Exploring the impact of the design of the physical classroom environment on young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Caren S. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a 1600% increase in the number of individuals between the ages of 6 and 22 years with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Knowledge about educational interventions for children with ASD is substantial; however, less is known about the design of supportive classroom environments where they learn. ASD experts believe that the early years in school, namely preschool through 6th grade, are critical in reaching children and establishing a foundation for their life-long learning and general well-being. In context of the human ecosystem theory that models the interaction between people and the natural, social and designed environments, this literature review of refereed sources (2000–2012) documented findings about interventions, that is, design criteria (DC) for incorporation into the physical classroom environment used by children with ASD. The majority of the studies was exploratory and presented DC that subsequently were not tested. Due to research method and/or sampling design, efficacy, reliability and validity of findings varied. Limited research (19 articles, 1 conference proceeding) addressing classroom DC leaves designers, teachers and school administrators substantially reliant on anecdotal information in terms of creating optimal learning environments to support inclusion of children with ASD. Additional research is needed to examine this critical design/human behaviour relationship via identification of evidence-based DC to guide classroom design solutions that support learning by children with ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)280-298
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Research in Special Educational Needs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • classroom design
  • design criteria
  • human ecosystem model
  • sensory responses


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