Designing For Neurodiverse Patients

By Anne DiNardo | April 5, 2023 | HCD Magazine

Based on different studies, between 15-20 percent of the population is considered neurodiverse—a term that describes the range of neurological differences that exist among people. These conditions include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and Tourette syndrome.

Looking at the pediatric population, specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network estimates that about 1 in 44 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

Designing inclusive healthcare settings

Fueled by both growing awareness and research, more healthcare organizations are looking for design solutions to address patients’ diverse needs—not just in facilities with specific services, such as an autism clinic, but also more general healthcare environments. (For more on this topic, read “Seattle Children’s Focuses On Neurodiverse Patient Needs At New Clinic,” which ran in Healthcare Design’s April 2023 issue.)

“The design of a more inclusive environment that better supports the entire population is just good design,” says Karen S. Freeman, principal and healthcare practice leader at HOK’s Atlanta office. “So it’s becoming a more prevalent topic than it ever has before.”

For example, Freeman says more pediatric clients are looking for design ideas that support patients with different neurological needs as well as their families.

“Being in a healthcare space can be a stressful environment for anyone, but in particular for the neurodiverse,” who can be over- or under-stimulated by factors such as lighting, sound, texture, and smells, she says.

Design considerations for neurodiverse patients

Design approaches that consider these experiential aspects of the environment and offer options and choice within the healthcare setting are some of the solutions she discusses with clients.

For example, providing a seating niche in a waiting room can provide the opportunity for someone to feel more enclosed and secure while waiting for their appointment.

Other ideas, such as temperature or lighting controls, allow users to adjust settings to their preferences.

“It’s about flexibility and choice and giving people autonomy over their environment, and the opportunity for dignity and effective management of their own needs,” she says.

About the author: Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Healthcare Design. 

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Written by Anne Holden