Empathetic Design: How Elementary School Environments Designed to Reduce Stress can Foster Inclusion of High Functioning Autistic Children

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Virginia Tech

All people experience stress in their environments. The specific causes of stress vary from person to person as does one's ability to cope with each stressor. This thesis introduces the concept of Empathetic Design, a design strategy possible only when empathy for the inhabitant is achieved by the designer. An Empathetic Designer is able to identify environmental stressors and can employ appropriate design strategies that reduce stress. Though this strategy is meant to be applicable for all people in all environments, the scope of this thesis focuses on the design of elementary school environments. Specifically, the scope is limited to how Empathetic Design can reduce stress and foster the inclusion of high functioning autistic children in a mainstream educational environment. This thesis combines current learning theory and autism research with a visual exploration of building types from six periods of American school design. The hope is to create Empathetic Designers who will inform design of future elementary school facilities.

Mainstream Educational Environment, Elementary School Design, Reduce Stress, High Functioning Autism, Empathetic Design