Orientation – where am I? – is one of the first priorities in designing for people on the spectrum. This subject is seamlessly connected to navigation – How do I get to where I want to go? – which will be treated separately.
For this we quote from Coulter: “Individuals who have autism have been shown to exhibit differences in visual spatial processing. Those with ASD often struggle to develop appropriate visuo-spatial skills. Some of these visuo-spatial skills include body awareness, locating their own bodies in space, relating objects to self, other objects and other people, as well as higher order visuo-spatial abilities that include conservation of space, visual- logical reasoning and representational thought. To compensate for their inability to process visual information in their environment, those with ASD often rely on proprioception. Some behaviors exhibited by individuals with ASD include toe walking, hand flapping or flicking fingers near their faces, have been explained as compensations for poor visuo-spatial skills. These individuals are seeking additional sensory input to tell them where they are in space.”
People who have less severe autism may nevertheless suffer from milder visuo-spatial shortcomings.
In fact, the meaning of ‘good orientation’ in this context is that design should counteract autistic limitations which hinder orientation. Here one should think of efforts in order to achieve a clear physical and visual structure.
Here we repeat two passages which also appear in Central coherence:
“People on the spectrum are easily disoriented, have trouble recognizing people, objects and situations, due to imperfect stimulus processing and flawed representations in the brain.”
“Temple Grandin gives advice which can be taken as a call to everyone involved in designing for people with autism:
‘Maintain a stable, ordered secure environment. The autistic child simply cannot function if there are too many daily changes….. The autistic child is unable to bring order to his world. You must provide that order in his environment.’”
An experienced architect mentions some principles he employs to enhance orientation:
“When thinking about orientation, think of the readability of the building. Which are the recognizable concepts? A front door and a back door are, generally speaking, such a recognizable concept. This you can use as an architect. Building material and color can help clarify the character of the space and in creating order in a home or building. They can be tools for people with autism in order to distinguish and interpret the functions of spaces. You might also consider a clear and logical ground plan such as: you enter, in a hall where you can hang your coat, you walk on to the kitchen, from there on to the dining room, then.. and so on. The path should be logical.”
In short: creating maximum oversight is the first remedy against the above mentioned shortcomings. In cases this is insufficient, visualizations constitute the next remedy.