Day lighting

Recommendation 79
Maximize the advantages of daylight, while avoiding autistic complications

Chapter (theme)
Architectural spaces (light and sight)

Because of
sensory oversensitivity to light, stereotypical (obsessive) behavior

In order to
profit as much as possible from the advantages of daylight.

This recommendation is linked to recommendation 77 about sunlight and 80 about the dangers of overexposure to daylight.

As discussed extensively in the theme of this recommendation, it seems certain that exposure to daylight is very beneficial to the health and the educational performance of students in general. Christopher Henry gives an overview (illustrated by photographs) of the opinions of a number of architects about this regarding autistic students. Some believe these beneficial effects regard them too, others don’t, while there is no proper research to decide this issue. Such research is urgently needed, but as long as this is absent and schools are being built, it is necessary to take a position. A feasible compromise is to assume an autistic student can benefit as much from daylight as any other, as long as the idiosyncrasies which can stand in the way are avoided. All the objections mentioned by Henry can be avoided by the proper measures.
They are:

  1. Bright lights and sunshine can disturb and cause distortions
  2. High contrast (sun/shadow) can be disruptive
  3. Windows with an external view provide undesirable distractions
  4. Shifting patterns of daylight, caused by clerestory windows and skylights, can complicate the visual environment.

The remedies are:
Recommendation ad 1,2):
Place windows and other facade openings in a way which prevents direct entry of sunlight. Limit them for instance to the North, filter the light through ground glass, block it with shades, etc. McAllister & Maguire for instance recommend the first for younger children in special schools: “If possible, high-level or clerestory glazing should be provided in the classroom. (…) a visual connection to day- light and the exterior can still be maintained. This is especially important for teaching staff who, unsurprisingly, do not like working in a darkened room with only artificial light for illumination.”

Recommendation ad 3):
Place windows and other facade openings in a way in which (certainly from a sitting position in the classroom) there is no view which might be distracting. (Also see recommendation 10.)

Recommendation ad 4):
From Henry’s article it isn’t exactly clear what is meant by ‘shifting patterns of daylight’, nor is it in the source he provides. Recommendation ad 1,2) is probably sufficient to neutralize this objection. Shadows from clouds, for instance, will hardly occur since there is no incoming sunlight to be blocked.

These recommendations take the given objections as seriously as possible by not letting any direct sunlight in. Whoever cannot or will not go this far, can follow recommendation 77 or combine it with some of the elements here. Also, one can be less strict in the areas beyond the classroom.

The photographs in Henry’s article are recommended.


Henry, Christopher, “Designing for Autism: Lighting” 19 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 08 Sep 2014. PDF
Myler, Patricia A., Thomas A. Fantacone and Edwin T. Merritt, ‘Eliminating Distractions’, In: American School and University, 2003-11-01. PDF
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. PDF abstract