Landscape architect designs toolkit to make cities inclusive of adults with autism

May 01, 2014

MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University landscape architecture student Elizabeth Decker has a goal for her master's research: help professionals create urban environments that are inclusive of her younger brother, Marc.

Marc has autism and will soon reach adulthood. Decker, Lansing, who will graduate May 16 with a Master of Landscape Architecture degree, developed a toolkit for her master's research report that helps designers and planners make cities more inclusive for adults with autism.

When Marc becomes an adult, he likely will live semi-independently, Decker said. Her project, "A city for Marc: An inclusive urban design approach to planning for adults with autism," proposes knitting together urban opportunities such as public transportation and affordable housing.

"Through this project, I really want to understand my brother," Decker said. "I want to see him go out in the real world and be successful. This project was a way for me to research more about autism and learn more about people like my brother. It helped me figure out how we can design for a group of adults that is getting bigger."

One in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, Decker said. As the generation of diagnosed autistic children ages, it is important to find ways to help adults with autism.

The National Institutes of Health has identified six needs for adults with autism: vocational training, life skills, mental and physical health support, employment, public transportation and affordable housing. Decker's urban toolkit addresses these needs because many cities do not have adequate services for adults with autism.

"The focus of the project is inclusive urban design," said Katie Kingery-Page, who is Decker's adviser and an assistant professor of landscape architecture/regional & community planning. "Elizabeth's project is about connecting the dots. While many different aspects exist in an urban environment, she is looking at how future planning and design changes can help connect everything in a way that works and is inclusive of a particular group. We want to allow people to function fully in an inclusive environment."

For the project, Decker conducted a literature review and interviewed adults -- including an adult living with blindness, an adult living with autism and an adult living with Asperger's syndrome -- to better understand their needs in an urban environment. The adults stressed the urban needs for public transportation, training services and access to health support.

Decker used Nashville, Tennessee, as a test city for the urban toolkit. Nashville uses form-based zoning code, which focuses on buildings' physical form instead of only land use. The city also offers residential services, a strong job market and good transportation as well as the Vanderbilt-Kennedy Center, which offers adult services and vocational services, Decker said.

Although she looked at Nashville, many of Decker's suggestions can apply to cities across the country. Throughout her research, she saw opportunities with vacant lots or underused areas. For example, if a vacant lot was adjacent to a gym, Decker has suggested redeveloping the lot to address physical health needs of adults with autism.

Decker also has developed 3-D models of areas throughout the city. Her designs involve more affordable housing locations that connect with a proposed corridor of autism services. She has provided links to healthy food areas and has recommended placing vocational training facilities near civic or institutional programs. She proposes preserving and strengthening green space in downtown Nashville to offer areas for sensory relief from urban conditions.

Decker also has addressed employment for adults with autism and has marked job opportunities -- including craftworkers, service, professional, administrative work -- throughout the city.

"My project views cities from a larger perspective and demonstrates that cities lack connection of services for autism," Decker said. "It is not enough to view a city within a few blocks and suggest placing a building or park; without seeing the vision of an inclusive city as a whole, the design falls short of successfully connecting the needs of adults with autism. Though this project is not typical of landscape architecture, it portrays the discipline's range of scale and thinking, revealing the spectrum of what landscape architects can do."

"Elizabeth has been able to use a systems approach," Kingery-Page said. "She looked at a whole system of needs with this toolkit. It is important to think systematically to shape an urban environment."

Decker's master's report committee included Kingery-Page as chair; Marilyn Kaff, associate professor of special education, counseling and student affairs; and Jason Brody, assistant professor of landscape architecture/regional & community planning. Both Kingery-Page and Kaff are a part of an interdisciplinary autism research team at Kansas State University.
-end-
Decker plans to continue gathering feedback on the toolkit. Her toolkit can be accessed at http://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/handle/2097/17606.

Kansas State University

Related Autism Articles from Brightsurf:

Autism-cholesterol link
Study identifies genetic link between cholesterol alterations and autism.

National Autism Indicators Report: the connection between autism and financial hardship
A.J. Drexel Autism Institute released the 2020 National Autism Indicators Report highlighting the financial challenges facing households of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including higher levels of poverty, material hardship and medical expenses.

Autism risk estimated at 3 to 5% for children whose parents have a sibling with autism
Roughly 3 to 5% of children with an aunt or uncle with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can also be expected to have ASD, compared to about 1.5% of children in the general population, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Adulthood with autism
The independence that comes with growing up can be scary for any teenager, but for young adults with autism spectrum disorder and their caregivers, the transition from adolescence to adulthood can seem particularly daunting.

Brain protein mutation from child with autism causes autism-like behavioral change in mice
A de novo gene mutation that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of mice.

Autism and theory of mind
Theory of mind, or the ability to represent other people's minds as distinct from one's own, can be difficult for people with autism.

Potential biomarker for autism
A study of young children with autism spectrum disorder published in JNeurosci reveals altered brain waves compared to typically developing children during a motor control task.

Autism often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.

State laws requiring autism coverage by private insurers led to increases in autism care
A new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that the enactment of state laws mandating coverage of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was followed by sizable increases in insurer-covered ASD care and associated spending.

Autism's gender patterns
Having one child with autism is a well-known risk factor for having another one with the same disorder, but whether and how a sibling's gender influences this risk has remained largely unknown.

Read More: Autism News and Autism Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.