Welcoming spaces and abundant resources for autistic children and their families
Not knowing how a child will react to their environment can make everyday life unpredictable. For autistic children and their families, a trip to the doctor’s office can end up being a traumatic experience. An unfamiliar space full of strangers can be upsetting to autistic children, who are more sensitive to various sensory experiences.
Awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased over the past decade, yet fully dedicated resources and facilities for autistic children and their families are difficult to find. The CHOC Thompson Autism Center is one of just a handful of clinics across the country dedicated solely to diagnosing, managing and treating ASD. Through a partnership with Chapman University, the Thompson Autism Center will also help patients with autism and their families navigate the education system, from preschool to college.
Firsthand knowledge of having a child with autism was woven into the building from the very beginning. “As the parent of an autistic son, I can tell you it’s a nightmare to try and find resources,” said Don Lawrence, a healthcare planner with Blue Cottage of CannonDesign who helped design the space. “There was no center like this when my son was born, so it was a real challenge for me and my wife to find the resources to get interventions. Now that there’s more awareness of autism, we’ve seen more and more providers noticing and diagnosing autism early. Intervention at a facility like this can make a huge difference in their lives.”
The best evidence-based design ideas were incorporated into the project. Literature review of recent research yielded design ideas around controlling environmental parameters such as light, color, sound, spatial transitions, artwork, as well as safety suggestions. Exam and lab spaces were designed to isolate sound, so a child having trouble with getting blood drawn will not influence others in the clinic. Specialized space for toilet training will aid younger children and their families through a difficult transition.
As the incidence of autism continues to rise, the demand for tailored spaces like the CHOC Thompson Autism Center will also increase. Designed with diligent research, interviews and planning, this center will be a benchmark for others across the country and allow for early diagnosis and early invention, resulting in improved learning, communication and social skills for children with ASD.