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Sachs, N. & Vincenta, T. (2011, April). Outdoor environments for children with autism and special needs. Implications, 9(1), 1-7

A Newsletter by InformeDesign. A Web site for design and human behavior research.
Outdoor Environments
for Children with
Autism and Special
Related Research
VOL. 09 ISSU E 01
Outdoor Environments for Children
with Autism and Special Needs
Naomi Sachs, ASLA and
Tara Vincenta, ASLA
In May 2010, Tara Vincenta and Naomi Sachs
pres ented a web in ar cal led “P rescr iption for
Play: Nature-based Learning and Play for
Children with Autism and Other Special
Needs.” KaBOOM!, a non-prot organization
dedicated to saving play for America’s
children, sponsored the webinar and this
pa per is a dis t ill ati on of that webin ar. To vi ew
the webinar, visit KaBOOM!’s Hot Topics in
Play page (
series.php?id=1111). You will need to scroll
down, as the webinars are in chronological
In his ground-breaking book, Last Child in
the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-
Decit Disorder (2 0 05), R ichard Lou v ma kes
a c ase for the v a lu e of sponta neo us outdoor
play and creating a connection with nature
during childhood. He cites many positive
be nets of fre quent out door e xpe r ie nc es a s
a part of children’s everyday lives. Positive
outdoor experiences can foster happier,
healthier, smarter, and more well-adjusted
children and can create future stewards
of the earth. Environmental psychologists
Rachel and Stephen Kaplan (1989) have
linked contact with nature to restored
attention, recovery from mental fatigue,
and enhanced mental focus. Studies (Faber
Taylor, Kuo, and Sullivan, 2001; Kuo &
Faber Taylor, 2004) by researchers at the
Un ivers it y of Ill i nois c on clude th at chi ldren
with attention decit disorder (ADD) show
a greater ability to focus immediately after
spending time in nature. The conclusion by
these researchers is that that the greener
a child’s everyday environment the more
manageable their ADD symptoms.
Outdoor play and learning environments
for c hildre n wi th aut ism and spec ial nee ds
shou ld help chil dre n have fun in a saf e and
accepting outdoor setting, connecting them
with the restorative benets of nature while
building on skills learned in the classroom.
Many children with autism are in highly
structured indoor learning environments
during their day and may receive great
benets from having meaningful experiences
outdoors. Typically, accessibility is the
primary design issue addressed when
designing outdoor spaces for children with
special needs (e.g., Boundless Playground
However, due to the nature of autism (and
other similar conditions), spaces designed
for children with these conditions require
considerations beyond accessibilit y.
Where Research Informs Design®
Knowled ge a nd a compre he nsive unde rst and ing of t he
challenges shared by these children push designers
toward a more holistic view of outdoor spaces for all
children. Nature-based learning and play spaces can
become more universal and inclusive by addressing a
variety of issues including sensory, cognitive, visual
and auditory impairment, and limited ne and gross
motor skills. This article explores research and
design considerations for creating outdoor, nature-
based spaces that allow children with autism and
other special needs to play and learn at their own
comfort level, overcoming common challenges in
a safe, fun environment that is equally engaging
for any child.
What is Autism?
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a
neurological developmental disability that usually
appears in the rst three years of life and that
especially impacts development in areas of social,
verbal, and nonverbal communication. According
to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
ASD affects as many as 1 in 110 children (Autism
and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network
Surveillance Year 2006 Principal Investigators, 2009)
and is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls
(Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring
Network Surveillance Year 2000 Principal Investigators,
Autism is considered a “broad spectrum disorder” in
that it affects each individual differently and to varying
degrees. People often say, “If you’ve met one person with
autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” meaning
autism can manifest itself very differently from one
individual to another. On one end of the spectrum,
people with severe classical autism may be nonverbal,
have signicant cognitive challenges, be prone to social
isolation, and engage in repetitive behaviors such as
hand-apping or rocking. On the other end of the
sp ect r um, ind ivi du a ls w ith hig h funct ion i ng autis m or
Asperger’s syndrome may have good language skills,
above-average intelligence, and a keen interest in
particular subjects.
