Intergenerational Center with Sensitivity to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Presented by: Julia Nieman, Jeanneane Wood-Nartker

Research on design of physical environments for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is limited. Further, there is a lack of research following these individuals across their lifespan. Today, 1 in 42-68 children are diagnosed with autism and in 2020 there will be 4 million people with autism in the United States (Gaines, Bourne, Pearson & Kleibrink, 2016) . This calls for a serious need for evidence-based design development of environments to support needs of both children and ageing adults with ASD. There are limited number of self-sustained purposeful living environments to address the crisis of the growing and aging population with ASD (Gaines et al., 2016). Design guidelines for living environments for people with ASD were developed from a literature review of emerging research. These guidelines will guide design decisions in the design of an intergenerational center focusing on environmental needs of both children and aging-adults with ASD. The purpose of the center is to provide a living environment where older adults are able to age in place. The center will include individual rooms for older residents as well as a full-day daycare center that employees may utilize. Integrating Green House Design and Eden philosophy will encourage social interaction, educational opportunities, development of physical motor skills, and interaction with children enrolled in the daycare center. Inclusion, durability and maintenance, safety and visual instruction, visual structure and parent participation are all aspects found to be beneficial to both able-bodied children and children with ASD (Khare & Mullick, 2009). These spaces will provide adequate communication of their purpose and their expected behaviors to help limit the confusion or over-stimulation of individuals with ASD. Children with ASD are more often interested in the physical world than the social world and that leads to them being a minimum of two years behind their peers socially (Kutscher, Attwood & Wolff, 2005). Predictable, permanent landmarks and curved walls will promote wayfinding, which is beneficial to both typical aging adults and individuals with autism. Tactile sensitivities are more prevalent than visual sensitivity for children with ASD but special care will be taken with regard to selections of lighting, e.g., natural, artificial, and glare/reflection; color; spatial organization; escape spaces; noise; materials, as well as tactile sensitivities (Gaines et al., 2016). One goal of this poster presentation is to receive feedback on my finalized three dimensional design of the Intergenerational center. The Intergenerational center will be created to addresses both the needs of children with ASD in a daycare environment, and for aging adults with ASD in a semi-assisted living environment. Within these environments, areas of refuge will be incorporated for individuals with hypersensitivity and areas for increased stimulation for individuals with hyposensitive individuals. Hypersensitive design solutions allow individuals to retreat; zones are created that break up the space into loud, transition/buffer, and quiet spaces, shown in Figure 1. In the areas for individuals with hyposensitivity, spaces will be designed to allow maximum visibility by caregivers. Caregivers are then able promote sensory stimulation. Both active and inactive spaces will need to be created, shown in Figure 2. This division of space helps hyposensitive individuals know what behaviors are appropriate in which setting (Gaines et al., 2016). This design prototype will incorporate characteristics that are beneficial for children and aging adults with ASD (see attached assignment). Floor plans will focus on zoning as well as three dimensional views of the design. The poster presentation will provide the opportunity for feedback from individuals in design community on the final design created of an Intergenerational center with sensitivity to older adults as well as children with ASD.


  • Gaines, K., Bourne, A., Pearson, M., & Kleibrink, M. (2016). Designing for autism spectrum disorders. Routledge.
  • Kutscher, M. L., Attwood, T., & Wolff, R. R. (2005). Kids in the syndrome mix of ADHD, LD, Asperger's, Tourette's, bipolar, and more!: The one stop guide for parents, teachers, and other professionals. London: Jessica Kingsley.
  • Khare, R., & Mullick, A. (2009). Incorporating the behavioral dimension in designing inclusive learning environment for autism. International Journal of Architectural Research, 3(3), 45-64. Retrieved from
  • Henriksen, K., & Kaup, M. L. (2010). Supportive Learning Environments for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences, 9. Retrieved from