Designing for the Autism Spectrum

As a Child
May 3, 2012, 4:27 PM
Filed under: Architecture

As a design student, I was taught to approach architecture with the eyes of a child, to pull from past experiences to create architecture through metaphor, reducing experiences, objects, actions to a “what is it like?”

What is it like to:

Stand on your tiptoes

Open a book for the first time

Pull a bow across the strings of a cello

Walk into a cave

These words bring about very distinct images to mind. You call upon your own experiences of standing on your toes and feeling the pressure,  you remember the new textbook you open and hearing the sound of the pages crinkling and even smelling that new book smell, etc… These memories, fueled by sense, allow us to compare what we know with what is in front of us.

Designing from these experiences and translating them into built form allow us to connect to our audience, our society.  What happens, though, when there is a disconnect from designer to client, when the society we have designed for has changed?

He was the boy that they always wanted.  When he turned five and still did not talk, they began to worry.  He started having temper tantrums and would not look them in the eye.  When they made him look at them, he closed his eyes and the world around him disappeared.

One can hardly perceive the difficulty of a life of a child who feels pain when staring into the eyes of a loved one, who rocks back and forth to keep the built-up energy within from exploding, and whose inability to communicate prevents caretakers from knowing what will help, so how have we designed for them?