Magda Mostafa



One in every 150 children is estimated to fall within the autistic spectrum, regardless of socio-cultural and economic aspects, with a 4:1 prevalence of males over females (ADDM, 2007). Architecture, as a profession, is responsible for creating environments that accommodate the needs of all types of users. Special needs individuals should not be exempt from such accommodation. Despite this high incidence of autism, there are yet to be developed architectural design guidelines catering specifically to the scope of autistic needs.

The primary goal of this research is to correct this exclusion by developing a preliminary framework of architectural design guidelines for autism. This will be done through a two phase study. The first phase will determine, through a questionnaire of first hand caregivers of autistic children, the impact of architectural design elements on autistic behaviour, to determine the most influential. The second phase, based on the findings of the first, will test the conclusive highest ranking architectural elements in an intervention study on autistic children in their school environment. Specific behavioural indicators, namely attention span, response time and behavioural temperament, will be tracked to determine each child’s progress pre and post intervention, for a control and study group.

This study concludes in outlining the findings of both phases of the study, the first being the determination of the most influential architectural design elements on autistic behaviour, according to the sample surveyed. The second group of findings outlines design strategies for autism in three points. The first is the presentation of a "sensory design matrix" which matches architectural elements with autistic sensory issues and is used to generate suggested design guidelines. The second is the presentation of these hypothetical guidelines, two of which are tested in the presented study. These guidelines are presented as possible interventions for further testing. The third is a group of specific design guidelines resultant from the intervention study. It is hoped that these will provide a basis for the further development of autistic specific design standards, and take us one step further towards more conducive environments for autistic individuals.


Autism; design; architecture; special needs; sensory environment

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