Imagine meeting with a client and writing down only their limitations and dislikes. Now, return to your office and base your design on that criterion alone. How can any architect create an inspiring and meaningful design out of that? Yet, this is how many architects design for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The focus is on what individuals with autism cannot do rather than what they can. Such a negative approach seems misguided and unnecessary. Architects should make people more able not less disabled. It is a subtle distinction, but an important one.
Similar to a mainstream school setting, Celebrate the Children, a school for children with autism, lines its hallways with colorful banners, photographs, and student artwork. Parents concerned with some of their children’s hypersensitivities often ask Monica Osgood, the school’s director, if there is too much stimulation. Monica responds that her students need to learn in ‘real’ world settings if they will ever have a chance to use their acquired skills outside of the classroom. This logic for replicating ‘neuro-typical’ environments, argues directly against the sensory sensitive approach, and, with reasons worth exploring. Individuals with autism often have very poor generalization skills. Therefore proponents of ‘neuro-typical’ simulated environments claim that sensory sensitive environments actually cause less, not more, universal access and integration into the larger population. Whether or not there is any truth to this claim is unknown. There are strong arguments for and against the ‘neuro-typical’ approach, but there are no definitive studies comparing the sensory sensitive approach to the ‘neuro-typical’ approach.