Considerations of the built environment for autistic individuals: A review of the literature

Melissa Heather Black, Sarah McGarry, Lynn Churchill, Emily D’Arcy, Julia Dalgleish, Isabelle Nash, Alisala Jones, Tin Yan Tse, Jane Gibson, Sven Bölte, Sonya Girdler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Until recently, built environments have been designed exclusively to meet the needs of neurotypical populations; however, there is increasing recognition of the need to make built environments more accommodating for neurodiverse populations, including autistic individuals. This scoping review aims to comprehensively explore and synthesise this literature on the internal built environment for autistic individuals providing recommendations for designers, policymakers and clinicians. Five electronic databases were searched, resulting in a total of 28 studies being reviewed. Recommendations are provided for design and construction, lighting, sound, aesthetics, temperature and air quality. While in its early stages, evidence demonstrating the impact that particular qualities of light, colour, sound and spatial planning have on the human sensorium is emerging. In turn, this new knowledge is informing design decisions that are progressing interior environments towards inclusivity. Understanding the positive and negative impacts of decisions made in the design of the built environment has the potential to facilitate the participation and inclusion of autistic individuals. Lay abstract: Factors related to the interiors of buildings, including the layout of rooms, colours, smells, noises, temperature, ventilation, colour and clutter, among other things, can change the way we interact with our environment and the people around us. Autistic individuals can have differences in processing sensory information and may find aspects of the built environment (BE) over-whelming and difficult to navigate. We reviewed the existing literature exploring the BE and autism. This study found that it is possible to make changes to the BE to create more inclusive and friendly environments for everyone, including autistic individuals. Findings from this study provide clear recommendations that can be used by interior designers, architects, builders, and clinical practitioners to make a positive difference. Key recommendations include using simple spatial layouts, compartmentalising and zoning spaces into specific activity sections and providing retreat spaces. The thoughtful placement of windows and blinds and the installation of dimmable lights, for example, will allow users to manage or reduce sensory over-stimulation caused by lights. Similarly, we recommend creating soundproofing and sound absorbent materials to reduce background noise and sound levels. We also recommend using neutral or simple colour palettes and restrained use of patterns. Finally, and most importantly, the BE needs to be flexible and adaptable to meet the unique needs of each person. This study provides a starting point for design guidelines and recommendations towards making a difference to the everyday experiences of the interiors of buildings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1904-1915
Number of pages12
JournalAutism
Volume26
Issue number8
Early online date13 Jun 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

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