Mindful Design

Building sensory-savvy spaces with next-level technologies. 

This is hardly a news flash: people are different, and there are a variety of ways we each think, feel, and perceive our world. The more we study the brain, the more apparent it becomes that many of us don’t conform to so-called learning and social “norms.” There’s even a word for it today: neurodivergent, which is an umbrella term that includes autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s, as well as traumatic brain injuries and also a wide range of emotional, psychological, and developmental conditions from mild to severe.

According to the latest research, about 15 – 20% of us fall into this category, although you wouldn’t know it, as many have learned to adapt to fit in with our peers. That’s not always a good thing, though. It’s stressful, frankly, and it can really drain a person’s battery. It’s also socially isolating, to feel so out of step, to feel lost or intimidated in situations where others seem naturally at ease. What a difference it could make, if our buildings and public spaces helped us all feel welcome and secure.

To that end, Thomas Jefferson University’s East Falls campus recently hosted the 4th international summit, “Neurodiversity & the Built Environment,” a dynamic forum that explored how to create a more accommodating world for all kinds of minds. Worldwide experts discussed topics such as “Intentional Connections,” “Shifting Cultures,” and “Education as a Catalyst,” with colleagues, students, and community members. For the University’s president, Dr. Susan Aldridge, the event succeeded in showcasing a variety of disciplines and individual experiences that demonstrated “the power of collective learning.”

The symposium also introduced Jefferson’s new Honickman Center, a technology facility in center city that advances a new innovative, patient-centered healthcare model. Every detail in this 19-story building has been planned to create an optimal experience for all patients, from sunlit healing spaces to intuitive floorplans and convenient services – even the seating!

Jefferson’s Industrial Design students collaborated with the Jefferson Center for Autism and Neurodiversity to create sixty special calming chairs that accommodate neurodiverse and other anxious patients.

The chairs are partially enclosed with pleasing screens that reduce sensory input while still allowing for some interaction. “We want to create options for participation,” said Dr. Wendy Ross, an associate professor, “When we program for the most vulnerable of us, everybody benefits. Everybody deserves a chance to belong.”

Jefferson students also contributed to the Center’s numerous art installations aimed at creating a calming, peaceful environment. This creative element speaks to Jefferson’s integrative approach to educating future generations of designers, planners, and healthcare professionals.

“Our aim is to instill in our students the belief that our surroundings should honor neurodiversity,” said Dr. Barbara Klinkhammer, dean of the College of Architecture and the Built Environment, “By designing with inclusivity in mind, we can construct environments that empower and embrace each individual.”

Indeed, while neurodivergence certainly creates challenges, it’s important to remember that it’s also a naturally-occurring evolutionary adaptation that has likely helped our human species adapt from walking apes to intelligent beings capable of abstract reasoning and boundless creativity.

According to Harvard Business Journal, neurodivergent individuals often have a competitive edge when it comes to focus, concentration, complex mathematics, pattern recognition, and outside-the-box thinking. The better we can break down negative biases and accommodate for special needs, the greater good for all of us. 🧠🦄🫶

LEARN MORE about neurodivergence in the source links provided. Please leave your questions and comments below or email editor@nwlocalpaper.com for local contacts and resources in addition to these listed here:

 Jefferson Center for Autism and Neurodiversity
1084 E. Lancaster Ave, Units 101 & 104
Improving the lives of children, adolescents and adults with autism and neurodiversity through clinical practice, research, and community-oriented programming.

Honickman Center
1101 Chestnut Street
The Honickman Center merges individualized care with the latest design and technology. This cutting edge, one-stop technology facility offers specialized treatment centers for oncology, transplants, respiratory care, and more. With 300 exam rooms, ten operating rooms, on-site imaging, lab, and pharmacy, plus many other conveniences to create a new comprehensive healthcare model anchoring a $1 billion urban development project to transform East Market.

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