Blog: How good design can support inclusion of autistic children in mainstream schools
By Martin Peat, director, Richardson & Peat
Children with autism have a range of particular needs when it comes to the ideal learning environment, and these are unlikely to be provided for by standard classroom design. The Government’s current drive to bring school provision for children with autism into mainstream schooling raises questions over whether the environments they are expected to be taught in will be appropriate.
Having been involved in several design and construction contracts to create classrooms for autistic children in mainstream schools we have become specialists in the area. In our experience using existing classrooms has created difficulties for both students due to the everyday challenges posed by autism.
Unfortunately in many schools second grade portable buildings long past their use by date have been allocated to provision for an intake of autistic children, and in some cases children and staff have even had to use unused spaces like old lobby areas and cupboards. The drive to allow children with autism to grow and develop within a ‘normal’ school environment is to be applauded however it needs to be accompanied by a commitment to providing spaces which are worthy of the commitment being made to their education.
We have found when designing for autistic children there is a need to assess the level of severity before jumping to a conclusion that the rooms need to be of a highly secure nature. Children being bought into a normal school environment are expected to take part in general school activities at different stages of the day so it’s important to design to a level that’s robust enough without going over the top.
The brief we have applied to all buildings we have worked on is to secure a user-friendly design and deliver the finished project for a standard school construction budget. Working within a moderate budget does not mean the design needs to be compromised, but it does need to be thought through.
We have identified eight key areas to consider when aiming to create learning spaces which support autistic children as follows:
Bearing all of these success factors in mind, one question stands out. If we take on board the points mentioned as being a way to achieve a better teaching space for autistic children and we accept that construction costs must stay within standard school budgets then why are more class spaces not being built along these lines? What is good for teaching children who see the world slightly differently must be at least as good for everyone else, and if we accept this then there would be no need for ‘specialist classrooms’ they would all just be ‘classrooms.’