Designing Facilities that Improve the Lives of Those with Autism for the Better

Monday, April 26, 2010

Development Learning Center, MCSSSD

Autism is a pervasive developmental disability with a wide range of symptoms that affect a child's language, social, cognitive, and sensory development. Although there is no cure for autism, early intervention and structured teaching enable students to maximize their skills and learning potential. The built environment can also play a significant role and contribute to the overall success of their education, care and development. Designs that are responsive can accommodate varying degrees of sensory sensitivities.

Traditional educational design, where the classroom is designed to stimulate students simply does not apply.  Conversely, the design of educational environments for autistic students requires careful attention to factors that may negatively stimulate a child.  As a sensory-sensitive population, sensory stimulation – sound, light, color, patterns – should be controlled. The architect must use a different palette for the design aesthetic and built environment.

A firm understanding of the educational program is the foundation of good design.  This springs from the architect and educator sharing ideas and speaking in a common language that bridges the divide of their traditional roles. Perhaps, most importantly for the architect is an understanding of the complexity of degrees of varying symptoms across the autistic spectrum.

In the design of facilities for students with autism which vary from a traditional school, the architect must consider the teacher to student ratio, which in some cases may be one-to-one. In addition good design often incorporates dual-use spaces to minimize size and maximize simplicity. In all cases, good quality architecture considers sustainability and environmentally responsive design.

Design considerations

  • Sustainable Design – indoor air quality
  • Acoustics
  • Softer interior design, flooring, to prevent injury
  • Lighting
  • Storage Space to reduce clutter
  • Programming - Designing “real-world environments,” i.e “bringing the world to the classroom”
  • Dual-use spaces
  • Security
  • Technology
  • Least restrictive environment
  • Way-finding