‘Kitchens’ is a theme of the chapters ‘architectural spaces’, ‘interior design’ and ‘installations and appliances’. (See The recommendations.)
The kitchen is both an extremely complex and an extremely central space in which almost all autistic and quite a few sensory characteristics are in play. That’s why so many recommendations are concerned with it; some 7% of all recommendations are. At a family home, and no less in treatment and long-stay homes, the kitchen is the central meeting place, fulfilling a wide variety of social functions: the communal preparation of meals of course, mostly enjoying them together, sitting afterwards and maybe doing the dishes. Also it’s a place where information and experiences are shared and activities are coordinated.
Especially in treatment facilities, it’s an intentional learning environment.
The kitchen demands a lot from a number of senses, especially from hearing and smell, but also from the tactile sense for temperature around water and stoves. Motor awkwardness deserves extra attention in the kitchen because of its dangers.
The kitchen is also a complex environment because all these aspects are simultaneously at issue. We distinguish four of them:
Open-plan kitchens are generally preferred and have a number of advantages, although some rebel against them. One of the advantages is that an open area serves best as a central place in which much of social life (and/or ecological therapy) happens. As a very convenient learning space, generous dimensions are an asset too. In it one can prepare for life ahead, whether that be in a residential, or in an (assisted) independent living arrangement.
One can learn an array of skills, primarily preparing a meal of course, but much else along with it. Among which is planning, tracking the stocks, shopping for groceries and collaboration. Having a meal together also offers many challenges and teaching moments. Provided that the kitchen is large enough, some of these advantages, however apply just as well to closed kitchens which have as an added advantage that noise and smells can be contained.
Especially in long-stay homes it’s desirable to maintain day-to-day contact with the outside world. So it’s advisable to create possibilities to have suppliers come at the door (and – if possible – to go out for groceries into the community).
A much more general social aspect of the kitchen involves the trend in society at large and residential facilities in particular to equip bed-sitting rooms with small kitchens. It’s advisable to keep this trend towards individualization in mind when designing or renovating facilities.
Closed kitchens are almost invariably preferred when kitchen noise and/or smells are unbearable.
In residential homes it’s strongly suggested to install mixing faucets with built-in temperature limiters.
Noisy kitchen installations such as the engines of extraction devices are better installed away from the kitchen. The ducts should also be soundproof.
The use of mixers, coffee grinders, blenders and similar appliances should preferably be used when the person in question is out of earshot. (See here for the family home.)
When putting down glasses or crockery on a surface it produces an unpleasant ‘click’ for some. So it’s recommended to take this into account when deciding on a kitchen sideboard-surface. A stainless steel one with a waffle print is one of the better options.
Good kitchen lighting is worth attention because people with autism have trouble with several sorts of artificial lighting; moreover good working lights are particularly important and is often problematic in kitchens in general.
Orientation in time. In the open kitchen usually much daily and weekly activities are being coordinated. Usually it’s a good idea, therefore, to put schedules, calendars and such, on display in the kitchen.
Simultaneously, time-telling is essential to the kitchen routine. Apart from using egg or kitchen timers, a clock should be in view, preferably one which does not produce ticking or humming sounds.
The kitchen needs to be well-ordered: fixed places for kitchen utensils etc., and practically arranged kitchen cupboards. The places in and on which the subsequent stages of food preparation are executed should have a logical and functional order.
Combined cognitive and sensory
The choice for cooking technology (electrical, induction or through gas) depends simultaneously on cognitive and sensory strengths and weaknesses. (See here for the family home.)
A short, but very advisable source for practical tips about kitchen design is a chapter in “Living in the Community. Housing Design for Adults with Autism” by Andrew Brand, to be found here.