Spatial properties 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 ones own safe, familiar place.

To the resident the living room should be safe, familiar and be truly ones ‘own place’. 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. People on the spectrum 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, however, is always important. People having trouble conceiving an overall picture (weak central coherence) can benefit considerably from a clear layout of a room. Apart from the position of walls, doors and windows, the layout should be logical and ‘readable’. (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 schoolchildren, the same undoubtedly applies to adults.

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.
More spacious dimensions are also desirable for spaces in which one receives guests. That which applies to stimuli in general also applies to social stimuli. More spacious rooms, in addition, help avoid bodily contact, something to which many on the spectrum are aversive.

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.