Autism affects the way children perceive and process
their world. Though symptoms vary tremendously
from person to person, the three main areas affected
are social interaction and communication, sensory
integration, and repetitive patterns of behavior.
Social interaction and communication:
Fort y to  fty per cent of chil dren w ith autism a r e either
completely nonverbal, or, at the very least, have trouble
carrying on two-way conversations. They have trouble
reading facial expressions or anticipating what someone
else might be thinking or feeling. As a result, they have
difculty expressing their needs and are often solitary
and detached.
Sensory integration:
Many children with autism also have some form of
Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID), a condition
shared by many other children with special needs.
This includes a hypo- or hyper-sensitivity to sensory
stimuli including sound, sight, smells, tastes, and
textures. For example, some children may be hyper-
sensitive (over-sensitive) to the texture or feel of fabric
on their skin , a pavement s urface, o r the g r ass beneath
Gardening activities are a gre at way to get kids familiar with the
different textures and scents of plants in a controlled manner.
Where Research Informs Design®
Common Therapies
Common therapies, often carried out by family
members, teachers, and therapists (occupational,
physical, speech and language, and horticultural
therapists), include:
Applied Behavior Analysis
Floor Time Pivotal Response Training
Occupational Therapy
Physical Therapy
Sensory Integration Therapy
Speech and Language Therapy
Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related
Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH)
Additional information about common therapies that
are used to treat autism and how they are performed
can be found through a document linked at the
end of this article. Important concepts from these
therapies can be extrapolated into the design of outdoor
Research on the Role of Nature in
Treating Children with Autism
Early intervention is one of the most important keys
to improvement in autism symptoms one reason
why appropriate outdoor learning environments are
crucial. All children learn and develop cognitively as
well as physically through play, and a growing body
of research points to the important role that nature
plays in that development. Creating a supportive
environment can go a long way in helping children
with special needs (and their siblings) experience the
world in a meaningful way.
As with any population, the safest and most benecial
outdoor environments and programs for children
should be based on research and evidence (i.e.,
evidence-based design EBD). Research directly
examining the impact of natural play environments
on children with autism or other special needs has
been minimal. Currently, we must rely on the body of
their feet. On the other end of the spectrum, children
may be hypo-sensitive (under-sensitive) to pain and
unable to understand how to protect themselves from
physical injury.
Another common sensory issue for persons with autism
is the inability to lter input from external sources.
They experience everything at once — visual stimuli,
sounds, and smells, which can become overwhelming.
This, coupled with communication and language
challenges, can frequently lead to tantrums and “melt-
Repetitive patterns of behavior:
Restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped behaviors
such as hand-apping, rocking, or head-banging
are common in children with autism. They may have
a certain order or routine that must be followed in
certain circumstances, or they may become xated
on organizing objects.
Other common behaviors:
Other manifestations include being more interested
in objects than in other children, preferring to be
alone and detached, resistance to change and an
attachment or reliance on sameness, an inability to
engage in make-believe play, a resistance to being
to uc he d or cu dd led, a nd d i fc ult y with  ne a nd g ross
motor skills.
Issues Shared with Other
Children with Special Needs
Many of these conditions, behaviors, or tendencies
particularly motor and neuromuscular challenges;
cognitive, sensory, and communication issues; and
visual and auditory impairment — are shared with
a broader community of children with special needs,
including those with Down syndrome, developmental
delay, cerebral palsy, spina bida, sensory disorders,
and vision and auditory deciencies. Some therapies
and design interventions can help those with a range
of special needs.
Where Research Informs Design®
common challenges for children with ASDs. It can be
difcult for them to lter the amount of information
coming at them all at once in outdoor, public spaces.
Therefore, outdoor environments for this population
should be both comfortable and supportive as they
encourage skill-building.
