Plans showing proposed building in Chester

Designing for People with Autism (ASD).

Posted on 22/05/23

The term Autism is an umbrella term for a wide range of conditions. These conditions can relate to communication, social interaction, behaviour and interests. Autism can, to varying degrees, affect how people with the condition perceive the world around them and how they interact with others.

Autism is called a Spectrum Disorder because of the range and severity of symptoms across individuals. Some individuals on the Autism Spectrum have difficulty processing and integrating sensory information, and may therefore react differently than expected to information in the environment. This sensory processing difficulty is a breakdown of the neurological process that organises the sensory information. Some people may overreact to environmental stimuli such as traffic noise, an excess of sources of stimuli or even sunlight, whilst others may fail to notice or respond to these kinds of inputs.

How to Design for Autistic Users.

The range of symptoms and the range of building types mean not all considerations can be covered in this article, however key points of consideration can be. It should be noted that many of the points below will be beneficial to the general public as a whole and not just those on the Autism Spectrum.

Space Planning.

  • Divide areas for certain activities and where possible, differentiate by colour etc.
  • Incorporate quiet spaces where a person can retreat to when required.
  • Groups of spaces should be easy to navigate to reduce confusion and complexity.
  • Avoid long corridors or long linear spaces as they may encourage a “runner” to elope, which is a common response for many children with autism.
  • Create small, secure, spaces that provide expansive sight lines. This provides a degree of enclosure and a sense of safety, whilst eliminating any sense of restriction or enclosure


  • Indirect lighting other than fluorescent lighting which, though imperceptible to many, may be uncomfortable to the sensory sensitivities of many individuals on the Autism Spectrum.
  • Lighting should be dimmable if possible
  • Pelmet lighting with no visible direct source can be preferable.
  • Natural light (and the views that come from windows) can be very beneficial however bright sunlight can be an issue. Consider the use of shades or blinds to regulate the amount of natural light.


Décor and Design.

  • Use simple colours and colour schemes. The National Autistic Society talks of “low” and “High” arousal colours. The use of creams and pastel colours can reduce the risk of sensory overload when compared to potentially distracting colours like yellow and even Brilliant White.
  • Patterns and complex background images can also be distracting.
  • Using colour to define spaces can aid individuals with autism to associate spaces with tasks and suggest boundaries which can be reassuring.

We have recently been involved in the extension of a family home with the focus firmly on creating a set of spaces that will allow the family (which includes a person with Autism) to be able to maintain a happy and effective family life. Our designs have provided a dedicated home office, boot and pet room and a new sitting room. We have carefully considered the needs of the family and its individuals and have arranged the new rooms to function as part of the larger house, all located off the family kitchen/dining room. This division of spaces and tasks, whilst maintaining close links and easy access, will allow all members of the family to live and function comfortably in the extended house.

The principal area of design has been the new sitting room. It has been designed specifically to be a comfortable and comforting space for the person with autism, imbuing a sense of safety. The methods used will also provide an architecturally interesting and enjoyable space to be in for all members of the family. The methods employed to achieve this include the following; a split level to distinguish circulation area and the sitting area. The majority of the room will be at a level 400mm below external ground level to hunker the room down and give people within it a sense of solidity and grounding. Furniture will be built in, simplifying the visual stimuli and creating plenty of hidden storage to keep the room clear and free of clutter. Behind and above the built-in sofa will be a pair of large recesses, built into a shelving feature spanning an entire wall. These will have cushions and lighting and will act as cubby holes to sit in. Windows will have low cills and high heads to create expansive sight lines. The ceiling will rise from 2.4m to 3.2m, drawing the eye outwards to the pretty views beyond the room. The combination of the above will provide comfortable, human-sized environs that will provide a sense of reassurance and safety, whilst offering long reaching, framed views so occupants do not feel restricted or hemmed in.

Externally, selected planting will be used to further strengthen the connection between near, middle and far views. A palette of subtle colours will compliment clay plastered walls in a neutral tone.

For an Architectural team with a thorough understanding of Autism and its related individualities, please contact us to discuss your project.

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