Autism Planning and Design Guidelines: Six Feelings Framework by OSU & City Planning

People with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or sensory disorder have particular needs that most city planners haven’t yet considered, even as autism has become increasingly prevalent in our society. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects millions in the United States, including families and friends of people with ASD. Many adults with a diagnosis of ASD “fall off the cliff,” as they age out of childhood support programs while continuing to lack the skills for independent living. This abrupt life change affects adults with a diagnosis of ASD and significantly impacts their caregivers. We do not assume that independence, a culturally-prescriptive concept, is what adults with high-functioning autism want or need. It is clear, however, that many of adults with a diagnosis of ASD and their families face daily challenges concerning housing, transportation, and the overall built environment, all of which are major topics that fall within the planning profession’s domain. Adults with a diagnosis of ASD are more prone to stress, anxiety, and sensory overload as a result of intense cognitive processing of sound stimuli. They suffer from higher rates of sleep problems related to these auditory issues. Light intensity and noise were shown to disproportionately adversely affect the learning of children with autism. There are other psychological issues associated with the disorder: social anxiety, agoraphobia, attention deficits, obsessive behaviors, forgetting consequential tasks, and depression.  Our research provides a planning and design framework backed up by research that can create effective policies for professionals who are interested in improving the built environment so adults with a diagnosis of ASD can thrive.