Through examination of current available research,
reference materials, literature, and personal interviews
and observations, Tara Vincenta has developed the
following guidelines for consideration when designing
outdoo r envi ron ments for chil dre n with A SDs. Many of
these ideas can be creatively integrated into existing
outdoor play spaces, retrotting them to be more
user friendly to children with ASDs. As with most
design guidelines, these should be considered for their
ap propr i atene ss w ith i n the co nt ext of a g iven p roject and
should not be considered “guaranteed” solutions.
research and information that does exist including (1)
general information about autism and related disorders
(such as Sensory Integration Dysfunction); (2) rst-
hand accounts from people with autism and their
caregivers; (3) general information and research on
nature-based play and learning for all children; and
(4) standard guidelines for playgrounds, including
the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other safety
Post-occupancy evaluations (POEs) would be helpful
in determining whether certain design strategies have
the desired effect and how they can be applied to the
broadest population. At this point, however, there is
not enough research or funding to build specically
designed spaces, and thus we have very few spaces to
measure whether a design is functioning according to
a p articula r prog r am. Even smal l-s cale inte r vention s,
studied systematically, could provide useful information
that would inform future design.
Design Guidelines
In creating outdoor environments for
ch i ld ren acros s the a ut ism sp ect r um,
design considerations must address a
broad range of challenges experienced
by this population. Because many of
these challenges are shared by children
with related disorders, the issues faced
by a large population of children with
special needs can be accommodated
with thoughtful, creative, inclusive
One goa l of these environments
should be to help children apply the
lessons they learn in the classroom to
a real-world environment, providing
them with coping skills outside of
the classroom. However, heightened
sensory issues are one of the most
Tara Vincenta has developed guidelines for consideration when designing outdoor
environments for children with ASDs. This is a plan view of an outdoor environment designed
using these guidelines; however, many of these guidelines can be creatively integrated into
existing outdoor play spaces.
Where Research Informs Design®
Provide plenty of shade, both with trees and
shade structures, as persons with ASDs are often
Provide transitions between spaces/activities •
to allow individuals to orient themselves before
experiencing something new. Children with ASDs
are uncomfortable with change, and providing
space between different activities, accompanied
by an orientation map, can help them anticipate
these changes.
Include some elements of consistency• such as
a hedge, stone wall, or an element that creates a
comforting, predictable pattern.
Sequence activities to introduce elements and •
ideas slowly and build upon skills and comfort
Provide fixed and non-fixed elements
unpredictable or changeable elements such
as furniture locations, for example, can be
disconcerting for persons with ASDs. Create a
sequence where the xed element is experienced
rst for a sense of security, and further on, areas
that are changeable to create a challenge that
children have the opportunity to overcome.
P r o v i de oppo rt un it ie s for increased s oc ia lizatio n,
such as gardening, that encourage one-on-one
Provide plenty of visual aids and signage • as up
to 50% of persons with ASD are nonverbal. Some
ch i ldren w it h auti sm use a p ic t ure excha n ge syste m
(PICT) to aid their communication with family
members and teachers. Therefore, in designing
outdoor environments, incorporating signage with
clear, simple pictures to communicate ideas or
intended use of certain play and learning elements
is an important consideration. Include Braille for
visually impaired persons and sign language skill-
building to encourage communication between
verbal and nonverbal children.
Select a location that is tranquil and quiet
with the least amount of distractions possible.
Noise from air conditioning compressors, adjacent
trafc, and high-pitched or humming noise can be
Include 5’-0” minimum height fencing
cannot be easily climbed to prevent children from
straying outside the area’s boundaries, ensuring
safety and security.
Provide smooth, wide pathways and surfaces
to eliminate the feeling of crowding. In addition,
smooth non-glare paving provides a proper surface
for children with mobility issues and is important
for children with ASDs, many of whom are sensitive
to textures and bright light.
Provide a clear edge along pathways
so that
visually-impaired persons are aware of the edge
of the path surface.
Avoid specifying materials, including toxic
plants, that are easily ingested, as all children
at some time explore their world through taste.
Pro v ide or ien tat ion maps
that i l lu st rate a layout
of the garden or play space so users know where
they are and what to expect next. Surprises can
create anxiety in persons with ASDs.
Outdoor environments for children with autism could inc lude
transitions between spaces /activities, orientation maps, and
elements of consistency.
