Avoiding stairs and corridors

Recommendation 62
Avoid stairs and corridors to the extent possible

Chapter (theme)
Architectural spaces (stairs and corridors)

Because of
sensory sensitivity, limitations in social interaction and communication, motor awkwardness

In order to
avoid or strongly alleviate stress, bullying and a whole range of other problems.

In the theme of this recommendation the wide array of experiences with stairs and corridors is summarized as: ‘Most ‘neurotypicals’ use stairs and corridors thoughtlessly, but people with autism often cannot. They notice their dimensions, materials, the lighting and the sounds much stronger and experience these more readily as oppressive, painful or disquieting. Moreover, stairs and corridors are where they get lost, where they get in touch – bodily or otherwise – with others and where a number of their senses – including the sense of equilibrium – are put to the test.’
These are problems people on the spectrum have generally. To students stairs and corridors are even more difficult. Firstly because of the large number of students in comparison with the number of people at home or in a treatment home. This circumstance increases the social pressures, is more demanding of social and communicative skills and increases the risk of bullying and other mutual difficulties. (See recommendation 61.) Secondly the internal traffic in schools causes much stress to autistic students: often they have to switch classrooms and need to be on time while needing extra time because of the problems mentioned above.

To avoid stairs and corridors as much as possible is a solution which is both preached and practiced. Maria Asserelli, for instance, wrote in a review article about building autism-friendly schools 2011: “Since 2005 we have openly campaigned to ban the corridor on the grounds that they are noisy, encourage ‘running opportunities’ and force people too close together so that they suffer anxiety. Instead we have circulation spaces which recognize the concept of ‘proxemics’ (the space we need around us to feel comfortable which tends to be more in the case of people with ASD). A well designed circulation space provides the means by which we can get from A to B whilst providing opportunities for other activities such as various types of play, story-telling, places to sit alone or to socialize in groups. It has been fascinating to observe how children will invent different ways of exploiting these spaces and the pleasure they derive from this new independence.”
The British architect Christopher Beaver designed Sunfield School, an educational and treatment facility, which still has corridors (made friendly) but in which a comparable circulation space is a central element. Stairs are dealt with radically since the building is entirely on the ground floor.


Assirelli, Maria, Luigia, Autism-friendly environments: a review, NAS-website, 2011.
See Whitehurst, Teresa Evaluation of Features specific to an ASD designed Living Accommodation, Stourbridge West Midlands, Sunfield, 2007.