School building design and autism

Setting up requirements for a new school building for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Group project Master Human-Technology Interaction
Client: Berkenschutse, secondary school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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The purpose of the study was to come up with requirements for the new school building of the Berkenschutse, which is a special high school for students with autism. The research was divided into three focus areas; the student’s desk, the classroom and the entire school building.
The project started with creating a theoretical framework about autism in general. After that, we looked into the current setting by the use of a physical traces study and observations in the classroom. This gave us insights in the current pros and cons of the building.
Next to that we wanted to involve the students in our research, to see their needs and wishes for the new building. They were interviewed, performed a creative exercise about their ideal classroom and received a set of probes. Teachers were extensively approached because of their expertise by experience. Four focus groups with a total of 25 participants and four more elaborative interviews were conducted. To broaden our perspective also three experts were consulted.

These are in short the most important requirements for the new school building:

  • Different types of workplaces all around the school are needed so that the student is able to choose a workplace for a specific learning task, at a specific location and at a specific moment in time. The student will learn which places to go to and which places to avoid for his own sake.
  • The new building should have better insulation to avoid temperature differences and auditory distractions.
  • The classroom design should be controlled by the teachers. They should receive a standard kit for the classrooms (with certain amounts of tables and chairs, a whiteboard and digital board etc.) to specifically arrange it for their own class. If possible, this can be done in close agreement with the students of that class.  This way the decisions about the spatial lay-out of the classroom but also the decorations can be made and adapted also to the wishes of the students.
  • The lay-out of the entire school should be easy to understand for the students and have clear indications and annotations on the location and functioning of each area. Several areas are currently missing; enough single-function calm rooms, separate study rooms, a common auditorium with separate quiet rooms, a multimedia library and a working area for teachers.


  • Different qualitative research methods like: observations, trace study, interviews, focus groups
  • Co-creation
  • Qualitative data analysis
  • Translation from findings to concrete requirements