Planning for Neurodiversity

Research Theme: Cities, Communities and Contested Urbanism
Supervisors: Dr Neil Galway (N.Galway@qub.ac.uk), Dr. Keith McAllister (K.McAllister@qub.ac.uk)and Dr Bronagh Byrne (Social Sciences, Education and Social Work)

Humans have a natural variation in the anatomy of their brains – they have a different neurological make up, or ‘brain wiring’.  While most people can be described as neurologically typical, or neurotypical, a minority who show differences such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), dyslexia, dyspraxia are now characterised as neurologically diverse, or neurodiverse. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a term that covers the many sub-groups within the spectrum of autism. Along with the triad of impairments associated with ASD that manifest as problems with communication, social interaction and imagination, those with ASD often suffer from sensory sensitivity to the visual, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive, gustatory and olfactory realms.

Therefore for those with cognitive impairment, the Built Environment and its cities in particular, can become difficult, confusing and even threatening. Subsequently one of the main difficulties for the person with ASD is to simply feel at ease within the Built Environment. This can have far reaching and profound consequences for designers entrusted with providing an inclusive Built Environment. Whilst designers are arguably now recognising the benefits to health and wellbeing for people in making our cities accessible to all, little thought has been given to those with cognitive impairment and especially, those with ASD in that context. With the incidence of autism in society currently on the rise and society beginning to take stock of this, now is an appropriate time to tackle this issue.

This proposal therefore seeks to better identify specific and meaningful design considerations when designing for those with ASD in our cities. The aspiration is then that this might help inform future urban design, thereby encouraging fuller integration of just not the person with ASD, but also others with the challenges of sensory sensitivities, anxieties and isolation into the city, the wider Built Environment and society beyond.

How to Apply