Each year since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been keeping tabs, the prevalence of autism has increased, and the latest data puts the number at 1 in 68 children (the rate being five times higher for boys — at 1 in 42 — than for girls, at 1 in 189). Since autism is a spectrum disorder, it can vary in severity, but it is common for more severely affected people to need special educational and sometimes day-to-day living assistance. While these autistic children are young, their parents take on many of these caretaking tasks, often working with specialists. But one day, these now-young autistic babies and kids will become adults, their parents will pass away, and the autistic population of people will need to care for themselves.
Elizabeth Decker, a landscape architecture student at Kansas State University, thinks we should start thinking now about how we can design urban spaces with the needs and preferences of the autistic population in mind. Decker's brother is autistic, so her project combines the personal and the professional.
How did she go about creating such a space?
While autism affects different people in different ways, the condition is characterized by deficits in language and social skills. The National Institute for Health has identified six areas of need for autistic individuals: vocational training, life skills, mental and physical health support, employment, public transportation and affordable housing. So Decker took this information and designed a space within a city that took all these needs into consideration.
"Cities can become more usable for individuals with autism when these six needs are met. The toolkit provides a beginning list of implications within these six needs that cities can follow in order to meet the needs for adults with autism," Decker told MailOnline.
Her plan includes autism-related services along an easy-to-follow corridor (to reduce stress) that also includes green spaces (which provide sensory relief to those who are easily overwhelmed by the multiple sensory inputs common in urban environments). Healthy eating choices are also placed along this corridor so that it's simple and easy for people to make the choice to avoid junk food.
"My project views cities from a larger perspective and demonstrates that cities lack connection of services for autism,’ Decker said. It is not enough to view a city within a few blocks and suggest placing a building or park; without seeing the vision of an inclusive city as a whole, the design falls short of successfully connecting the needs of adults with autism. The inclusive city not only provides opportunity for individuals with autism, but also adds another level of health and success to dynamic urban environments for everyone."
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