Where Research Informs Design®
Creating thoughtful, engaging outdoor play and
learning environments that incorporate these design
guidelines gives consideration to the less apparent
challenges of a growing population of children on the
autism spectrum. By connecting children with each
other, nature, and the broader world, we give them an
opportunity to have fun, and we provide some relief
from rigid classroom and structured therapies in a safe
and accepting environment that is engaging for all. As
designers of outdoor spaces, it is vital for us to evolve
play spaces beyond accessibility and actively integrate
these additional concepts and ideas into our designs.
With design based on research and existing evidence,
we can create outdoor spaces that foster inclusive,
nature-based, fun places for all children to enjoy. This
can ultimately help children learn that, despite their
different abilities, they have more in common with each
other than they may have realized.
Provide opportunities to overcome sensory
issues, as many persons with ASDs have an over-
or under-responsive sensory system and react
differently to sounds, textures, or visual stimuli.
Gardening activities are a great way to get kids
familiar with different textures and scents of plants
in a controlled manner.
Provide opportunities for exercise and for
increasing motor skills, coordination, and
balance. Beyond play structures, consider adding
a walk challenge path or exercise loop. Gardening
activities help to increase ne and gross motor
skills, body awareness, and motion in addition to
providing a calming connection to nature.
Provide soothing areas
for the user to escape
and re-center when overwhelmed, or to watch
activities from a distance until comfortable enough
to participate —a bamboo tunnel, a low growing
tree to hide beneath, or a fence panel with viewing
Provide hammocks or hammock swings
for a
sense of comfort by being held tightly by something
and to be soothed by the swinging motion.
Build in challenges • to help generalize skills to a
real-world environment. It is important to provide
a level of comfort but also to encourage kids to
overcome common fears. A simple example of this
is to sequence a concept, such as transition areas,
so they gradually become shorter, or gradually
present more directional options for the user.
Soothing areas and orientation maps can be incorporated into
outdoor spaces for children with autism and other special needs.
Where Research Informs Design®
Tara and Naomi’s webinar, “Prescription for Play:
Nature-based Learning and Play for Children with
Auti sm a nd Other S pec ial Nee ds” on the KaB OOM!
ph p?id =1111
The Children and Nature Network –
Natural Learning Initiative -
In print
Hebert, B.B. (2003).
Design guidelines of a
therapeutic garden for autistic children. (Master
Thesis, Louisiana State University). Available from
ht t p ://e td . l su .e d u/d o c s/av a i l a bl e/e t d- 0 12 71 03 -
Mostafa, M. (2008). An architecture for autism:
Concepts of design intervention for the autistic
us er. International Journal of Architectural Research,
2(1), 189-211.
Taylor, A.F., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2001).
Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to
green play settings. Environment and Behavior,
33(1), 54-77.
Yuill, N., Str iet h, S., Roake,C., Aspden, R ., & Todd,
B. (2007). Brief report: Designing a playground for
children with autistic spectrum disorders: Effects
on playful peer interactions. Journal of Autism
Development Disorders, 37(6 ), 1192-1196. Availa ble
on Therapeutic Landscapes Network website: h t t p ://
For additional resources related to autism symptoms
and therapies and the role of nature in children’s
learning and development see the list of resources
Naomi and Tara created at:
Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring
Network Surveillance Year 2006 Principal
Investigators. (2009, December 18). Prevalence
of autism spectrum disorders --- autism and
developmental disabilities monitoring network,
United States, 2006. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly
Report Surveillance Summary, 58(SS10), 1-20.
Retrieved April 19, 2011 from
Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring
Network Surveillance Year 2000 Principal
Investigators. (2007, Febr uary 9). Prevalence
of autism spectrum disorders --- autism and
developmental disabilities monitoring network,
United States, 2000. Morbidity and Mor tality
Weekly Report Surveillance Summary, 56(SS 01),1-
11. Retrieved April 19, 2011 from http://www.cdc.
Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, F., & Sullivan, W. (2001).
Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to
green play settings. Environment and Behavior,
33(1), 54-77.
Kaplan, R. and Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience
of nature: A psychological perspective. Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, New York.
