Designing for children with autism

Last year we completed the Children’s Neurosciences Centre at St Thomas’ Hospital.   This multi-million pound clinic facility was built for the assessment of children and young adults diagnosed with a wide range of severe behaviour problems: some subdued; some highly intelligent; some severely disabled and others requiring speech and other therapies.  The clinic facilities include assessment and observation rooms with live-feed monitoring systems, medical examination rooms and specialist therapy rooms.  There is also an independent, self-contained sleep assessment clinic, aptly named the “Sleep-over Hotel”.  There are extensive support facilities for the staff which include state-of-the-art conference suite, training rooms, meeting rooms and offices.

The facility was officially opened by Rt Hon John Bercow MP (Speaker of the House of Commons) and Patricia Moberly (former Chairman of Guy’s and St Thomas’). Mr Bercow’s son had been a patient at the centre, and said that the new facility “respected” autistic children like no other facility.  He went on to say, “My son was treated by Professor Gillian Baird in the old unit at Guy’s Hospital, so I see first hand the difference it makes.”

Gillian Baird (OBE), Professor of Paediatric Neurodisability, also paid tribute to the people present who had been key to the success of the project.  “Staff and designers worked with patients, families and experts to create the perfect environment for the children, many of whom have autism spectrum disorders or physical disabilities.”
Patient sensitivity…
Former and existing patients were also present at the opening, some of whom had been consulted by our design team at several stages of the design process.  The feedback they provided at key stages in the design development was particularly valuable as research in the field formed an essential part of our design […]

Working in Healthcare

The Patient Path often begins by referral from a specialist or unexpected accident or emergency. The patient will usually arrive with preconceptions and fears, so first impressions should ideally be welcoming and calming, whilst giving security, trust and reassurance in the quality of care provided by the hospital.

Transitional spaces such as corridors, waiting areas, play areas, reception areas and external spaces can have uses beyond their primary function, in that the space can be used to influence the mood of the patient or visitor immediately before or after they enter the treatment zone. Therefore, when designing these environments we have to first understand the spectrum of users passing through the space, so that we can create an environment that is tailored to their likely emotional or psychological state.

The stage of observation, investigation and diagnosis is vital in order to arrive at the appropriate course of treatment and programme of care. Information gathering, tests and scans can be intrusive, painful and frightening because of the physical process, followed by the anxiety of waiting for results.

The form, internal arrangement and construction of the space will primarily reflect the functions and equipment used, whilst consideration also needs to be given to combating the potential stress and anxiety in the patient.

Day-patients will receive direct care in the Consulting, Treatment and Minor Ops Rooms. Inpatients and some emergency patients would be moved to a ward to await or monitor their treatment or to recover from an operation.

The design and arrangement of each ward will vary considerably for patients; for example some will need isolation for infectious diseases, or shared wards for easier monitoring of patients recovering from surgery. Over the years wards have changed in size and gender allocation, […]