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Living in the community: housing design for autistic adults

This study explored how design could improve living environments for autistic adults, supporting their specific needs and resulting in a better quality of life. Key findings are published for wide readership with particular focus on housing providers, architects and designers involved in the design, refurbishment and development of residential accommodation for autistic adults.

Launched in October 2009, the Living in the Community projects brought together autism charity the Kingwood Trust and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art in a research partnership that explored how design might improve residential accommodation for adults with autism. The research involved visits to supported-living residences, workshops with adults with autism, interviews with support workers and clinical professionals, and a review of relevant literature including biographical works, which provided insightful and lyrical accounts of autism that complemented medical characterisations of the condition.  To provide guidance and support for the project, an expert reference group of scientists, parents, architects and designers was established.

The study found overwhelming evidence to show that the design of residential accommodation can profoundly impact the health and wellbeing of adults with autism. In buildings that had been specifically designed or adapted for their residents, people displayed higher levels of confidence and independence, and fewer accounts of challenging or complex behaviour. In the right settings, individuals’ motivation and willingness to engage in daily tasks and social activities had been increased. And in all cases, good buildings had been achieved by involving service providers, support workers, parents and individuals with autism in all stages of the design and build process.

Research from the first twelve months of the project yielded a set of guidelines on housing designing for adults with autism, which have been published as a handbook. This book is freely available from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design or as a download from the Centre’s website - download a copy here.

Author: Andrew Brand - Then Research Associate, Helen Hamlyn Centre of Design at the Royal College of Art. Currently Director, Squease Ltd

In association with - The Kingwood Trust

Date added: 12th March 2012