Supportive Learning Environments for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Kristen Henriksen, Migette L. Kaup*, Kansas State University

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Abstract: It has been consistently documented that children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) experience difficulty managing the sensory environment due to symptoms and behaviors associated with the disease. Existing literature is examined in order to uncover variables of the built environment that are known to positively or negatively affect the symptoms and behaviors of children diagnosed with ASD. The majority of the existing literature focuses on sensory and spatial issues, while the occurrence of conflicting recommendations serves to magnify the genuine complexity of the disorder. Suggested programming requirements and spatial layouts will aid the interior designer to a certain degree, but due to the scarcity of research that informs the interior designer specifically, new research is conducted in this paper and is combined with data from existing literature to form a matrix of specific design considerations. This will allow designers to utilize the considerations more readily and answer the calling for adaptable, flexible, and thoughtful universal design solutions in the learning environments of children with ASD.

Introduction: Kopec (2006) defined a learning environment as “a system of complex relationships that exists among the physical structure (size and arrangement of a room), a teacher, and a student” (p. 189). From this description we begin to recognize the school as a physicalenvironment as a well as a highly complex social mechanism. Many of our present-day schools are based upon the “reform concepts” influenced by Germany’s Weimar Republic, from 1919-1933 (Kopec, 2006). The design principles were the first to foster the health and spirit of children and entered the United States by way of “émigré architects” after WWII (Henderson, 1997). Henderson further described the reform as the first notion of the learning environment as an agent of socialization: “Not only did it facilitate a new curriculum, but the philosophy that architecture, itself, can reshape people, that the schools ultimately serve as the incubator of the new citizenry, dictated a more radical approach to the building itself” (p. 33). 

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