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Research Work

Adam Kant

Business Development Manager

Venture Capital Firm

Boston Society of Architects

BSA Foundation GRANTS


Awarded to Denise Arnold 2008





According to, a child is diagnosed with Autism every 20 minutes.  Yet, if you talk to an educator, school board, or school designer, little or no knowledge about how these children perceive space and how spatial design determines behavior is professed or included in programmatic requirements or school design attributes. The goal of this research was to share our first hand experience with children of special needs, identify the learning environments missing from our educational repertoire while documenting exemplary ones. 


Our method of research included first-hand interview and site visits to well-established integrated learning environments and schools which cater to children of special needs.  Our basic premise of “good” design was based upon our personal family experience with Floor Time trained occupational, speech and developmental play therapists treating children with ASD and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), and the author’s past advisory board status at CAST, the Center for Applied Science and Technology, which has pioneered research on Universal Design for Learning. 


Universal Design for Learning implies a design of instructional materials and activities that allows learning goals to be attainable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to see, hear, speak, move, read, write, understand English, attend, organize, engage, and remember. In terms of curriculum, such a flexible, yet challenging, curriculum gives teachers the ability to provide each student access to the subject area without having to adapt the curriculum repeatedly to meet special needs.


The Floor Time or DIR (Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based) approach provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and treating children challenged by autism spectrum and related disorders. It focuses on helping children master the building blocks of relating, communicating and thinking, rather than on symptoms alone.  Floor time, as described by Drs. Greenspan and Wieder, is intensive, one-on-one floor play. Dr. Greenspan identifies four goals of floor time:  (1) Encouraging attention and intimacy; (2) Two-way communication; (3) Encouraging the expression and use of feelings and ideas; and (4) Logical thought. 


Together, Floor Time and Universal Design create a learning environment that is flexible and integrative with a focus on social-emotional development between children with and without special needs.  In our opinion, this meets the intent of the IDEA legislation yet unrealized in almost every mainstream school setting.


After completing site visits and interviews, we established a check list that can be used by public and private school systems integrating ASD students with their typically developing peers. 


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New research will be published annually.

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