Designing for Autism focuses on creating timeless, enjoyable, and multifunctional spaces to resonate with high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness that autistic people experience.
Through various facets of research, architects working to create sensory-sensitive spaces, work on a model called The Triad of Impairments. This model focuses on areas in which autistic people have differences. Factors such as social communication, social interaction, and social imagination play a vital role in initiating a design module that portrays simplistic modern architecture.
1. The Basics of a Layout | Autistic people
While designing specifically for autistic people in different contexts, may it be schools, centers, or rehabilitation facilities, the most distinctive point, to begin with, is through the layout of the structure.
With research suggesting both scenarios, one in which autistic people feel better in unconfined spaces, the other which points toward privacy and the need for space for themselves, the layout of any space should be planned to cater to an amalgam of both these scenarios. A simple, calm, and ordered layout should be created that minimizes the use of grids and busy patterns. It should represent wide central spaces that encourage social interaction with quiet spaces placed at strategic intervals for mental recharging and much-needed breaks.
2. Auditory Satisfaction
Acoustic treatments in design can heavily impact how autistic people experience a space. Autistic people may be hypersensitive and could easily get triggered by sounds in their surroundings.
Impactful ways to reduce sound through better-insulated spaces, selection of acoustic finishes, and manipulation of sound pressure levels have proven beneficial in creating an acoustically controlled environment for the people frequenting a place. With technology advancing every day, soundproofing is no longer limited to flooring and wall coverings and can also be achieved with ceiling treatments to aid sound absorption along with ‘pink sound’ to represent acoustic manipulation.
3. Lighting Makes A Difference | Autistic people
Natural mediums of light ventilation or tones selected through artificial lighting is an aspect that affects a human’s mood and cognitive behaviour. When it comes to designing indoor spaces for autistic people, lighting is of the utmost importance.
Keeping in mind the sensory-sensitive approach, fluorescent lighting or any variant of bright lights could cause distress in day-to-day activities. Incorporating natural light in structures through windows and transparent facades is beneficial to a limit. When designing, a need to pay heed to its placement is crucial so it doesn’t distract or hinder a person’s capacity for concentration.
4. Sensory Zoning
A principal factor to keep in mind while designing for autistic people is the grouping of spaces to create different zones. Spaces with activities that follow a flow are usually together for improved functionality, but when planning clusters in designing for autism, sensory zoning plays an important role.
Creating well-defined stimulus zones that are segregated based on their varying degrees of activity, skill, level and sensory intensity helps people mitigate through all the spaces. Along with grouped zoning, it is also essential to remember the integration of transition zones so users can recalibrate their senses.
5. Material Matters
The interiors of a space project a variety of surfaces and decor installations necessary to make it habitable. The decor has the potential to influence a space. The functionality, privacy, and apparent size of space change with the kind of furniture installed.
Autistic people correspond well with modular furniture and malleable spaces keeping in mind the limited use of textured surfaces and preferable use of smooth surfaces. While a few users might experience compulsive-like needs, it is beneficial to create the interiors using impact-resistant materials and finishes that are easily sanitized to maintain cleanliness.
6. Colour Conflux | Autistic people
Colour provides comfort. A well-chosen color palette can create a comforting yet engaging environment for its users. When choosing color combinations for spaces designed to cater to the needs of autistic people, a balance between tones, types, and shades is essential.
Overstimulation may be a concern for a few whereas a lack of visual interest may present another front that can hinder growth. Strategically using a mix of warm and cool colors can help them associate to specific spaces and create focal points that increase and encourage communication and interaction. While designing the overall palette, avoid using excessively bright colors and shiny surfaces.
7. Spatial Configuration
Does spatial volume matter? Yes, when designing for autistic people spatial considerations are necessary. Individuals with autism sometimes struggle to understand their surroundings and construct movements accordingly. Creating spaces that are orderly and defined helps users navigate through the structure efficiently.
Sequential circulation, adequate storage for non-essential items, sub-dividing rooms, breakout spaces, and many such considerations help stimulate individuals and build comfort levels even in social scenarios. Also, the integration of spaces like therapy rooms and withdrawal rooms in any structure makes it facile for autistic people to understand their environment.
8. Building Services
Design considerations for autistic people are not through elements or interventions but also from the very core of the built module. Building services being on the backburner while design processes develop is a common phenomenon but designing for autism involves a few of these services to be moderated to create a welcoming environment for its users.
One example is a constant check on air quality and temperature control. The air conditioning units should be installed considering minimal machine and air noise with additional filtration installed to adjust adequate air changes.
9. Safe In The Surrounding
Safety is crucial when designing spaces for autistic people. A structure should be secured considering all safety protocols, especially if it experiences footfall from children. The design must eliminate risks at every level as best as possible by proactively getting rid of sharp edges and potential launching pads.
To prevent the risk of injury for all services like wiring and plumbing should be made secure with concealing measures. Another way to maximize safety precautions could be using weighted furnishings so the user, if aggravated, does not cause harm to itself and its surrounding space.
10. Threshold and Entrance | Autistic people
A transition from the exterior surroundings to the interior space should be made safe and quiet with minimal distractions along the way. While the division of zones makes design effective and efficient for autistic people, another consideration we should keep in mind is the barrier that is to be between the built and unbuilt spaces.
Zones in the exterior of the structure designed for recreation, relaxation, or play activities, need to be segregated successfully to help transition from open areas to enclosed quiet spaces, mitigating the risk of unsettlement among individuals.
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- VázquezF.S. and Torres, A.S. (2013). Autism and Architecture. Recent Advances in Autism Spectrum Disorders – Volume II. [online] Available at: https://www.intechopen.com/books/recent-advances-in-autism-spectrum-disorders-volume-ii/autism-and-architecture.
- ArchDaily. (2011). Designing for Autism: More Able Not Less Disabled. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/190322/designing-for-autism-more-able-not-less-disabled.