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Autism News Round-Up: Designing Buildings, Education, and Gender

In this week’s round-up of autism-related news stories, we take a look at what it means to design a building with autism in mind, a young woman setting a course for herself in autism education, and a new study identifying the differences in autism in girls.

First up, New York-Presbyterian Hospital is embarking on creating a new Center of Autism and the Developing Brain, which will function as an outpatient early intervention center for children with autism who are as young as eighteen months. Now, as we all know, children with autism are usually super sensitive to the sight, sound, and feel of their environment, so the design partners at DaSilva Architects, who were tasked with designing the new center, have had some unique challenges that they’ve never faced before as architects.

The space that the hospital chose for the CADB looks like an old high school gym with yellow brick walls, cages over windows, and a tendency to echo, all things that could distress the very people the center is supposed to help. Therefore, DaSilva and CADB’s director Cathy Lord, decided to turn the entire gym into a colorful village with self-contained treatment rooms, offices, and other enclosed spaces that serve as bright little huts, houses, and pavilions almost feeling like a “Disney village”. In addition, the architects worked hard to dampen any echo or reverberation through applying rubber to the surfaces, creating a space that is at once large, comforting, and involving.

Moving onto autism education, we turn our focus to Dr. Ya-Chih Chang, who is an immigrant from Taiwan who has recently focused her graduate studies on autism education. According to Chang, “I never knew that I was going to teach at a college. I took a class as an undergrad on autism, and then I got really interested in that, so I started taking a lot more classes.”

For Chang, the class was Intro to Special Education where Chang’s professor focused heavily on the effects of autism. As Chang continues, “What is so interesting about autism, is it’s a spectrum disorder. I was exposed to kids who were minimally verbal, who didn’t have any language at all, or kids who were really verbal but didn’t have social skills. So it’s not just like, “Oh, you could only [do] one thing with one particular child.” Next up for Chang is her going global with her research and approach to autism education, with the young academic already starting a workshop in Guangzhou, China focused on training others in the county on how to work with families with children who have autism.

Finally, in the ongoing research into understanding the difference between boys and girls with autism, a new Yale School of Medicine study finds that infant girls at risk for autism pay more attention to social cues in face than infant boys. As we’ve discussed before, the inability to notice social cues is a widely-known symptom of autism and this study is the first to identify sex-related differences in at-risk infants. Researchers are now arguing that this study goes a long way to explaining why girls are far less likely to be diagnosed with autism at an early age and shows the need to better identify sex-specific symptoms in young girls.