Docklands Wonderland March 2021

Design for Neurodiversity and sensory spaces – online discussion group

Promoting inclusion for people with a diverse range of access needs, including sensory issues

The built environment can act as both a facilitator and barrier to participation, health and wellbeing. It can influence a person’s ability to live independently and participate meaningfully in daily life.

Most people who live with Neurodiversity (including Autism) have sensory processing difficulties. Negative responses to the sensory environment can reduce participation, activity, social interaction and engagement, and productivity. Over stimulation can cause exhaustion, stress, and lead to the person with neurodiversity choosing to leave the activity and / or location.

Architecture & Access recommends consultation with users and representative bodies for Autistic people and people with neurodiversity as part of the design process to ensure buildings and spaces will meet their needs. One way that Architecture & Access facilitates this process is through an online discussion group – Sensory Spaces & Chillout Zones Discussion Group. The knowledge we have gained informs our consultation on a wide range of projects.

Cathryn Grant, Senior Access Consultant, is a leader in access consulting. With her team, Cathryn works to ensure all building types are designed and constructed in line with the current Australian Standards and Acts; always considering the access needs of all users, particularly those with physical and sensory disability.

Ellen Naismith, Access Consultant, is highly accomplished in her field, with over a decade of experience working with councils and other non-government organisations. Ellen’s work is focused on promoting the inclusion of people with a diverse range of access needs, including sensory processing challenges.

Together, Cathryn and Ellen understood there was a need to bring interested people together to share learnings from people who live with Neurodiversity and those who support them, and as well as people who have designed and managed sensory spaces.

“Meeting bimonthly, initial invitations were sent to a list of people who we thought could offer insight and share experiences and expertise on the topic. The informal group is growing organically as others share the invitation with others, “explains Cathryn.

The group has heard from guest speakers, including artists, designers, and researchers all keen to share their knowledge and experience.

“Local Councils are keen to do more in this area for events and programs and within new buildings. They want to better understand how to incorporate spaces which cater for the sensory needs of people who live with neurodiversity”, explains Ellen Naismith.

Other member roles joining the discussion group include:

  • Community Infrastructure planners
  • Diversity and Inclusion Officers
  • Interior designers
  • Researchers
  • Architects
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Artistic Creators

Architecture & Access have been involved in four research projects with Deakin University in the design for Neurodiversity. One current research project aims to explore the user perspectives and the second will explore the perspective of the designer or manager of a sensory space. 

As part of this research and knowledge development into design of sensory spaces we invite you to complete the following evaluation survey. The survey closes early September and we would appreciate your feedback. Please click on the links to access the forms.

Industry evaluation of sensory rooms

How are sensory rooms in public buildings designed and managed, what are people’s opinions of these processes and how do they meet industry and community needs.

This project aims to explore stakeholder experiences and perceptions of designing and managing sensory rooms in public buildings.

User evaluation of sensory rooms

There is lack of research about who uses sensory rooms in public buildings, what people’s opinions of these spaces are and how they meet user needs.

This project aims to better understand which design features of sensory rooms are helpful to users.

Architecture & Access have created a ‘Recommendations for Designing for Autism and Neurodiversity’ guide. This exists to assist designers and project managers to improve access and inclusion for people with neurodiversity through the design of the built environment.

If you would like to access the guide, please contact Architecture & Access.

Architecture & Access


Level 5, 369 Royal Parade
Parkville VIC Australia 3052

T 1300 715 866


Bowman House, Level 4,
Suite 41B, 276 Edward Street
Brisbane QLD 4000 Australia

T 1300 715 866