Functional layout of the room? Find out what works.

Would you like to redesign your living room to accommodate your autistic son or daughter? Are you thinking of reshaping your classroom? Or are you wondering how to make the set-up of your group home more functional and comprehensible? These are frequently asked questions, but nevertheless we often fall into the trap of wanting to immediately find the right approach, without taking a step back and observing what we are already doing.

Focusing completely on finding a solution we mainly look at what works already: where is the behaviour of the autistic person most appropriate? Where are behavioural problems kept to a minimum? Where do we most frequently observe the right behaviour?

To gain an insight into this it is advisable to first create a floor plan of your room and then use colour coding to indicate to what extent you notice appropriate behaviour in specific areas. For example, you could use a green code for areas where you always observe appropriate behaviour, orange for areas with occasional, though not always, good behaviour and red for areas always associated with behavioural problems.

Let’s take green areas – those areas with the most appropriate behaviour – as a starting point and focus on the following questions:

  • What is the functional purpose of this area? (leisure, work, learning, eating, etc.)
  • Is it clear to the person with autism what the functional purpose is and what the expectations are?
  • Is it a space where they mainly occupy themselves or where they interact with others?
  • What kind of sensory stimuli are present? Are there few or many sensory stimuli in that area?
  • Is enjoyment the main purpose of the activity? How is the area or space delineated?
  • Is this delineation clear for the person with autism? Which part of the room is the space located in?
  • For example, is it close to an escape route or located more in the centre of the room?

Answers to these questions can help you gain an insight into the reason why the autistic person is displaying more appropriate behaviour in that area. Focusing on the areas where the autistic person more frequently displays correct behaviour, may give us clues on how to make the layout of other spaces or rooms more functional and comprehensible.