Spatial characteristics of living rooms

Spatial characteristics of living rooms

Recommendation 40
Construct a spacious room, partly free of windows and doors, in which seclusion is possible

Chapter (theme)
Architectural spaces (living rooms)

Because of
cognitive shifting, Central coherence, sensory processing

In order to
create a familiar, safe place in the home.

In the communal living room the child with autism should be able to feel safe and truly ‘at home’. Assuming there is a choice or one is (re)building an apartment, preferably there should be one, maybe two adjoining walls without windows or doors. The se children predominantly prefer their own spot in a room with a good overview by, for instance, sitting with their backs to a wall without windows or doors. This has to do with often lessened powers of imagination, making windows and doors one cannot see sources of unpredictability: someone might suddenly pop up out of nowhere, causing insecurity and disquiet.
Surprises and sudden changes can be hard to process (problems with ‘cognitive shifting’). When living alone in a situation in which others can’t just enter, this may be a less acute concern. Being able to oversee ones direct environment is important in general, because frequent trouble in conceiving an overall picture (weak central coherence). The layout of the living room should therefore be logical and easy to ‘read’. (What can contribute to this through interior design is dealt with in the relevant chapter, see recommendation 92.)
The living room, adjoining spaces and corridors should be connected in the clearest possible way.

More generally a room should preferably have pleasant spatial characteristics, termed ‘volumetric expression’ by McAllister & Maguire. They state: “People feel, and therefore can react differently, within separate spaces of different character. (…) Making a space more intimate by increasing the sense of enclosure or by lowering the ceiling level can aid in promoting a sense of calm. Conversely, increasing the openness or raising the ceiling level of an area can increase the sense of freedom, encouraging greater physical activity and expression.”
Although in writing this, they envisioned children in school; the same undoubtedly applies to the home.

Space (and intimacy)
This quote shows the tension between ‘large’ and ‘secluded’. On the one hand big is good. Six out of seven authors of the, so called ‘core literature’ emphasize ‘generous space standards’.  The more restricted the space, the more concentrated are the stimuli to which one is exposed. Conversely, a generous space satisfies the lower sensory thresholds many people on the spectrum have, thereby lessening the risk of over stimulation.
The same goes for social stimuli which are of course inevitable in a family’s living room. What can be said about the ‘thinning’ of stimuli in general also applies to social stimuli –among which touch – in particular.

On the other hand spaciousness may not stand in the way of intimacy. One should have the opportunity to withdraw and to organize ones own secluded space. While building, one might consider a side space or a niche. Within a generous space, however, it’s usually quite possible to meet the need for intimacy through interior design. (See recommendation 92.)


*McAllister & Maguire

McAllister, Keith and Barry Maguire, ‘Design considerations for the autism spectrum disorder-friendly Key Stage 1 classroom’, In: Support for Learning 27(2012)3, 103-112.
 core literature
See point 5 here.