Kuo, G., & Faber Taylor, A. (2004). A potential
natural treatment for attention-decit/hyperactivity
disorder: Evidence from a national study. American
Journal of Public Health, 94(9), 1580-1586.
Louv, R. (2005).
Last c hil d in the woo ds: Saving o ur
children from nature-decit disorder. Chapel Hill,
North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Recommended Reading
On the web
SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment
Therapeutic Landscapes Network, especially
the Get Out and Play page (http://www.
© 2002, 2005 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota.
Creator: Founding Sponsor:
The Mission
The Mission of InformeDesign is to facilitate desig ners’
use of current, research-based information as a decision-
making tool in the design process, thereby
integrating research and practice.
award winning SOL Environment concept as a way of
addressing the needs of over one million children with
autism and their families.
Related Research Summaries
InformeDesign has many Research Summaries about
designing environments for children with special
needs and other related topics. This knowledge will
be valuable to you as you consider your next design
solution and is worth sharing with your clients and
“Supportive Classrooms for Children with Autism”
International Journal of Architectural Research
“Daycare Activity Areas Affect Children’s Play”
Environment and Behavior
“Health Benets of Including Nature Within
Journal of Environmental Psychology
“Universal Design in Children’s Libraries”
Children and Libraries
“Campuses that Support Students with Disabilities”
The Journal for Vocational Special Needs Education
“Nature Improves Concentration for Children with
Journal of Attention Disorders
Images Courtesy of
Naomi Sachs, Naomi Sachs Design (p. 8, top)
Tara Vincenta, Artemis Landscape Architects
About the Authors
Naomi Sachs is founder and
director of the Therapeutic
Landscapes Network (http://
org), a knowledge base and
gathering space that provides
information, education, and
advocacy about gardens,
landscapes, and other green
spaces that promote health and well-being. She is
also principal at Naomi Sachs Design (http://www., a design and consulting
rm with a focus on gardens and other landscapes
that facilitate health and well-being. Naomi holds a
Masters of Landscape Architecture from the University
of California, Berkeley. She has taught, written,
and spoken about the restorative benets of nature
throughout the United States and abroad.
Tara Vincenta, founder and
principal of award-winning
Artemis Landscape Architects,
Inc. (,
earned her bachelor’s degree
in Landscape Architecture
from the State University
of New York’s College of
Environmental Science and
Forestry and a BS from Syracuse University. She also
holds a Certicate of Merit in Healthcare Garden Design
from the School of the Chicago Botanical Gardens. As
a strong advocate for the use of outdoor landscapes
for healing and education, Tara has designed the
Published April 2011
... Space design is influenced by various aspects associated with the experiences of space, and it plays a vital role in its perception (Baumers and Heylighen, 2010). Since most autistic children communicate nonverbally, using some clear signs and pictures (Sachs and Vincenta, 2011), visual indications, and distinguished signs are emphasised to provide their easy prediction (Yates, 2016). Besides, the given information is in the visual form that can be transited without any auditory stimulation to cause tension (Saggers and Ashburner, 2019) while, using signs, which were acknowledged, in other places with the same function can help them to recognise the place (Pomana, 2015). ...
... Creating a challenge is essential to help autistic children develop their public skills and participation in society in the future. It is crucial to control the environment and provide suitable situations to enhance their concentration and balance, but they must overcome their fears and weaknesses to develop their skills (Sachs and Vincenta, 2011) by practicing in other environmental settings. Different sensory conditions should be considered to ensure that the learned ability is not limited to a particular space (Pomana, 2015). ...
... Accordingly, each space should have its own escape space with no defined the function for children to refresh and control their tensions in critical moment (Scott, 2009). This allows autistic children to run there when they become stimulated (Sachs and Vincenta, 2011). Apparently, some autistic children are not interested in the activities that are already being done by other groups of individuals. ...
