Joan Scott Love



Universities and design schools have a responsibility to ensure that the education of future designers enables design for special populations, in this case specifically children with autism. This paper presents a case study of an autism defined experimental teaching-led design project, within a first-year university Interior Architecture course, on which the author is a tutor. It draws on the author’s extensive working knowledge of autism issues, incorporating mediation between SEN schools and design students, and employing research informed teaching. The project involves a new local free school for autism, at a temporary site. The experiment is designed to challenge students, emphasising the importance of understanding how primary research, accessed directly from the end users, informs progressive design thinking. It attempts to influence their design work in subsequent years at university and in practice, and facilitate bridging the gap between academic research and real-life application. This paper seeks to identify how an autism defined project, focussed on student-centred learning and encompassing choosing sessions with children with ASD, can be taught in the first year of undergraduate study. Further, it aims to analyse how the teaching styles and content of a partially ‘live’ community design project impact on the participants. This is achieved by describing the details and challenges of the project together with the interactions between the students and the school. It concludes that the project adds value to the student experience, builds student confidence and eliminates pre-conceived ideas surrounding autism. It shows that design can be an interactive process between university and special schools. Equally, the pitfalls of a live project of this nature are highlighted, as is the need for modification before similar projects are reproducible as viable educational models.


autism schools; sensory environment; design education; interior architecture; student experience

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