The latest study revealed autism is more common in boys than in girls, and it is a lifelong condition connected to the child. Moreover, children diagnosed with autism syndrome can live life independently as every child deserves the best. Hence as a designer, it is our responsibility to make it possible. 

Need of Autism and Architecture

Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet2
Autism Diagnosis _©

According to the latest report by CDC estimates that 2-5 children out of 1000 have symptoms of autism disorder. In addition to this, the numbers are increasing rapidly. In India, 1 in 88 are suffering from autism syndrome. The government only recognized the disorder in 2001, till the 1990s, there were reports that autism didn’t exist in India (dry Vinod Kumar Goyal TOI). These alarming rates of increase call for attention by all the fields, and clear architecture has been ignoring the effect of the built environment in their development. 

Such statistics are encouraging designers to look for specially-abled children. The increasing numbers tell us that as a designer we are responsible for designing the spaces for specially-abled users. It doesn’t matter if it is a mental or physical disability. Now the architecture industry has to come forward to design spaces for the specially-abled.

Classification of Autism Syndrome

Autism syndrome is common in children; when we are about to design spaces for them, it is important to know the types and classification of the condition. It helps in understanding the condition and encourages design for a user-end experience. The autism syndrome is classified as follows :

  1. Asperger Syndrome

Autism children who are diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome are very intelligent and can handle their daily activities. The autistic child might be very focused on topics of interest but will find it difficult to socialize with others.

  1. Pervasive developmental disorder

The pervasive developmental disorder is the next supreme level of Asperger’s syndrome. It might not appear like an autism disorder but has an extreme level of behavioral pattern.

  1. Autistic disorder

It has the same signs and symptoms as Asperger’s syndrome; the autistic child will find it difficult to interact with others and have slow learning skills.

  1. Childhood disintegrative disorder

Childhood disintegrative disorder is the rarest and severe part of the syndrome. It is a seizure disorder where an autistic child loses all social and mental skills during the first five years.

  1. Rett Syndrome

Rett Syndrome is associated with autism disorder, and experts group it under spectrum disorder. A genetic mutation causes it; therefore, it is not considered ASD. 

Therapy spaces for Autistic children

Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet3
Design of Autism Spaces _©

When designing for autistic-oriented users, we must look into their behavior patterns as a designer. Autistic children have different ways of communication, and therefore we must design spaces that help in easier communication with its user. The designer must add a sense of connection, and an architect must add calmness for specially-abled users. 

  1. Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy teaches a skill that helps the person live as independently as possible skills might include dressing, eating, bathing, and relating to people

  1. Sensory integration therapy

Sensory integration therapy helps the person deal with sensory information like sights, sounds, and smells. In addition to this, it helps autistic children who are not bothered by the sound.

  1. Speech therapy

Speech therapy has a vital role in improving the autistic child’s communication skills. In addition to this, it helps in the development of verbal communication skills. For others, using gestures or picture boards is more realistic

  1. The pictures exchange communication systems

Pecs uses picture symbols to teach communication skills. Autistic children communicate by using picture symbols for conversation. 

Awareness for Autistic oriented design

The study has stressed the importance of including students on the Autism spectrum in general education environments. This inclusion, that is, their integration and participation to attend the same classes with non-disabled students, would not be achieved without providing the necessary support. This support includes a quiet, distraction-free learning environment with sufficient personal space that would allow them to recalibrate and readjust their senses. 

Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet4
Autism Center for Specially abled _©
Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet5
Autism Center for Specially abled _©

That in addition to the high-interest areas that conform to these students’ statuses, and that would make their inclusion a The various strategies presented in this study reveal the importance of the role of architects in providing these inclusive environments that should guarantee equal opportunities for all society members and help mainstream students with autism into society social mainstream. 

  • Raising the awareness of professional architects and designers of the importance of providing inclusive autism-friendly environments, especially educational ones, to prepare the members of this group for better community integration and a higher quality of life.
  • It is important to teach the next generation of designers through adjusted curriculum and courses for a specially-abled design perspective.
  • Raising community awareness of the importance of autism and architecture.

Case Study: Advanced Autism Center, Egypt 

There is no better way to study a typology of design than a case study. Advanced Autism Center Egypt is located in Cairo, Egypt. Ar Magda Mustafa designed it. Furthermore, Ar. Magda Mostafa designed the spaces for autistic children keeping their behavioral and design concepts in mind. Therefore the spaces are divided purposely into low, high, and transitional stimuli zones. The site is located in Cairo and is surrounded by township and katameta golf tennis. 

Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet6
Advanced Autism Center _© Ar. Mogda Mostafa
Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet7
Advanced Autism Center _© Ar. Mogda Mostafa

The internal spaces are divided as per sensory potential into three groups. The groups of design stimuli are low, high, and transitional spaces. The criteria of stimuli are used in escape space, translational spaces, and sensory zones. The center is placed on the west side of Cairo in a residential area. Low-rise buildings define the character of the area. 

Stimuli are defined as unusual reactions in the respective sensory organs. 

High Stimuli: Sensory information coming from a built environment might be a simple bright color. 

Low Stimuli: In the low stimulus environment project.

Transition space: The sensory garden is organized. Inspiring the different sensessight, sound, taste, touch, smell. A garden with a play area for physical development. The two zones are connected by a long corridor that provides intimacy to the treatment. This area is the administration department and hydrotherapy. And these areas are under high stimuli.

Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet8
Advanced Autism Center _© Ar. Mogda Mostafa
Architecture for Autism: Overview and Analysis - Sheet9
Advanced Autism Center _© Ar. Mogda Mostafa

Hydrotherapy: Inspiring the different senses, sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Hydrotherapy can improve social behaviors, and it can aid sensory processing disorders in the central transition nucleus, providing easy access to all the treatment rooms. The structure is divided into four volumes of spaces and has a five-floor height massing. In addition to this, it has a sports center, public relations area, and hostel units.

Design perspective 

Autism centric spaces _©

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges in social interaction, speech, nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors. Studying the mindset of autistics in itself is a very vast subject; hence the topic limits itself to the study and research of their behavioral aspects in educational environments and environments which help them in rehabilitation. The main perspective of design should be defining quiet spaces, open circulations, and multi-sensory spaces.

The perspective of the design should be:

  • To understand the environmental implication for teaching strategies used for children with autism in educational spaces.
  • Address their needs and design accommodation based on their behavioral aspects, cultural and social aspects.
  • Visual character, spatial sequencing, and it’s quality escape areas clutter-free space color texture materials acoustics. 



Ar. Ritu Gosavi is a published co-author of the two anthology " A poet's Pulse" and "Slice of life" , graduated from College of Architecture Nasik .A brilliant content writer since 2019 bringing light on social and patriarchal norms through her writing page called "Ruminant". An architect, author, and audacious , a classical and japanese literature lover.

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