Text: Brianna McMenemy
Photos:Brianna McMenemy

05. Mar 2010

Light and autistic children
Designing the lit environment as a communication tool within the pervasive developmentally disordered population.

My research was the basis of information on which I would formulate my theories on how lighting can affect communication within the pervasive developmentally disabled population, which I then translated into design experiments in the second half of my graduate thesis development. In the quickly developing field of modern lighting design, design parameters and limits need to be discovered and set regarding the positive fostering of communication through design.

Autism is a multi-sensory-affected epidemic, and its treatments and causes are approached from a multi-sensory angle. Except in the case of lighting, where there is a notable disconnect in the study of lighting and its affect on autism and treatment. I argue that lighting design when applied to the learning environments of the autistic population can foster communication, promote learning and increase overall com-fort and well-being within the class-room environment. I studied the neurological affects of light on the autistic eye as well as the effects of light from a more psychological and behavioural vantage point that included classroom experimentation in sources, CRI, spectral distribution, daylight and positioning to formulate a set of parameters that begin to provide guidelines for intelligent design. I am developing a methodological system and approach to communication-intelligent lighting design within the school system with which I am advocating a design-based approach to communication intervention for the first time where such an approach or system does not currently exist. I initially hypothesized that warmer (lower) colour temperatures would have desirable effects on communication. After studying the possibility for the frequency of fluorescent lamp ballasts to interfere with brainwave frequencies, I shifted my study to include multiple lamp/source types. The paper, “Electroretinogram in Children: Normal values. Application in autistic syndrome”, provided information that reinforced one of my hypotheses. Based on my observations, I believed that the rod and cone distribution in the autistic eye differs from the distribution in the neurotypical eye. This discrepancy would mean that the autistic child would actually perceive light differently than the neurotypical person. Rod and cone distribution and placement would affect the way colour is perceived, as well as the way direct versus peripheral vision is favoured and perceived. This study was the first to actually perform a scan of the autistic eye in juxtaposition with the typical eye. Their findings aligned with my assertions –while the rods and scotopic vision develops normally, there is an anomaly in the cones (photopic vision) centred on a specific wavelength in the visible spectrum. […]
The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 70

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