Autism friendly playground

Every child has the right to play, as stated by the declaration of the United Nations in 1989, but is this also reality for autistic children? Playgrounds are often unfit to meet the needs and desires of autistic children, therefore excluding them not only from public spaces meant for everyone, but also from peer interaction. In this project, we identify the affordances of urban playgrounds in meeting these needs with autistic children, providing tools for designing autism friendly playgrounds. Schools and municipalities can thus create a safe and welcoming space to play and meet for all children, thus building public spaces where children can learn and appreciate diversity as a lived, positive, experience.

Funded by NWO, LDE Centre for BOLD Cities, and eScience center, our project on playgrounds for autistic children are multidisciplinary, promoting changes to school playgrounds and other play spaces in urban areas, to facilitate autistic children not only to play, have physical exercise, but also to interact with their autistic and allistic (non-autistic) peers. To this end, this project is a collaboration between psychology, psychiatry, architecture, computer science, and governance. See also our page on Inclusive School Environment.

A starting point for this project are best practices, as for example the Kanner school for autism in Oegstgeest is showing how green, designated areas, and even a garden where children can go when they need some time to calm down, seem to effectively promote social inclusion. The next step is now to measure the effects of these and other playground interventions, using sensor data (see our page on Sensor Technology).

See also here for recommendations for autism friendly outdoor play spaces from Middletown Centre for Autism (Ireland)

And here for a podcast interview with Dr. Helen Lynch on Universal Design and inclusive play.

People involved

Psychology - Carolien Rieffe, Jiayin Zhao, Yung Ting Tsou, Lia Rocha (Leiden University)

Psychomotor therapy - Guida Veiga (University of Evora)

Architecture - Alexander Koutamanis (TU Delft)

Urban planning / governance - Sarah Giest (Leiden University), Islam Bousguenda (University of Twente)

Interactive Design - Dennis Reidsma, Robby van Delden (University of Twente)

Computer Science - Mitra Baratchi, Maedeh Nasri (LIACSm Leiden University)

Involved organisations for autism - NVA, FANN, INTER-PSY

Key publications

  • Rieffe, C., & Koutamanis, A. (2023). Eenautisme-vriendelijke school; Architectuur als eerste stap. WetenschappelijkTijdschrift Autisme,22(4), 29-39.