Creating Autism Friendly Spaces in the Home

Seminole State College is now pioneering an interior design class that will tackle issues that people on the spectrum, or with special needs in general, face in the home. The students in Professor Kathryn Rivera’s class, when brainstorming ideas for child safety have come up with tools such as: locks that open with a fingerprint and stove tops that only begin heating when a pot is placed on top; magnetic and chalkboards to make easily changeable lists; an ipad station to help draw children to the kitchen in a way that enables them to communicate their wants and needs.

Some students looked over swatches of fabrics, wall tiles, flooring samples, and other materials that help sensory issues or induce calming effects in rooms such as the kitchen or living room. Other groups researched practical furniture to have in these spaces, such as tables and chairs that are easy to clean. One student, Martinez-Loor, really enjoys the class, saying “These are kids. They have special needs. You can completely change their life, becuase their house is their world.”

Bert Fonseca, who serves on the college’s Construction Advisory Board, was inspired by his two children, 15 and 14, to push this pilot interior design class. “We wanted to provide a space where our children can learn to fend for themselves,” he explains. Learning to prepare a meal and clean up afterward is an important step in independence for these kids.

The class is designed to teach “design empathy” by challenging students to think from an autistic child’s perspective and allowing them to use their creativity to design features of a room that will positively affect senses and abilities of special needs kids. Hopefully this pilot class will lead to it becoming a permanent elective offered to students every year.