Purpose According to architectural research, modifying environmental features has the potential to create an appropriate sensory environment for autistic children. Considering the design of public environments, it is difficult to accommodate the diverse requirements of each autistic child. The main objective of this paper is to find out the most prevalent architectural strategies and to prioritise them for the design of the public spaces addressing autistic children's needs. Design/methodology/approach This research is designed in two stages: (1) descriptive approach in which architectural strategies are extracted from theories on autism design to determine a theoretical test module; and (2) quantitative approach in which the frequency of gained strategies are studied in two groups of references: general references and key references (i.e. most cited and well-reputed researchers in autism architecture) while universal design strategies and the timeline of each strategy is considered for the conclusion. Findings The following strategies were highly significant: (1) acoustical control, (2) visual control, (3) legibility, (4) safety and security, (5) predictable spaces. Acoustic was frequently considered in both control and general groups while it was highlighted in timeline study and universal design strategies. Research limitations/implications The main limitation is that these strategies have been prioritised according to their frequency in some limited articles and a control group including the pioneer of autism design researchers while verifying these strategies may not be strong enough. Likewise, the conclusion related to these data cannot be accurate enough. Establishing a case study survey that provides an opportunity to test all these strategies directly on a majority of autistic children and measure their prevalence is advised. Finally, it should be considered that although the five mentioned strategies are all the most prevalent strategies among autistic children, as each autistic child differs from others, generalising the conclusion for all the public area would be impossible, as though we need to study it for each group of them. Originality/value Seeking to improve the strategies' prioritisation as determined by previous researchers, this article aims to define the most essential strategies categories in this field to eliminate the confusion of researchers and designers.
... The design of selected studies can be attribute to four approaches: case study design [12,[30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37], co-design and participatory processes [38][39][40], surveys [41][42][43][44][45][46], and post-occupancy evaluation and intervention studies [47][48][49]. ...
... Most of the studies made use of interviews, questionnaires, and observation as methods of data collection. Precisely, 8 out of 21 studies conducted interviews [30,32,[35][36][37][38][39]47], 8 out of 21 administered questionnaires [41][42][43][44][45][46]48,49], and a total of 6 carried out observations [32,36,38,[47][48][49]. Only 2 studies also conducted focus groups [42,49]. ...
... Most of the studies made use of interviews, questionnaires, and observation as methods of data collection. Precisely, 8 out of 21 studies conducted interviews [30,32,[35][36][37][38][39]47], 8 out of 21 administered questionnaires [41][42][43][44][45][46]48,49], and a total of 6 carried out observations [32,36,38,[47][48][49]. Only 2 studies also conducted focus groups [42,49]. ...
Full-text available
Built environment design can be considered as an influential factor in the quality of life of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This scoping review provides an overview of the current available literature on the relationship between people with ASD and built environment in the specific field of the design of autism-friendly spaces. The literature review allowed the identification of three main factors to be considered when designing for people with ASD—the sensory quality, the intelligibility, and the predictability of the built environment—and, for each of them, a description of the spatial requirements that have been recognized as fundamental according to the specific spatial needs of people with ASD.
... In North America, 1 in every 59 children are born with autism (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019) and boys are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls (Autism Speaks, 2019). Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurological developmental disability that usually appears in the first 3 years of life and is largely recognized by the social impairments, communication impairments, and restricted repetitive behaviors (Sachs & Vincenta, 2011). For example, people with ASD may not understand or appropriately use: spoken language (one-third are nonverbal), gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, or expressions not meant to be taken literally. ...
... With the increasing diagnosis of people on the spectrum, it is becoming more important to address their needs too. Since ASD is a spectrum, the "next step" is to expand the ADA guidelines to include criteria that address more flexible, universal needs that meet diverse needs that are based on informed decision-making including (1) general information about autism and related disorders, (2) environmental characteristics that relate to sensory issues, including hypersensitive and hyposensitive needs by people with ASD, (3) personal observations within facilities, (4) standard environmental guidelines, with design solutions that emphasize autonomy to create positive experiences within the environment, and (5) post-occupancy evaluations (Nieman & Wood, 2019;Sachs & Vincenta, 2011). Even smallscale interventions that are studied systematically can be helpful in informing future design solutions (Sachs & Vincenta, 2011). ...
