Elise Tackx has been awarded the eighth Passwerk prize for 2020 for her master’s thesis “Student life on the autism spectrum: How the built and social environment affect the experience of living in a student accommodation”, which was guided by Research[x]Designers Ann Heylighen and Phuong Lan Nguyen.
Going to college is a critical transitional phase in becoming independent. Through shared living arrangements students learn to deal with challenges and develop important life skills. Students on the autism spectrum might experience challenges with shared living situations due to their difficulties with social interaction and differences in processing (sensory) information. Elise’s master’s thesis explores how the built student accommodation plays, or can play, a role in the lives of male/female autistic students, and how this relates to the social environment. Through a combination of semi-structured interviews with participative methods like photovoice and walk-along interviews, she captured the stories of three autistic students. A qualitative analysis and co-analysis (taking the initial findings back to the participants), resulted in four concepts that offer insight into their experience: independence, (not) feeling at home, shared versus individual space, and finding rest and avoiding stress. Related aspects, that affect their experience are linked to both the social environment and the built environment, and may be of value also for neurotypical students.
The jury praised the participatory nature of the research and Elise’s own outspoken input and creativity. The jury also appreciated the potential impact that the findings in this master’s thesis could have in practice in the medium term.