Theme ‘demarcations’

‘Demarcations’ are a theme under the chapter ‘garden/outside area’. (See The recommendations.) This subject is prominent both in architecture and in autism; so much so that it features in no less than 40% of all recommendations.

The most central dilemma in daily life, education and treatment around people on the spectrum is between protection against the outside world and the full participation in it. (See dilemmas.)

Depending on the individual vulnerabilities and possibilities, these will be weighed differently, but the balance never goes all the way to one side. Nobody is so vulnerable that no contact whatsoever with society is possible and no one on the spectrum is able to live his entire life independently; at minimum, a “Plan B” with support in the background is necessary.

Therefore, a building or home should be positioned so that at least some contact with the public space around it is possible for the resident. The opportunities for contact should be subject to varying degrees of regulation and control in order to do justice to limitations in interaction and communication and problems with ToM and switching. This is where a transitional area in the shape of a garden, courtyard or playground can play a crucial role. Almost all schools, treatment, and long-stay homes have such a transitional area. So do most homes; albeit not always a garden but a foyer, lobby or hallway or similar semi-public space. In the absence of a hallway or similar space, a transitional space can be constructed behind the front door. (See recommendation 7.) These spaces act as a buffer zone and enable the person on the spectrum or his care-givers to decide if, how and at what tempo the confrontation with a visitor or someone else from outside is suitable.

This demarcation in the public sphere goes both ways: from the outside in for whom stimuli or confrontations can be too much and from the inside out to prevent someone (e.g. a child) from ending up there inadvertently. Walter (26), an in-patient of the Kannerhuis was interviewed on this subject. He prefers “dense shelter”, noting that “otherwise {he’d} rather not be there.” On the discomfort of being within the view of other people while in the private garden of his treatment facility he adds: “It would be nice too if there was a parasol or a tree under which to sit so your neighbors can’t see you from their bedrooms. It should be a sheltered spot. In front of the garden, a low wall, at the back a high one, so you have the best of two worlds.”  His mate Onno (16) agrees empathically, adding: “It should be awesomely and tightly shut with conifers.”
About being shielded from outside stimuli, Walter and Onno’s remarks are an excellent point of reference. Generally, being in the view of others while at home is strongly rejected by independently living people with autism as found in several small-scale Dutch research projects.

The buffer function of a garden and/or outside area doesn’t only involve regulation of social contact with the world outside, but also the control  over sensory inputs and safety. The latter is at stake when – among other  situations – children play around the house: they should be kept in and strangers should be kept out without resorting to prison-like provisions. The necessity for safety precautions is – unfortunately – tragically illustrated by the ‘escape’ from school by 14 year old Avonte Oquendo who liked to run and was found dead months later. ‘Wandering’ happens at an alarming rate. Roux et al cite studies which found that “…impulsively leaving a supervised situation and sometimes becoming lost” is something no less than 27% of 8- to 11-year-old youth with autism did; such behavior is more frequent at lower levels of intellectual and communication functioning. These are US data; we don’t know how this is in other countries.



The  Dutch autism center which’ experience is an important source for this website. See the acknowledgments.
Avonte Oquendo
See the blog at this website. For a detailed account by Robert Kolker in New York Magazine of March 30 2014 and measures recently taken in NYC see here.
Roux et al
Roux, Anne M., Shattuck, Paul T., Rast, Jessica E., Rava, Julianna A., and Anderson, Kristy, A. National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood. Philadelphia, PA: Life Course Outcomes Research Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University, 2015. PDF