May 5, 2021

FRAME: How to Design for Neurodiversity

Don Lawrence of our Blue Cottage of CannonDesign team is part of a new article from FRAME magazine about designing for neurodiversity in the built environment.

In the piece, Don speaks directly about our work with the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) Thompson Autism Center and his own experiences as the parent of an autistic son. The article notes “the healthcare planner helped design the Thompson Center, channeling two decades of personal experiences and challenges into a facility that focuses on early diagnosis and intervention.”

The full piece is available in FRAME’s most recent issue (purchase required). Below is an excerpt with further commentary from Don:

“Interestingly, Lawrence’s empathy lies not only with the individual his son represents, but with the individual’s impact on the stress levels of others. One example is the inclusion of sound-insulated spaces filled with soothing imagery and light, a response to accompanying his son to get blood drawn at a regular pediatric clinic. ‘It took five people to hold him down while he was screaming,’ says Lawrence. ‘Everyone in the building heard his anxiety about the process.’

Extensive research went into ensuring interior elements – lighting, color, sound and signage – are as calming as possible for ASD children. Even the art on display help to assuage patients’ fears. After discovering that ASD children perceive images of children alone as scary – they represent isolation and abandonment – the team behind the project ensured all works featuring a child depict them alongside peers or with family. Another big point of difference is that rather than having to flit from one department to the next, which can cause undue stress for kids and their guardians, Thompson Autism Center patients are given a home base. Children can be seen by multiple specialists in one visit – and in one room.

The centre is as much a training facility as a treatment facility, providing resources and classes for caregivers of ASD children. Dedicated spaces are also provided to help them teach certain developmental behaviors; the toilet-training space, for example, is again a response to Lawrence’s first-hand struggles, which are largely overlooked by the general public. But Lawrence hopes facilities like this one will lead to greater understanding: ‘As autism awareness becomes more prevalent, with the help of centers like this, I’d like to think people will become more tolerant to those children who don’t fit into the standard child lifestyle.'”

Learn more about the CHOC Thompson Autism Center >