Principles of Sensory Environments

“I always envisage it is a big spider web of things that might affect me in a sensory environment, and I want to say to people, it’s about actually looking at all those little things that build up…”

Member of the Focus group

In 2021 we ran a series of seven focus groups to learn more about public spaces that can be more difficult sensory environments as well as learning more about what makes those spaces more challenging and/or less accessible for autistic people. Learn more about each of the challenging locations that we discussed in our focus groups such as supermarkets and public transport.

To analyse the data we used thematic analysis, which helped us to develop a series of 6 main themes and 15 subthemes that reflect the patterns we found in our data. Once we had created our initial ideas, we then hosted a feedback group for autistic people to further refine our ideas.

With the support of @21andsensory we designed a sensory web (also known as a radar chart, spider graph, or star plot) of the different principles that make environments more or less challenging. The outer edge of the web represents the more disabling end of the scale, whereas closer to the centre of the web represents the more enabling side.

circle split into six sections each in cool yellow and blue tones. Each section has a different title: sensoryscape, space, predictability, understanding, adjustments and recovery.

People identified that different factors often overlap with one another which can make an environment more challenging. For each individual these factors may overlap in different ways to different extents. This means that each person’s perspective of a public place may be similar but each will be slightly different depending on their own needs, interests and experiences. A person’s perspective on a place may also change over time.

We identified 6 different main themes, which were: sensoryscape, space, predictability, adjustments understanding and recovery. Each of these themes contains up to three subthemes. To learn more about each of these themes/subthemes, including questions to help businesses start to think about how they could better support autistic people in their spaces, click on the images below or find them in the ‘our findings’ tab.

We also explored whether these themes were also identified through questions on our social media channels. Learn more on our page comparing each of the themes identified on social media and in the focus groups.

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