Designing for the Autism Spectrum

Atmosphere- Action.
November 18, 2013, 10:54 AM
Filed under: Autism + Design | Tags: , , , ,

I had recently submitted an abstract for a paper to present at the 2014 Atmosphere symposium in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba.  I am happy to say that my paper has been accepted and I will be presenting at this conference in February.  The abstract follows:

Poetic Action for Autism: An Intersubjective Approach

Fueled by our senses, we frame our world view with our experiences and memories. Through narrative and history, we translate these experiences and memories into built form to connect to our society on a transcendental level.  What happens, though, when there is disconnect and we cannot think as our client does?  This paper proposes that we are called to use our design sensibilities to understand the nature of materials, textures, and poetic experiences of architectural space, in consideration for specific rituals for those with autism.  These well established rituals could be used as a holistic “treatment” for those who appear to mainstream society as limited in their mental abilities.

Autism is classified as a specialized disorder in which those affected have minimal to no communication skills and senses that are hypersensitive or restricted.  To be defined in this way is detrimental to those affected by autism.  Their world is experienced through observation rather than “doing.”  Computer programs, video games, TV shows, and medication allow those with autism to retreat into a world of their own; thus, their interaction with the real world becomes static.  Temple Grandin, a professor of Animal Sciences at the University of Colorado, also autistic, states that those with autism are bottom-up thinkers.  They understand the inherent nature of things on a primal level.

In our current means and methods of design, we are also experiencing through observation rather than “doing.”  However, as architects designing specific one-to-one scale objects, we are able to enter the world of an individual and incite within that individual an intersubjective world view.  One-to-one scale objects inform our architectural decisions in a metaphorical way – stretching the perceptions of those with autism that will reawaken their ability to interact with society.

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I agree wholeheartedly with the gist of this approach. Don’t underestimate though what it means to really enter this world. Sir Christopher Beaver put it this way: ‘But the heart of the brief cannot be written down. It has to come from an understanding of the autistic mind; the things that are comforting and give a sense of security, a feeling of space where there are places for being alone and for socialising, an easily understood geography with no threatening or over-stimulating features. This understanding can only come with time and patient observation of how children and carers interact.’

Comment by flip schrameijer

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