Many considerations need to made when designing environments for people with autism and those listed below should not be considered an exhaustive list. More general information on good practice regarding health and safety, fixtures, plumbing etc can be found elsewhere. However, the following points are particularly relevant when designing or adapting residential or day services specifically for autistic users; with the aim of enhancing well being and ensuring the safety of residents and staff.

General design considerations

  • Large single-pane windows and large areas of glass in glazed doors should be avoided on safety grounds.
  • Key locks should be provided to external doors, to each bedroom, any office(s), food stores, kitchen, boiler rooms, domestic chemical stores (including cupboards used for that purpose) and rooms/cupboards containing electrical switchboards.
    To minimise the number of keys carried by staff and to enable residents to use keys, a lock system should be adopted as follows:
    • A master key system should be used for individual locks on all bedroom doors, food stores, kitchens, boiler rooms and electrical switchboards.
    • A separate master key system for locks to external doors should be provided.
    • Separate keys for chemical stores and offices should be provided.
    • Multiple-use WC and bath/shower rooms should have a sliding bolt lock that can be opened from the outside in case of emergency.
  • External and ground floor doors and ground floor corridors must be wide enough to permit access by wheelchair, either for people with multiple disabilities or for access by staff using wheelchairs to assist someone recovering from an epileptic seizure. Where ground and floor levels change, shallow ramps should be provided in preference to steps.
  • Where building layout permits, a minimum of one ground floor room should be available for use as a bedroom for a wheelchair user.
  • The need to offer personal support, supervision and training in aspects of personal hygiene requires that at least some WC pans, hand basins and baths are positioned so that staff can stand beside the person they are assisting. All general use bathrooms or WCs must provide this additional space.
  • The dignity and privacy of individual residents in the building requires that they be offered en-suite washing/WC/shower or bath facilities where possible. Each self-contained housing unit should provide a majority of en-suite facilities, with a minimum of one bathroom and one separate WC also available for general use.
  • 'Push bar to open'-type fittings on external doors are unacceptable due to the risk of residents absenting themselves from the building at night.
  • Mechanical door-closers are a continual maintenance problem due to the high proportion of people with autism who try to close the door against the braking mechanism. Swing free closers are cheaper in the long-run.


  • Every tap should be capable of isolation by use of ball-o-fix valves.
  • Pipe runs should be boxed-in or ring-clipped at 12 inch intervals.
  • Box-in WC cistern or fit cisterns with lockable lids.
  • Provide a pumped return system on the domestic hot water to avoid both taps initially providing cold water.
  • Fit captive plugs to hand basins and baths or uprate standard plug and chain fittings.
  • Install floor drains in bathrooms.
  • Provide one rapid entry bath in communal bathroom.
  • Replace or avoid plastic baths.
  • Provide lockable thermostats on each radiator.
  • Provide large capacity domestic hot water storage or fit an automatic mixer with the cold water supply to provide a pre-set water temperature.


  • Use anodised aluminium for all brass light switches and power socket face plates. Avoid use of domestic plastic fittings in all rooms.
  • Fit a discreet key switch isolator to power sockets in each bedroom.    
  • Fit single power sockets in corridors for cleaning equipment, sufficient to avoid long lengths of trailing lead, and positioned to avoid trailing leads through fire doors.
  • Fit bathroom and WC light switches adjacent to the door on the outside of the room. Avoid ceiling-mounted pull switches.
  • Fit discreet emergency lights to external corners of the building.
  • Install light- and motion-activated floodlighting outside main entrances.
  • Fit main switchboard with a lockable cupboard.
  • Fit a key switch to power sockets for refrigerator, freezer, washing machine, dishwasher and any electric cooker.
  • Provide power to 'swing free' door-closers on all doors designated as 'fire stop doors' by a fire officer. It would be desirable to link the door-closers to the fire panel.
  • Provide power to automatic release locks on external fire escape doors and link them to fire panel.
  • Install a staff 'call system' linked to the staff duty room and to a repeater on the ground floor.

