Autism-friendly architecture can make an enormous difference in the lives of people with autism and those around them. It’s quite possible it’s just as beneficial as good training and treatment. Clearly, training, counseling, treatment and teaching is much less effective when it takes place in spaces which are not autism-friendly.
Since about a decade, the interest for autism-friendly design is on the rise. Yet, this statement by Andrew Brand is still current: “…there is a distinct lack of documented design guidance and therefore a risk of placing people in buildings that do not meet their needs or aspirations.”
Sharing and expanding this sort of knowledge and its practical applications is the mission of Architecture for Autism.
What’s the importance of autism-friendly design?
Adapting the social environment to the talents and limitations of people on the autism spectrum has been pursued for quite a number of years. Adapting the physical environment, however, is just as important.
Apart from the promises of very early intervention, autism is incurable. Relatively much is accomplished with a number of counseling, therapy, and training programs. Yet, sooner or later, the moment is reached that only adaptation of the environment can add more to the quality of life. Relatives, care-givers, teachers, friends and colleagues go to great lengths to modulate their communication to the needs of people with autism. They apply other do’s and don’ts as well; such as taking into account a large array of sensory difficulties. These efforts should continue at least until our entire society finds it self-evident to embrace the talents and limitations of people on the spectrum.
Similarly the physical environment should be attuned to the peculiarities of people on the spectrum as well. Think of the design of foyers or vestibules allowing for extra space and processing time. Homes and buildings should be ‘easy to read’, spaces should be ‘clear’ in more than one sense of the word, and preferably should have obvious – perhaps single – functions. We’re in need of ‘withdrawal spaces’. Light, noise and temperatures need to be moderate. But most schools, for instance, now prove such an assault on the senses that many autistic children do not finish their education.
Many professional autism care-givers are very impressed with the strong positive effects of autism-friendly design. Sufficient hard evidence, however, is still lacking as an irrefutable justification for the necessary investments in other ways of design.
Therefore, the scarce research in this particular area should be collected and judged. We’re obviously in need of more research to learn more about which adaptations work best and for whom exactly.