Many autistic people suffer from a high degree of stress, which in turn can have an effect on their behaviour. They may display obsessional behaviour, be hyperactive, or have severe tantrums, all of which can have implications for the environment that they live and work in.
A high proportion of autistic adults also have associated learning disabilities. This combination of factors can give rise to:
- inappropriate use of domestic fittings
- poor co-ordination and balance
- a need for assistance with basic self-care functions
- a need to control access to areas of risk
- a need for large-capacity hot water storage and a limit to hot water temperature
- a need for an increased surface area and reduction in surface temperature for radiators.
A significant proportion of autistic adults suffer from epilepsy, resulting in a need for:
- outward opening doors on WC/bath/shower rooms
- avoiding sharp edges on domestic worktops and radiators
- beds positioned away from windows, radiators and room entrances
- at least one 'rapid empty' bath.
Most autistic people experience difficulty in adjusting to changes in their environment. Fixtures and fittings that already exist when the person moves into a building are less likely to be targeted (ie fiddled with/wrenched/removed) than fittings which appear after they have become familiar with their environment. The planning and design process should be as painstaking as possible in order to minimise the need for change during the first year of occupancy. Common areas of rapid change include:
- repositioning of fire appliances
- repositioning of internal telephones and staff call systems
- repositioning and replacing of towel rails and toilet roll holders
- additions to power points
- changes and additions to door and cupboard locks.
Some autistic people have difficulty understanding what other people require of them. Not surprisingly, their responses are frequently inappropriate, adding to confusion, stress, and low self-esteem. Building design can assist by providing clear sensory clues to what is likely to be required of each person in a specific area. Factors to be considered include:
- avoidance of multi-function rooms (eg kitchen diners)
- clear demarcation of leisure and activity areas
- avoidance of food preparation smells penetrating other areas.
Many autistic people are socially isolated and have difficulty in making and maintaining relationships with others. Building design can assist in avoiding unnecessary stress in social settings by providing:
- wide corridors
- large communal rooms with high ceilings
- a choice of exits from communal rooms
- one or two single-person alcove areas in communal rooms
- a choice of recreational rooms or areas.