A comparative analysis of transatlantic design interventions for therapeutically enhanced learning environments - Texas vs West Midlands

Ghasson Shabha, Kristi Gaines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the findings of the empirical studies that were conducted in both the UK and the USA on the impact of a few sensory environmental stimuli, mainly visual and acoustical stimuli, on individual's behaviour in school buildings. Design/methodology/approach: An analysis of teaching layouts and the sequence of activities in selected school buildings was conducted. Opinions of focus groups including teachers and carers working with individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), were initially explored to assess the extent of the sensory problems associated with the existing teaching settings and to highlight any operational design limitations and constraints. A questionnaire was formulated based on the feedback gleaned from the focus groups. Relevant perceptual information about behavioural reactions to varying sensory stimuli was compiled. Key sensory triggers were identified. Visual information of selected schools including photos and visual diagrams of ASD workstations were compiled, annotated and analysed for further examination. Findings: Several sensory parameters were observed in the teaching environment including bright colours and light, pattern, glare, echoing, sudden and impact sound, high and low pitch sound and background noise levels. Some variations between the two studies exist regarding particular sensory triggers and their importance as perceived by respondents. These can be directly attributed to differences in school design layout, internal finishing and workstation configuration. Other extraneous factors including the size of the study sample, location of schools and climatic factors are also implicated; however, significantly consistent adverse effects on individuals' behaviour have been identified in both studies. Originality/value: This paper highlights issues for open discussion amongst decision makers and built environment professionals to enhance the quality of life of the affected groups. This is particularly important given the extent of the sensory processing problems of individuals with ASD in both the UK and the USA. The findings will be relevant at strategic, tactical and operational levels including, inter alia, federal government agencies and decision-making bodies. Professionals involved in the process of planning, design and management of school buildings in both the UK and our sister country the US may benefit. The operational efficiency of education facilities may be maximised through control of the design and construction of school buildings. By further reducing the undesirable consequences of sensory triggers in educational facilities, the quality of life of the affected individuals may be improved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)634-658
Number of pages25
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2013


  • Glare
  • Lower sound frequencies
  • School buildings
  • Sensory perceptual problems
  • US public schools
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America


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