An Architecture for Autism


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It is estimated that 1 in every 100 (Bancroft et al, 2012) to 1 in every 88 individuals (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012) fall within the spectrum of Autism Disorder in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively. This places autism among the most prevalent of special needs in school children, as compared with the visually impaired, physically impaired, hearing impaired (LeRoy, Evans & Deluca, M. 2000) and those diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome (Shin, Besser, Kucik, Lu, Siffel, Correa, et al. (2009). Despite these startling numbers, autism remains under-represented in built environment research and inclusion literature and minimally discussed in accessibility codes and design guidelines (Mostafa, 2008). The Autism ASPECTSS Design Index was developed specifically to address this gap. The index is based on the Sensory Design Theory, which hypothesizes that by altering the sensory environment using specific design interventions, as manifested through input from the built environment, autistic behavior can be altered positively (Mostafa, 2008). The index summarizes the seven design criteria conclusively recommended to facilitate and improve the user-built environment relationship for autistic individuals. These criteria are acoustics, spatial sequencing, escape space, compartmentalization, transition spaces, sensory zoning, and safety. The applications of the index include; assessment of built environments, identification of autism inclusion performance issues, and consequent proposal of retrofit design solutions, as well as the development of new customized inclusive environments for autism. The objective of this paper is to demonstrate the use of the index as an assessment tool for existing built environments, and to explore its correlation with design performance, as perceived by the designers, users, and critics of the building. Using 5 purpose built autism schools as case studies, the alignment of perceived excellence in autism design and the respective Autism ASPECTSS Index score is assessed.