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Creating a New Space: Autism, Architecture, and Interior Design

It’s no secret that public and private spaces, events, and classrooms for individuals with autism are designed with particular directions and measures. For instance, in theatres holding autism-friendly presentations, the lights need to be turned up, the sound turned down, and any sudden changes in what’s going on screen or stage need to be slightly edited to mute the abruptness.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that architects and with an increasing frequency, interior designers are employing a whole new set of skills to create environments in which children and adults with autism can feel comfortable and at ease.

One recent example in the realm of interior design has been raising much attention amongst experts and interior designers alike in how to best service their clients that have a member with autism. In Oak Park Heights, Minneapolis, interior AJ Paron-Wildes’ had to tackle the issue of creating an autism-friendly environment for her son Devin, who was diagnosed the age of three.

As Devin had extreme difficulty communicating but was prone to explosive tantrums when upset or confused, his parents soon were unable to take him to the grocery store or other errands as they were never sure what might trigger an eruption.

When Dylan was diagnosed, Paron-Wildes was a young interior designer who soon began devouring books on autism to better understand how people with autism perceive colors, patterns, and lighting and tried to determine what design elements would trigger problematic behavior, as well as those that did the opposite.

According to Paron-Wildes, “You can’t really get the information by asking, “Is the too bright for you? ‘Does this make you dizzy?’ You have to watch for cues.”

As such, she renovated her home toe mphasize calmness with clean, sparse spaces and natural hues that reflect an autumnal color palette, which has helped to make their home life far easier.

While developments in interior design are still being developed, architects have been developing a whole new set of tools to best deal with individuals with autism. One such example is the Advance Special Needs Education Center designed by architect Magda Mostafa, which led her to format the Autism ASPECTSS Design Index, which is a tool that assesses architectural environments for people with autism that was created with the help of teachers, parents, and caregivers.

As such, buildings that have been designed following the index seek to minimize the level of sensory input that can be overwhelming for children with autism, which includes the buzzing noises that overhead lighting that other people might be completely oblivious to. Similar to building designed for deaf students, one strong emphasis is on creating a smooth sequence of transitions across rooms, helping students to maintain their daily routines. In addition, the building sports a sensory escape for students who feel overwhelmed to seek solace.

While interior designers and architects are still learning a substantial amount about how to best optimize a building and interiors for individuals with autism, these early steps promise great advancement.