Evidence-Based Classroom Design for Individuals with Autism: United States and United Kingdom

By Ghasson Shabha and Kristi Gaines.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper compares the findings of studies conducted in the United Kingdom and the United States to assess the impact of environmental stimuli on the behavior of students with Autism.
Analysis of teaching layouts and the sequence of activities in selected school buildings were conducted. Opinions of focus groups including teachers and caregivers working with students with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) were initially explored to assess the extent of the sensory problems and to highlight any design limitations and constraints.
A questionnaire was formulated based on the feedback gleaned from the focus groups and subsequently administered to target groups. Relevant perceptual information about behavioural reactions to varying sensory stimuli was compiled. Visual information of selected schools including photos and drawings of ASD workstations were gathered, annotated and analysed for further examination. Several visual triggers were identified including bright colours and light, pattern, and glare. Sound triggers including sudden and impact sound, high and low pitch sound and background noise levels were also identified.
There are a few variations between the two studies regarding particular sensory triggers and their importance, which can be attributed to differences in school design layout, internal finishing, and workstation configuration. Other factors including the size of the study sample, location, and climatic difference are also implicated. The study provides further understanding of the key factors contributing to the quality of the teaching environments in school buildings in both the UK and the US. This might assist in developing alternative school design guidelines based on a more user-centered approach, therefore, creating a responsive teaching environment that is more humanely-attuned to the needs of affected groups.

Keywords: School Design, Sensory Design, Autism

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.1-18. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 10.970MB).

Dr. Ghasson Shabha

Senior Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Planning, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK

Dr. Ghasson Shabha obtained his Ph.D. in Architecture from Bath University, UK. He is a senior lecturer at School of Property, Construction and Planning, Birmingham City University in the UK. He is an architect by profession with a wide range of experience in the design of educational, residential and commercial buildings. He has more than 47-refereed papers in construction and property management journals. His consultancy and research interests focus on the flexibility of buildings in use. He is currently involved in developing design guidelines to create improved therapeutically and humanely attuned learning environments to match affected users needs more accurately.

Kristi Gaines

Assistant Professor, Department of Design, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, USA

Kristi Gaines, Ph.D., IIDA is Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University, and received her Ph.D. in Environmental Design with collaterals in Special Education. She has 14 years of professional interior design experience including projects in healthcare, hospitality, office, and high-end residential design. Her research and publications focus on the impact of the built environment on the behavior of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders.