Context School

Roughly 90% of the children on the spectrum in Western countries are at school from their 5th until their 16th year. Of the others, most are exempted from compulsory education and/or receive home schooling.

An increasing number of autistic children attend mainstream schools. Brenna Sniderman wrote: “According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 39% of ASD students spent at least 80% of their day in a mainstream classroom in 2011, up from 36% in 2008 and just 18% in 2000.”

Children on the spectrum are very rarely at ease in school; generally school is a very challenging environment for them. Hendrickx speaks of “… the crippling and miserable anxiety that many of our autistic children and young people face simply at the thought of going to school.”
The reason is that many, if not all, autistic difficulties and limitations play a role in the school situation: think of the communication and social demands posed by the school, to which stereotypical behavior and sensory sensitivities may be added.
More specifically, four main issues are in play:

Autistic children learn differently than non-autistic (or neurotypical) ones; they have a very hard time if these differences aren’t recognized and translated into appropriate teaching methods. Moreover, children on the spectrum often have a hard time understanding both unwritten and written rules of behavior. Being unaware of such rules until one inadvertently breaks them, which can happen out of the blue and often, can be a great source of stress – says the aforementioned Hendrickx .

Secondly, both isolation and social exclusion and bullying are extremely common for most children on the spectrum. Most schools are evidently unable to live up to the general task of education as an agency which fosters the social integration of all students/pupils.

Third, the sensory burden, regarding noise, temperatures and clean air (odor) in most schools, is very heavy.

Finally, the lay-out, both within and between spaces, usually leaves much to be desired, something which causes disorientation on the part of students on the spectrum, which is detrimental to their education and general development.

Architectural adaptations can make a contribution to all four of these issues. The last two, sensory load and orientation, can be influenced directly. Design cannot contribute directly to the educational and social qualities of schools, but can be crucial in setting conditions for them.

The educational situations of children on the spectrum of course vary considerably: from small internal schools in treatment homes to large-scale mainstream schools. The character and severity of the autistic and sensory problems, are – as always – decisive for the character and the weight of the measures to be taken. As a rule, these problems will be greater in special than in regular education, as are the possibilities to remedy them.
As a consequence the recommendations will vary between minimal, ‘light’ adaptations in regular education and more pervasive ones in special education.

Below, 56 recommendations are listed of which 8 are exclusively aimed at schools (here marked with an asterisk*), while 37 have applications in all contexts which are distinguished on this website.

New material is permanently added to this website. Presently 43 recommendations have been worked out, distributed over five chapters and various themes, as listed in the following scheme. Finished recommendations are marked in blue (hyperlinks).
(See here for the organization of all recommendations.)

Recommendations around school


92 Stable and clear classrooms
99 Classroom design*
100 Seating arrangements in the classroom*
103 Visualizations to reinforce visual structure
104 Orientation in time
105 Visualizations at school
106 “Visualisations” through touch
Noise / acoustics
107 Acoustics and reverberation in school
108 Classroom noise
109 Earplugs, ear-, and headphones
Light and sight
111 Do’s and don’ts with artificial light
116 Color application for moderately color-sensitive pupils
117 Color application for strongly color-sensitive pupils
Touch and pain / in school
119 Avoiding painful furniture
121 No hanging lamps above tables
122 Avoiding pain in school*


Temperature control
126 Cross-ventilation
136 Ceramic faucets
142 co2-concentration and dampness
145 Silent ventilation systems
Image and sound
147 Camera surveillance
148 Sound- and/or imaging equipment in various withdrawal spaces
153 Lighting around school
154 Lighting of the classroom
157 Daylight lamps and dimmers


most are exempted

In the Netherlands 7% don’t go to school of which the vast majority is exempted. Home schooling is much less prevalent there than in the U.S. for instance.
In Forbes Magazine October 30, 2014. URL
Hendrickx, Sarah, ‘Anxiety and autism in the classroom’ In: Autism Network, 9 June 2015 (accessed 24 June, 2015) See here.