I’ve covered many ways that the physical environment plays a role in the life of autistic children – both beneficial as well as barriers. Parents find that it takes a long time for them to understand what types of places their child will enjoy. Many autistic children are slow to speak and some may never do so. Also, as children age, some become more adaptable to the world and accept places that they would not when they were younger. Parents feel like they’re always playing some lottery when they take their child to a park, zoo or some other type of children’s environment.
One of the difficulties I have writing about the perfect environments for autistic children is that the children are all different and prefer different places. Also, there’s been so little information written about the design of these environments because there just aren’t such places. We’re all waiting for these places to be built so we can evaluate them and point out what works and what doesn’t.
More is being written about the physical environment (not just the toxic environment). Most of these are written as reviews of literature regarding autism and other disabilities.
• Stijn Baumers and Ann Heylander wrote “The eyes of the mind: Architecture and mental disability.” Presented at the Engaging Artifacts Conference, Oslo, Norway, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, http://www.nordes.org. This reference provides interesting information regarding architecture and sensory integration.
• Christopher Beaver, “Designing environments for children and adults with ASD.” Cape Town, SA, 2nd World Autism Congress and Exhibition, World Autism Organisation and Autism South Africa, October 2006. Beaver’s architectural firm in the UK specializes in buildings for autistic people. His website provides articles and information as to how they work with autistic people: www.autism-architects.com or www.ga-architects.com.
• Bonnie Hebert, (2003). “Design guidelines of a therapeutic garden for autistic children.” M.L.A. Thesis, for Louisiana State University. Available from http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-0127103-211300/unrestricted/Hebert_thesis.pdf. Before obtaining her Master of Landscape Architecture degree from Louisiana State University, Bonnie was a special education teacher. Her thesis involves observing children in playground and school settings as well as performing a review of the literature on how autistic children play before she wrote her guidelines for therapeutic gardens. This guide is on the reading list for landscape architects who are interested in creating gardens for autistic children.
• Mostafa, M. (2008). “An architecture for autism: Concepts of design intervention for the autistic user.” International Journal of Architectural Research, 2 (1): 189 – 211.This article recommends a process for architects who are interested in working on building designs for autistic children.
• Yuill, N., Strieth, 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 Developmental Disorders, 37 (6), 1192 – 1196. These researchers observed autistic children and children with Down ’s syndrome on the playground. Their observations led them to recommend design interventions on the playground that would better engage them in play.
• Last June, Naomi Sachs interviewed Tara Vincenta regarding her research on autistic children and nature. Tara had put together a literature review that incorporated many of the above articles, together with references on sensory processing dysfunction. Their audio recording, “Prescription for play: Nature-based play and learning for children with special and autistic needs,” may be listened to at http://playschool.kaboom.org/series.php?id=1111.
• As a follow-up on this webinar for Kaboom, the playground company, Naomi and Tara were asked to put together a brief set of guidelines for InformeDesign, published by the University of Minnesota. This newsletter came out Thursday and can be accessed on Naomi’s blog: http://www.healinglandscapes.org.
• One of the most comprehensive study related to physical places, in this circumstance residential housing options for autistic people, is “Opening Doors: A discussion of residential options for adults living with autism and related disorders.” The publication is edited by Denise D. Resnik as a collaborative report by the Land Institute, Arizona, the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, and Arizona State University. The report may be accessed through http://www.autismcenter.org/openingdoors.aspx. Two of the study researchers, Kim Steele and Sherry Arentzen, had presented a paper at the Environmental Design Research Assocation (EDRA) Conference in 2009. They physically visited residential housing all over the United States, interviewed the residents and members of their families in order to develop guidelines for residential development for this population.
Tomorrow: Last day of April