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Ideas / Research & Design / 11.21.2023

Responsive Design for Neurodiverse Students

The café at Silverstein Hall at Denison University provides indoor/outdoor space that opens up...

How can the design of higher education environments be more responsive to the needs of neurodivergent students? That’s the question at the heart of “Responsive Design,” an article recently co-authored by Principal Shannon Dowling and James Baumann, editor of Talking Stick Magazine.

In their article, Shannon and James share design advice and strategies gleaned from multiple experts about how to create learning environments that will help all students thrive, providing special consideration for those who are neurodivergent. They write:

“Research has shown that neurodivergent students report a lower sense of belonging and are less likely to feel welcomed, accepted, and like they belong on campus than their neurotypical peers. In addition, much of the effort toward increasing retention and success for these students has focused on accommodations for the classroom even though students typically spend fewer than 20 hours a week in a classroom or instructional space. That means that the majority of their time on campus is spent outside of formal instructional environments.

“Considering these factors collectively, a host of barriers to participation and belonging can remain across a college or university. While there are a number of campus offices and departments that might address different aspects of these concerns independently, the most successful results occur when these groups—along with outside contractors such as design partners—work in strategic symphony.”

Instead of approaching inclusive design through the lens of accommodations or temporary adjustments, Shannon and James write, “A more productive and inclusive conversation considers planning permanence within the physical environment and solutions that embrace a broad spectrum of people and their needs.”

This article was a collaboration between the Association of College & University Housing Officers – International and the Society for College and University Planning. It can be read in both Talking Stick Magazine and Planning for Higher Education Journal.  

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