Six Feelings Framework for Autism

A sense of belonging is an aspect of universal design not often discussed. However, when it comes to including people with autism in plans and designs, it’s a very important element. But what’s the best way to include people with autism/autistic people in the planning process? An article in the American Planning Association magazine provides some answers based on the Six Feelings Framework   

When Every Day Is Sensory Overload

Six Feelings Framework

1. Feel connected – because they are easily reached, entered, and/or lead to destinations.
2. Feel free – because they offer relative autonomy and the desired spectrum of independence.
3. Feel clear – because they make sense and do not confuse.
4. Feel private – because they offer boundaries and provides retreat.
5. Feel safe – because they diminish the risk of being injured.
6. Feel calm – because they mitigate physical sensory issues associated with autism.

The  Autism Planning Design Guidelines covers urban design, retail, parks, campuses and more. It’s by the American Planning Association and it’s got everything in detail. There’s a webinar on the topic too (see below). The guide is underpinned with the Six Feelings Framework.   

The guide is based on extensive research and it is recommended that:

    • City and regional planners activity accommodates people with autism in their public involvement process.
    • City and regional planners implement autism standards building on this 1.0 attempt into their zoning and design guidelines, and consider policy changes.
    • Professionals in affiliated fields who have concern over the public realm test, retest, and improve the ideas in this toolkit.
    • Civil engineers retrofit infrastructure around the Six Feelings Framework.
    • Real estate developers who are designing master planned communities consider the Six Feelings Framework in their plans. 
  • Planning with people with autism

An American Planning Association magazine has an article about planning with people with autism/autistic people. The first part of the article describes some of the everyday things that can cause anxiety. For example waiting for a bus that doesn’t arrive on time, or two come at once. This can result in confusion followed by poor decision-making for a short time afterwards.

The article tells the story of a group of planners, researchers and community stakeholders working with people with autism/autistic people. People on the autism spectrum aren’t all alike so the group had to find a way to include as many people as possible.

Preparing and facilitating the event

The first step is to think carefully about how to facilitate more inclusive public meetings and workshops and hear the voices of this overlooked group. Many people with autism process information differently to the neurotypical population and have different ways of expressing their thoughts. 

Large public events can be loud, distracting with overlapping conversation and too many ideas to take in at once. Smaller focus groups are a better way to go with. The key points in the American Planning Association article, When Every Day is Sensory Overload are:


    • Learn about autism – ask professionals in the field
    • Choose the right venue – no flickering lights or unusual colour
    • Familiarise participants with the space before the event – photos, floor plans, directions, quiet spaces
    • Establish quiet rooms – signage to quiet rooms from the main meeting place

At the meeting

    • Keep visuals ready – photos help focus participants
    • Encourage a range of sharing methods – let participants share they ideas in their own way

After the meeting

It is likely that some participants won’t be able to participate as much as they would like. Or they might come up with ideas after the event. Participants should be encouraged to connect with facilitators by email.

The article concludes with the Six Feelings Framework and a link to the Autism Planning and Design Guidelines from the American Planning Association. Or you can link to a copy from the Ohio State University. There is also a webinar on the guidelines.

There are more articles on designing with autism in mind on this website. Use the search facility on the left hand menu.

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