The role of the built environment in (un)supportive working conditions: Learning from experiences on the autism spectrum

Finding and keeping a job is difficult for adults on the autism spectrum. Rather than a lack of skills, these difficulties are indicated as employee-workplace misalignment due to factors such as daily work routines and interpersonal communication. Yet, how the built work environment supports or hinders autistic employees is rarely considered.
This project investigates the role of the built work environment in how autistic people experience and manage their working conditions. The project will offer in-depth insights into (1) how the spatial aspects—i.e., spatial design, sensory qualities, socio-spatial factors—affect autistic people’s work activities and social interactions, (2) how autistic people manage their working conditions through everyday design practices, and (3) how the insights gained can inform design and/or adjustments in the workplace.
Autistic people are involved in different phases—from research set-up to quality assurance. Besides their first-person perspective, the project will involve perspectives from co-workers, managers/employers and (job) coaches. It will combine interviews, participant-made drawings, photos, videos, and observations in their workplace. Resulting knowledge will help elucidate how design of the built environment for diverse users can improve (socio-)spatial aspects and sensory qualities for all—within and beyond the workplace context, while providing a methodological contribution to future research on autism and workplace design.

This research is conducted by Phuong Lan Nguyen, supervised by Ann Heylighen and co-supervised by Andrea Jelić, and supported by a postdoctoral research fellowship of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO).

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