CHOC Thompson Autism Center

Tailored spaces and resources for children with autism

Thompson Autism Center

Children's Hospital of Orange County
Orange, California, United States
20,000 square feet
Completed 2019

Unfamiliar environments can make anyone uneasy, but for autistic children who are more sensitive to sensory experiences, they can be overwhelming and traumatizing. A doctor’s office visit, which often engages all the senses, can be a dreaded experience.

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 also helps patients with autism and their families navigate the education system, from preschool to college.

Choc Lobby
We developed a comprehensive visitor experience, inclusive of spatial branding and wayfinding aimed at creating a positive, playful and non-threatening environment.
Choc Consult Room
Our identification signage utilizes custom icons depicting the activities a patient can expect to experience, helping to set patient expectations for their visit and increasing their sense of control.
Thompson Autism Center
Our identification signage utilizes custom icons depicting the activities a patient can expect to experience, helping to set patient expectations for their visit and increasing their sense of control.

Firsthand knowledge of having a child with autism was woven into the building’s design from the start. “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 clinic. “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 design was driven by the best and latest evidence-based strategies for designing positive environments for individuals with neurodiversities. Our research yielded design ideas around controlling environmental parameters such as light, color, sound, spatial transitions and artwork, as well as specialized safety considerations. 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 spaces for toilet training aids younger children and their families through a difficult transition.

Choc Kid In Bear Cubby
Alongside warm and welcoming artwork, there are alcoves and private seating areas for children who may feel overwhelmed and need a moment to themselves.

Autism prevalence in America

1 in 44

children have autism spectrum disorder


more common in boys than in girls


of children have a co-occurrence of one or more non-ASD diagnoses (such as developmental, neurological, gastrointestinal, etc.)


increase in autism prevalence since 2000

Research into how ASD children perceive art found that images of children by themselves are scary—they see it as being isolated or abandoned by their parents or caregivers. All art in the Thompson Autism Center shows kids with their peers or families to consistently maintain a comforting atmosphere.

Another key distinguishing feature of the center is that it allows for children to be seen by multiple specialists during one visit, all in the same exam room. This reduces the stress for both the child and their accompanying family.

Choc Play Room
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Choc Workspace
Clinicians and staff have workstations in between two rows of exam rooms, with a staff entry on one side and a patient entry on the other. This allows children to be seen by multiple doctors without having to leave the exam room.


  • We provide transition services—resource specialists who can help families work on plans for transition into adulthood, who either really need help or are looking into mainstreaming into college and need the right type of advice or counseling, even legal consultation so that families can obtain either guardianship or career planning for their children who are going to become adults.

    Dr. Tom Megerian Medical Director of the Thompson Autism Center and CHOC neurologist
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CHOC Thompson Autism Center