A design model: the Autism Spectrum Disorder Classroom Design Kit

Keith McAllister, Barry Maguire

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Architects and designers have a responsibility to provide an inclusive built environment. However for those with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the built environment can be a frightening and confusing place, difficult to negotiate and tolerate. The challenge of integrating more fully into society is denied by an alienating built environment. For ASD pupils in a poorly designed school, their environment can distance them from learning. Instead, if more at ease in their surroundings, in an ASD-friendly environment, the ASD pupil stands a greater chance of doing better.

    However a difficulty exists in that most architects are not knowledgeable in designing for those with ASD. Any available design guidelines for architects tend, because of the inherent difficulties associated with a spectrum, to be general in their information. Therefore, if wanting to provide an ASD-friendly learning environment, there is a need to ensure that teachers, as the experts, can most clearly and effectively impart their knowledge and requirements to architects.

    This paper sets out the challenges and difficulties inherent in the design process when designing for ASD. It then sets out an alternative strategy to the usual method of drawing-centric dialogue between teacher and architect by using models instead as a basis for a more common language. An ASD Classroom Design Kit was designed and developed by Queen’s University of Belfast Architecture students. It was then used by ASD teaching staff from the Southern Education and Library Board in Northern Ireland as a case study to trial its effectiveness. The paper outlines how the study was carried out before concluding with reflections by both teaching staff and architect on using the ASD Classroom Design Kit.

    It is hoped that this paper will firstly highlight the need for better dialogue between expert and architect when considering ASD and the Built Environment and secondly, that it may encourage others to consider using models to convey their ideas and knowledge when designing, not just for ASD, but for other Special Educational Needs and disabilities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)201-208
    Number of pages8
    JournalBritish Journal of Special Education
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


    • Architecture; Autism; Classroom Design; School Environment; Special Needs Education

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education
    • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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