Glazing and windows

  • Fit shatterproof laminated or toughened safety glass to all windows and glazed doors.
  • Avoid large areas of glass without sub-division by strong glazing bars. This will ensure the visibility of each glass area, reduce the maintenance costs of replacing large areas of glass and support the window against impact.
  • Limit opening of all windows above ground floor level.
  • Provide lockable windows on the ground floor.


  • Reinforce door frame fixings to above the domestic standard.
  • At minimum, use shuttering ply under plasterboard and skim for any room division. Fix partition walls to floor and ceiling joists
  • Provide doorsteps and skirting behind all doors that open against a wall.

Flooring and floor covering

  • Where a building does not have concrete flooring to the first floor, the floor joists in a minimum of one bedroom should be strengthened to permit occupancy by an individual who remains hyperactive, despite having reached adult body weight. Where possible, the ceiling cavity below the floor should be filled with a suitable material to minimise the transmission of sound.
  • Some residents may suffer periodic incontinence. Where bedroom and recreation room floors are of timber construction they must be even enough to permit covering with Flotex carpet or should be sheathed with hardboard prior to laying the carpet.
  • Bathroom and kitchen floors should be covered in a non-slip, heavy-duty vinolay. Where bathrooms are above ground floor level, or where they have timber floors, the vinolay should be turned up the walls and sealed to a curb and to all joints to prevent water penetrating the floor.
  • Floor covering in WCs should be vinolay, turned up the walls and sealed at all joints to prevent penetration of urine and water.
  • Where possible, bathroom floors should be formed to a slope sufficient to direct water away from the door and towards a drain set in the floor and linked to the waste outlet.
  • Where possible, floors should be covered in single widths of carpet to avoid some residents occasional tendency to 'pick' at the join. In corridors, carpet joins should coincide with the threshold of sub-dividing doors. Where a join cannot be avoided, it should be away from doorways and to the side of the room.
  • Well-fixed floor plates and protective strips should be fitted to cover and protect joins in floor coverings in each doorway.
  • Where patterns are selected for floor coverings, it is preferable to choose random or fluid pattern designs. Geometric and repeating patterns can reinforce obsessions related to the exact positioning of furniture and personal movement around the rooms.
  • Mat walls should be created at each exit door to the building, to accept and retain in place a suitable mat for cleaning footwear. This is most important on the garden side of the house.
  • Floor covering in dining areas should be in well-sealed Woodblock. Flotex carpet or a good quality domestic vinolay are less satisfactory solutions for floors that will experience continual cleaning and wear from chair legs.

Grounds and fencing

  • The number of car parking spaces provided should exceed the maximum required by the local planning authority. Staff shift overlap will require more than the basic provision. At least one bay should be wide enough to permit the parking of a minibus.
  • Every effort should be made to provide a vehicle turning bay away from the main entrance, to avoid the need to reverse vehicles within the grounds of the building.
  • Grounds may need to be laid out in a way that prevents some residents from leaving the site and finding themselves at risk. Where possible, the body of the building should provide an enclosed area and be linked to a discreet side fencing to the perimeter.
  • Boundary fencing should be a minimum of 1.75 metres high, with the effect softened by planting fast-growing hedges and trees.
  • Where possible, the grounds should be laid out to provide both fine and wet weather surfaces for recreation. An open-sided covered area is a tremendous advantage, as some residents may need to spend time outside whatever the weather. Cover from rain is an obvious advantage, but some of the medications used to assist some people with autism can also cause over-sensitivity to strong sunlight.
  • The grounds should permit the development of a 'private' garden area, within the whole, allowing residents to choose privacy from observation by others, whilst remaining within the safety of the grounds.
  • Changes in ground levels throughout the site should be met with ramps rather than steps so that wheelchairs to be used by people with multiple disabilities, or by staff assisting someone who has suffered an epileptic seizure.