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Learn about ongoing research into autism-friendly initiatives

Here you can learn about research initiatives by both Aspect and other researchers into ways to make society more accesible to autism. At Aspect, all of this research feeds into the work we do to make Australia autism-friendly.
Image from GCA Domestic Departures Visual Story

Aspect’s Autism Friendly team welcomes open-access practical research like “Air travel experiences of autistic children/young people” that focusses on quality of life outcomes. This is the sort of research that shapes practice that makes lives better.

The authors make a strong case for travel and tourism contributing to a person and family’s quality of life as well as creating opportunities for new learning as people see different places, people and cultures. The authors also commented that autism friendly initiatives might give airlines, travel companies and destinations a competitive advantage.

The study used an on-line survey to review both barriers and enablers to airplane travel from the perspective of parents travelling with Autistic children. It was shame that the perspective of Autistic adults were not included. It is unclear whether the research was co-produced with Autistic researchers.

The study revealed a long list of 45 travel stressors including unpredictability, change, waiting, crowds, sensory (such as loud announcements) in typical travel situations such as checking in, getting through security, pre-boarding and the flight itself. These stressors are not surprising but it is helpful to list air travel specific stressors such as temporarily parting with possessions in security or limits to movement on the plane to help develop specific accommodations. Stressors, unfortunately, also included negative interactions with other people (staff and passengers).

Parents listed a number of enablers such as ‘special flyer’ identification (such as the Sunflower Scheme), requesting special assistance in advance, fast track and special boarding, increased predictability (with strategies such as visual stories), bringing devices or preferred food / drink and sensory supports including noise cancelling headphones.

This research supports the social model of disability in highlighting the many barriers in the travel environment. The study found that 74% of parents who had travelled reported that their child had at least one meltdown in their journey.

This research supports Aspect’s autism friendly framework for airports and our work with Gold Coast, Sydney and other airports and the Australian Airport Association. We would appreciate the opportunity to work with more airlines to implement additional accommodations in flight.

Paper: Holloway, C.A., Munro, N., Jackson, J., Phillips, S. & Ropar, D. (2020). Exploring the autistic and police perspectives of the custody process through a participative walkthrough. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 97

Open access here:

This paper explores autistic and police perspectives of the custody process using a ‘participative walkthrough’.

A walkthrough involves one or more autistic people walking through an environment whilst it is being used on a typical day. The autistic participant describes moment to moment challenges and stressors and these are logged by a walkthrough partner. The walkthrough partner observes and captures information, sometimes using a map of the site.

The authors describe the ‘go along’ technique as “typically used by researchers to learn more about a neighbourhood or place or experimentally, to explore new and unfamiliar situations”. It combines qualitative research methods that are more detailed and accurate than general surveys not conducted in situ or those that do not use walkthrough partners.

The researchers found helpful information about the importance of predictability to improve familiarity, the impact of the size of the space, sensory issues, communication challenges, a need for staff training to improve support. All of these issues can lead directly to immediate improvements in the process both for staff on site as well as longer-term changes to policy and practice.

One example: Not knowing what was going to happen was a key source of anxiety. One participant emphasised that it helped when the officers provided a context for what was happening by explaining what they were going to do and why they had to do each thing.

Aspect uses the walkthrough technique in all autism-friendly consultancies, whether airport, museum or outdoor opera and we understand the value for customers in providing a rich source of practical information.

For all children, participation and inclusion in community activities and in physical activity has many benefits. However, in general, children on the autism spectrum are less physically active and have lower rates of community participation compared to non-autistic children. Being ‘different’ can lead to children on the autism spectrum and their families being left out of mainstream community-based physical activity programs, such as sporting clubs.
In Australia, one very popular community-based weekly physical activity program is Nippers, which is provided each summer by surf lifesaving clubs at beaches across Australia. In 2017 Aspect Practice received funding to provide a program of support to surf lifesaving clubs in New South Wales and Queensland so that they could run Nippers sessions during the 2017-2018 summer that were adapted to be inclusive of children on the autism spectrum. This was called the Inclusive Beaches project.

What would an adapted program of Nippers need to provide so that children on the autism spectrum and their families could take part, feel included and have a good time? What support would clubs need?

Learn more here

Treetop School

Why this research?

Over the last 20 years, governments and organisations have developed standards and practices to make environments more physically accessible for a range of disabilities. However, whereas we know the turning circle of a wheelchair, there is no universally agreed approach for autism friendly design, and often little research, evidence or consensus that includes meaningful autistic input.

As each Autistic person experiences the world in a individual way, it can also be difficult to develop a set of consistent practices that meets everyone’s needs. There is increasing recognition of the need to make built environments more accommodating for neurodivergent populations, including autistic individuals, and that this design also benefits other people too.

The research

Considerations of the built environment for autistic individuals: A review of the literature

This paper aimed to synthesise existing literature on the experience of the internal built environment for Autistic individuals. Additionally, it makes recommendations to inform future research for the development of future Autism-Friendly building standards.

The review highlights that no two autistic people are the same and therefore have unique needs when interacting with their environment which can vary from moment to moment. A key recommendation from this research is that the built environment must be designed for flexibility to allow the user to adapt and create their own environment.

The paper discusses in detail the following built environment considerations:

  • Design and construction
    (Layout, walls, building material, ceilings, entrances, orientation, windows)
  • Lighting
  • Sound
  • Aesthetics
  • Clutter
  • Texture
  • Indoor air quality and temperature

Recommendations for further research:

  • A significant portion of included studies did not include the first-hand experiences of autistic individuals, rather they sought the opinions and experiences of other individuals, such as caregivers or clinicians, making it difficult to ascertain the accuracy of these accounts

Aspect Autism Friendly designs and delivers services as a partnership between Autistic consultants and non-autistic staff.

  • A key aim of the paper is to provide recommendations for designers, policymakers and clinicians.

Aspect’s Autism Friendly team has developed our own Built Environment Design Guidelines informed by research, our Autism Friendly Framework, our work with organisations and Autistic partnership.

Click here to find out more about the Aspect Autism Friendly team

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