There are environments that cause true physical pain. To a human body that is easily stimulated and intensely oriented to it’s surroundings, even a moderate amount of noise, light, color, air movement, or visual distraction can be overwhelming and create a “BURDEN” on the senses that negatively impacts the nervous system. The results of an over-burdened nervous system can be observed as physical, behavioral, and emotional responses:
Think about walking from a dark room into an intensely bright, sunny day. Your first reaction may be to squint your eyes (physical), reach for your sunglasses (behavioral), and if you forgot them at home you may have an anxious thoughts, “This hurts my eyes, and there is nothing I can do about it until my eyes adjust (emotional).”
In a normal moment, for a healthy nervous system, these “BURDENS” on our senses are easily navigated and resolved in a day-to-day kind-of way. But for a special needs person, who does NOT have the skills or the ability to control their stimuli, or to communicate their needs effectively, it can be an overwhelming experience! The negative impact of this can be physical, behavioral, and emotional…or all of the above!
My understanding of environments that nurture and care for those with an overstimulated sensory experience is that it correlates to the kind of design normally implemented for patients in the hospital that are physically weak and recovering from serious medical interventions. Patient care rooms, recovery bays, and nurseries are designed to lighten the “BURDEN” or what I refer to as an added “LOAD” to our bodies. Soft lighting, low noise, muted colors, and warm blankets are just a few of the strategies used in healthcare design.
At EQ Studio Architecture, LLC, I work with family members, school faculty, and other entities that nurture people with special needs. Sensory processing disorder is a term that is evident in the Autism (ASD) community and there is so much to be done to create a caring environment for individuals that are diagnosed with the disorder. Translating these important design concepts from the healthcare world to the residential and educational world is the next step, and I can’t wait to see it as a standard practice in our special needs classrooms!