... Since ASD is a spectrum, the "next step" is to expand the ADA guidelines to include criteria that address more flexible, universal needs that meet diverse needs that are based on informed decision-making including (1) general information about autism and related disorders, (2) environmental characteristics that relate to sensory issues, including hypersensitive and hyposensitive needs by people with ASD, (3) personal observations within facilities, (4) standard environmental guidelines, with design solutions that emphasize autonomy to create positive experiences within the environment, and (5) post-occupancy evaluations (Nieman & Wood, 2019;Sachs & Vincenta, 2011). Even smallscale interventions that are studied systematically can be helpful in informing future design solutions (Sachs & Vincenta, 2011). ...
Full-text available
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been effective in establishing building standards that create accessible spaces for people with physical impairments. These guidelines have not addressed the needs of people with mental, emotional, and/or developmental disabilities. With the increase in autism diagnosis, designers/architects need to expand their planning to include more universal solutions. The purpose is to demonstrate ways of designing beyond ADA to address needs of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To design effectively, designers/architects must identify sensory issues that influence these children in establishing a regulatory state enabling effective interaction with neurotypical peers. Design is also important for teachers, therapists, and parents of children with ASD to enable more successful interactions. If the environment is overstimulating for a child with ASD, then a parent/caregiver/therapist will struggle to achieve their goals. Mostafa recommended seven design criteria known as ASPECTSS™: Acoustics, Spatial sequencing, Escape spaces, Compartmentalization, Transition spaces, Sensory zoning, and Safety, when designing for people with ASD. These classifications lay the groundwork for the established guidelines. As designers/architects, we have a responsibility to create inclusive environments. To help, the authors highlighted a vocational center showing one plan that meets ADA guidelines and another that illustrates additional environmental features addressing the needs of people with ASD. These criteria originated from evidence-based solutions derived from a literature review and personal interview. These recommendations demonstrate that sensitivity to the needs of people with autism creates a solution that is better for all people.
... With the increased awareness of the physical environment and its profound impact on an autistic person's everyday life, there are a growing number of designers working in this area within different environmental contexts, such as schools (Beaver, 2003(Beaver, , 2011McAllistera and Maguire, 2012;Mostafa, 2008;Tufvesson and Tufvesson, 2009;Vogel, 2008;Mullick, 2008, 2009;Scott, 2009), multi-sensory environments (Gumtau et al., 2005) housing (Ahrentzen and Steele, 2009;Brand, 2010;Lopez and Gaines, 2012;Woodcock et al., 2013) and outdoor spaces (Linehan, 2008;Herbet, 2003;Hussein, 2010;Menear et al., 2006;Sachs and Vincenta, 2011;Yuill et al., 2007). ...
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Autistic adults with limited speech and additional learning disabilities are people whose perceptions and interactions with their environment are unique, but whose experiences are under-explored in design research. This PhD by Practice investigates how people with autism experience their home environment through a collaboration with the autism charity Kingwood Trust, which gave the designer extensive access to a community of autistic adults that it supports. The PhD reflects upon a neurotypical designer’s approach to working with autistic adults to investigate their relationship with the environment. It identifies and develops collaborative design tools for autistic adults, their support staff and family members to be involved. The PhD presents three design studies that explore a person’s interaction with three environmental contexts of the home i.e. garden, everyday objects and interiors. A strengths-based rather than a deficit-based approach is adopted which draws upon an autistic person’s sensory preferences, special interests and action capabilities, to unravel what discomfort and delight might mean for an autistic person; this approach is translated into three design solutions to enhance their experience at home. By working beyond the boundaries of a neurotypical culture, the PhD bridges the autistic and neurotypical worlds of experience and draws upon what the mainstream design field can learn from designing with autistic people with additional learning disabilities. It also provides insights into the subjective experiences of people who have very different ways of seeing, doing and being in the environment.
