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Designing Housing for the Spectrum

At Home with Autism: Designing Housing for the Spectrum introduces readers to conditions and aspirations of adults on the autism spectrum that demand a new approach to how we provide, locate, design and develop homes in which they live. The book argues that there is no singular stellar residential model, just as there is no singular prototype of autism. Grounded in an extensive array of research sources, the book identifies resident-focused quality of life goals, and profiles design guidelines directed to those goals. The book implores those involved in housing design, production and policy to expand their exposure to what is possible, what is desirable, and to direct their efforts towards expanding residential choices for those on the spectrum.

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Emanating from the research, the design guidelines translate the findings into a variety of new housing designs and home modifications that may create a more responsive and supportive environment for adults with autism. The design guidelines encompass the full range of elements that comprise a home beginning with neighbourhood selection and housing type moving through outdoor environments and individual rooms and culminating in technology and materials. The guidelines reflect the ten Quality of Life Design Goals presented in Chapter 3 with specific recommendations linked to the particular goal(s) it addresses. Since autism is a spectrum condition, appropriate design solutions will vary considerably for different individuals. By connecting each design guideline with a specific goal(s), autistic adults, design professionals, housing providers and others can focus on new housing designs and modifications most relevant to an individual’s needs and aspirations.

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Much of the research, interventions and public attention on autism has focused on children and adolescents. Only recently has there been growing concern of how best to plan for individuals as they age out of the school system and into adulthood. This chapter explains some of the reasons for the current momentum to discover and advance ways to create homes and communities that enhance residential living for those on the spectrum. These reasons include: increasing prevalence of autism; shift in diagnosis and labelling; deficit of research on and for adults on the spectrum; lack of viable residential alternatives in communities; nascent efforts to discover and value residential aspirations; cost and competition of care and support services; and escalating advocacy efforts in the disability rights and neurodiversity movements.

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As awareness of the needs and aspirations of people with autism grows, new ideas and innovations that assist autistic adults live the lives they choose have begun to appear with increasing regularity. This chapter explores some of these innovations including what is currently under development and what is on the horizon. New housing types and living arrangements that move beyond the group home and residential placement are emerging spurred in part by an expanding self-advocacy movement that champions housing choice and self-determination. Increasingly, adults with autism are working with designers, planners, and housing and service providers to envision new living environments. Similar collaborations are beginning to take place in creating effective new smart technologies that enable autistic adults to live more independently. With innovations occurring almost daily, the opportunities for new technology to transform how individuals with autism live is substantial as long as it is used appropriately.

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To establish a basis for design guidelines, ten quality of life design goals were crafted from a synthesis of the research gathered and examined. Each goal is associated with its own icon, which facilitates identifying those design guidelines in Chapter 4 that are particularly responsive to specific goals. Offering multiple and clearly delineated design goals provides the reader a robust platform for identifying and selecting design features that best respond to needs and aspirations of various individuals. The goals include: ensuring safety and security; maximizing familiarity, stability, predictability and clarity; enhancing sensory balance; offering multiple opportunities for controlling social interaction and privacy; providing adequate choice and independence; fostering health and wellness; enhancing one’s dignity; ensuring durability; achieving affordability; ensuring accessibility and support in the surrounding neighbourhood.

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The approach in developing design goals and guidelines derives in part from evidence-based practices (EBP) in autism interventions and in design. Instead of strict adherence to an EBP process, modifications were made due to deficit of empirical research on residential environments for adults on the spectrum. The chapter describes the process undertaken in identifying and assembling the range of research that underlies the design goals and guidelines of subsequent chapters. With an eye toward research integrity as well as relevancy, the approach encompassed both empirical research and reflective practice, including the lived experiences of those on the spectrum. The mechanics of the search and selection process is described in this chapter, and further detailed in the Appendix.

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