Finding A Way: Aids To Support Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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Finding A Way: Aids To Support Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder affecting around 1:68 children. Among other characteristics, children with ASD can be unduly sensitive to the elements in the environment, such as noise or light. Those affected have also described childhood difficulties finding their way around school. Despite the increasing numbers of children diagnosed with ASD, to date there has been little evidence-based research investigating how the environment affects them. The purpose of this exploratory experimental study was to determine whether wayfinding aids, (colored doors, colored shapes on the floor, and signage), applied in an elementary school corridor could help children with ASD find their way to a given destination with minimal assistance. This could improve their wayfinding skills and promote independence. Person-environment Fit Theory guided the research. This states that if a person is well-matched to their environment it can have a positive effect on them. A convenience sample of participants with ASD aged 8-11 (n=9) were randomly assigned to control or treatment groups. A study route was set up along part of the school corridor unfamiliar to participants. Each participant was given wayfinding instruction and shown the way to a destination before being asked to find the way on his/her own. Participants in the control group used existing cues in the environment. Participants in the treatment group used wayfinding aids applied along the route. A mixed methods approach to data collection included observation, behavioral mapping, and a post-study interview/questionnaire to find out what participants felt about their wayfinding experience and what they remembered about the route. The study found that all participants were able to find their way to the destination. This suggests that wayfinding could be used as an educational intervention to teach children with ASD how to find their way around school. Participants in the treatment group remembered more colors, shapes, and signs along the route compared to the control group. Some participants demonstrated a hypersensitivity to the environment, adversely affected by noise, light, and smell. Some participants demonstrated Weak Central Coherence, focusing on small details to help them find their way around rather than perceiving the larger environment. With further testing, it may be possible for clinicians who treat children with ASD to use wayfinding as a diagnostic tool to help them find out how children with ASD perceive their environment and what they are sensitive to in it. This is believed to be the first research study to test children with ASD in wayfinding. By documenting an evidence-based research process with children with ASD as participants, this study could act as a model for other designers and researchers to follow. It could also be replicated to determine whether the results are applicable to wayfinding in other school corridors, or other environments, used by children with ASD.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2017. Major: Design. Advisor: Barbara Martinson. 1 computer file (PDF); xviii, 337 pages.

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WILLIAMS, JULIE. (2017). Finding A Way: Aids To Support Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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