... However, the needs of people with autism, whose sensory tolerances are more extreme, have rarely been considered. While there are a growing number of design researchers who are considering the physical environment as an important point of intervention for people with autism, by improving the design of schools (Beaver, 2003(Beaver, , 2011Gumtau, Newland, Creed & Kunath , 2005;McAllister, 2012;Mostafa, 2008;Scott, 2009;Tufvesson & Tufvesson, 2009;Vogel, 2008) and supported living accommodation (Ahrentzen & Steele, 2009;Brand, 2010;Burleson, Newman, & Brotsman, 2012;Linehan, 2008;Lopez & Gaines, 2012;Whitehurst, 2006, together with outdoor spaces (Gaudion & McGinley, 2012;Herbert, 2003;Hussein, 2010;Menear, Smith, & Lanier, 2006;Sachs & Vincenta, 2011;Yuill et al., 2007), it is doubtful as to how much of this research starts with the autistic person and involves them as active participants within the design process. ...
Conference Paper
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This paper is focused on the wellbeing of people with autism spectrum disorders, who are often excluded from design research. Drawing upon on-going design research collaboration between The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and the autism charity The Kingwood Trust, this paper reflects upon a neurotypical (i.e. not on the autism spectrum) designer’s experience of working with adults with autism who have limited verbal speech and additional learning disabilities. The hypothesis under investigation is that, by interacting with and observing a person in conjunction with his or her physical environment, the designer can unravel clues and insights to develop empathy and better understanding of a person with autism’s everyday experiences, which can thereby inform empathic designs that enhance and sustain a state of wellbeing. The conclusion explores how the inclusion of autistic people within the design process creates a shared experience, which helps to develop trust and empathy between the designer and the person with autism, enabling the designer to understand and appreciate different ways of being in the world.
Conference Paper
Autism is a condition that is often defined in terms of difficulties in social interaction, social communication, social understanding and imagination. Much existing research in autism and design is still framed around these so-called Triad of Impairments [1] the goal of which is to improve a person’s deficits; for example, developing technologies and environments to enhance communication and social interaction. This paper supports and builds upon existing autism research that views autism through a person’s strengths and abilities. This project aims to broaden this discussion into the field of design and turn the deficit-based framework on its head, through the development of a less generalized and more personalised design approach termed the Triad of Strengths, that views autism through a positive and enabling light. The paper describes how a strengths-based approach can support tangible design outcomes to create a positive impact on everyday life for autistic adults.
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This publication describes how design can create beneficial green spaces for adults with autism to enjoy being out in the garden, while at the same time anticipating and managing the inevitable challenges of the unpredictable outdoors. Underpinned by in-depth research and the parallel creation of a real-world garden embodying its findings, it looks in particular at leisure, occupation and exercise activities, offering design guidance on how to create green spaces that will enrich individual lives. It follows to earlier books in this series that explore housing design and issues of sensory perception in relation to the built environment for adults with autism.
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Attention Restoration Theory suggests that contact with nature supports attentional functioning, and a number of studies have found contact with everyday nature to be related to attention in adults. Is contact with everyday nature also related to the attentional functioning of children? This question was addressed through a study focusing on children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This study examined the relationship between children’s nature exposure through leisure activities and their attentional functioning using both within and between-subjects comparisons. Parents were surveyed regarding their child’s attentional functioning after activities in several settings. Results indicate that children function better than usual after activities in green settings and that the “greener” a child’s play area, the less severe his or her attention deficit symptoms. Thus, contact with nature may support attentional functioning in a population of children who desperately need attentional support.
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We examined the impact of relatively "green" or natural settings on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms across diverse subpopulations of children. Parents nationwide rated the aftereffects of 49 common after-school and weekend activities on children's symptoms. Aftereffects were compared for activities conducted in green outdoor settings versus those conducted in both built outdoor and indoor settings. In this national, nonprobability sample, green outdoor activities reduced symptoms significantly more than did activities conducted in other settings, even when activities were matched across settings. Findings were consistent across age, gender, and income groups; community types; geographic regions; and diagnoses. Green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.
Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders ---autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network
Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring -Network Surveillance Year 2000 Principal Investigators. (2007, February 9). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders ---autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, United States, 2000. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summary, 56(SS01),1-11. Retrieved April 19, 2011 from http://www.cdc. gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5601a1.htm