How do you design housing for people with autism?
As a society, our understanding of the complex neurological condition that is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is still evolving. More so, is our response as architects to the often challenging behaviour that is associated with those higher on the spectrum. In conjunction with other professionals, Create believes that houses can not only be designed to minimise stress for people with autism, but that these ideas can be utilised in the design of all buildings to improve all of our mental wellbeing.
Across the world, architects, designers, residents and carers have been gathering to discuss the answer to the above question. As the first of it’s kind in the UK, the National Autistic Society’s conference on ‘Autism and Design’ was attended by professionals across all sectors.
Parents of children with autism are often concerned whether their children will be able to live independently in the future and, in particular, where their home might be. Independent or supported living for those requiring minimal care or 24hr support has often previously been in the form of a bedroom in a shared house. Living with other people can prove stressful to even the most calm-natured of us, however to some people with autism, this living arrangement may simply just not work. A moment of release could range from a violent outburst to quietly retreating into a corner away from the cause of stress. It is this range of responses and sensitivities which makes designing for people with autism unique.
At Create, we believe that the design of a building can greatly influence a person’s mood, behaviour and overall well-being. Therefore, with great amounts of research, consultation and collaboration, we are developing key criteria that can be incorporated into homes and commercial buildings to assist those with neurological conditions and provide sensory sensitive environments for everyone. In undertaking our research for autism design, we have summarised that many of the following design considerations are also relevant to private housing, in order to provide us with homes that are a retreat away from an increasingly stressful world.
Fluorescent lighting should be avoided. It can cause increased repetitive behaviour as people with autism are more vulnerable to the sub-visible flicker that many of us are unaware of. Home lighting layouts can be designed to enable flexibility, such as the ability to dim or light different areas.
Thresholds and Transition Spaces
The threshold and transition between environments can be an important moment for people with autism. A porch or entrance space incorporating a seat or recess can provide an intermediate space between the outside environment and the home.
People with autism can have problems with proprioception and processing information. This can be eased through the provision of wider corridors and circulation spaces to ensure personal space is maintained when passing others. High ceilings within a building can also provide a greater sense of space.
Many of us can sometimes find social situations difficult or simply not be in the mood for interaction. Incorporating spaces for retreat within a home allow us to move away from social interaction if required. For people with autism, this provides a space to de-regulate and self-regulate away from other people.
Visibility and Understanding the Environment
Especially in larger buildings, people are less anxious when they can comprehend the environment or building they are in. Legibility of a building plan and visibility through the building is therefore a key consideration in the layout.
Noise can be extremely disruptive and stressful, particularly to people with autism as the external environment can appear to be much louder. Acoustics within the building form a large part of reducing noise but it is also helpful to locate habitable rooms away from traffic and other noises.
Another consideration is the ability to stop smells spreading throughout the home. Areas such as the kitchen should be able to be closed off if required.
Homes should have the flexibility to change to the needs of the user as required. This applies not only because autism obsessions can change, but because most residents will use their home differently over the years.