Designing for Autism

Acknowledging individual differences and sensory considerations is essential for inclusive design. This presentation focussed on designing inclusive learning environments for those with autism, and covered three learning objectives: understanding user needs; how architecture can make a difference; and the importance of internal and external environments. Many of the design principles explored can be applied to any inclusive environment however.


Designing for Autism


Smooth Transitions

ADP Architects specialise in designing for early years through to higher education and follow a sector led approach. This involves conducting research and pulling design principles from different sectors such as healthcare and education, to enhance well-being. Much of their research has highlighted the importance of designing environments which allow for a smooth transition between spaces. This is particularly important for those who have autism, as they experience difficulty processing the unexpected which can induce stress. As the first focal point that students experience as they enter the school, providing a welcoming and secure entrance with clear signage and purpose can positively set the tone for the day. If the entrance is overwhelming and distracting this may quickly become overstimulating, consequently provoking challenging behaviours. Upon reaching the classroom, it is essential that the pupil feels comfortable and also confident to utilise breakout spaces as a means of processing and resetting emotions. Addressing sensory considerations through acoustics and colours can significantly influence well-being. For instance, bright yellow can trigger distress for those on the autistic spectrum; it is better to opt for pastel colours instead.


Outdoor Spaces

Bloxham Grove Academy in Oxfordshire aims to manage their pupils’ behaviour by following a restorative approach: preserving well-being and avoiding harm through the use of inclusive spaces. This school take pride in reassuring parents that their child will not be punished for their behaviours, but instead will be equipped with skills and knowledge to cope with stress which can be implemented in all areas of life. Providing multiple spaces to choose from can empower the individual and give them control. It is important that the flow between spaces is smooth to allow for quick fluid motion during an outburst to avoid disrupting the rest of the class. Here they can process their emotions and utilise techniques to bring them back down to a calm level before reintegrating into the classroom. A key feature of this design was to provide access to outdoor environments from the classroom in a safe and secure way. Outdoor spaces can assist in the development of social skills, emotional regulation, communication, teamwork and imaginative play. These settings provide the option for passive supervision and allow for the child to retreat for refuge and independent reflection while being observed in a non-intrusive manner.


Bloxham Grove Academy acknowledges the importance of following a holistic approach; offering respite, reassurance and support for students, staff as well as parents. Particularly when children and young people anxiously return to physical school environments post-Covid-19, providing the option and variety of choice to explore will help to rebuild confidence and transform fear into curiosity.