Student’s Master’s Research Focuses on Developing an Environment for Autism Patients

First Posted: May 01, 2014 01:56 PM EDT

Elizabeth Decker is graduating this month with a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from Kansas State University. Her master's research report focuses on incorporating those with autism into a more inclusive environment.

Decker's younger brother, Marc, is autistic. The autism rate among children is becoming greater and greater; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that 1 in every 68 children are autistic. This number is up from 1 in 88 children based just two years earlier.

Because of her brother's condition, Elizabeth decided to use her expertise to help others. She developed a toolkit as a part of her research project to help designers and planners make cities more inclusive for adults with autism. An autistic-friendly environment might be essential for cities moving forward especially since SAP - the giant German software company - recently expressed their interest in obtaining more autistic employees.

"By concentrating on the abilities that every talent brings to the table, we can redefine the way we manage diverse talents," said SAP executive board member Luisa Delgado, in this ABC News article. "Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st century."

Their eventual goal is to have one percent of their workforce consist of autistic employees. And where are a majority of software and tech companies? Urban areas: San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Nashville, New York, as well as many others across the globe. Decker's toolkit focuses on inclusive urban design for future planning. Autism is a lifelong disorder that affects people into their adulthood, and a different environment can help those who suffer from ASD.

Decker's study, "A city for Marc: An inclusive urban design approach to planning for adults with autism," developed 3-D models to help designers visualize her proposal. She created a greater network of interconnectivity, linking affordable housing locations with autism service centers as well as different forms of public transportation. Using Nashville, Tennessee as a base for her model, she identified underused or vacant areas that could be utilized to help adults with autism.

Elizabeth hopes her toolkit can be further developed to envision an inclusive city as a whole so designers and decision-makers can more clearly see her view. 

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