Leeds School of Arts

Tutor's neurodiversity research incorporated into publication

Joan Love, Senior Lecturer on the BA (Hons) Interior Architecture and Design course, has had her work included in the first standard on how to create a sensory inclusive environment ‘Design for the mind - neurodiversity and the built environment – Guide’ published by BSI (The British Standards Institution).

An autism-friendly living room with space for pacing and a sensory wall

Joan’s expertise is in the advancement of autism-friendly design assisting future professionals to shape responsive enabling environments. In a world which is designed for neuro-typical people, Joan’s autism-friendly design research helps to provide a voice for some autistic people, whose needs are often misunderstood and overlooked.

"The guide comprehensively tackles challenges relating to built environment design and neurodiversity and is the only guidance of its type supplying authoritative guidance, with input from world leading experts and those who experience neurodiverse conditions." (BSI, 2022)

Yearly, between 2013-2022, a part-live design project has been embedded into the BA (Hons) Interior Architecture and Design course. This includes working with autistic children and adults, as well as case study visits to nine local special educational needs and difficulties schools, colleges and residential environments in North, East and West Yorkshire. 

Sensory and behavioural issues have been identified within these environments which has created a series of design problems for the students to incorporate into their autism-friendly design projects. 


An autism-friendly living room with space for pacing and a sensory wall

A clear zone to pace up and down in a living room incorporating a sensory wall made up of small textured canvases.

Design courses already readily embed the teaching of design for physical disabilities, such as wheelchair access requirements. Rarely though, do they teach design related to the growing populations of those with sensory or neurological processing differences, including neurodivergent, neurodegenerative and hypersensitive.

On completion of each project, autism experts provide feedback to the students and in response the design brief has shifted and deepened. Joan’s autism specific research papers have recorded the findings and interpretations of these projects and resulted in the innovative creation of ‘Ten Novel Sensory Living Themes’. 

Joan said: ‘I am delighted that a selection of these themes have been incorporated into the ‘Design for the Mind - Guide’. The future hope is for some of these autism-friendly design suggestions to be built and tested and further developed in response to the wide variety of autistic people’s sensory needs.’ 


For further insight into Joan’s research, please read:

1. The Conversation article: “How to create better homes for autistic people with significant additional needs

2. PAS 6463:2022: Design for the mind – neurodiversity and the built environment – Guide, The British Standards Institution. Published 31 Oct 2022

3. ‘Design for the mind - Guide’ is referenced in The UK Parliament’s Adult Social Care Committee’s report: A “gloriously ordinary life”: Spotlight on adult social care, Published 08 Dec 2022. See Chapter 6, The importance of accessible and inclusive housing

Joan Love

Senior Lecturer / Leeds School Of Arts

Joan Love is a senior lecturer and an artist who has experience of interior design in architectural practice. Her research explores autism-friendly design containing a special interest in spatial transitioning environments.

More from the blog

All blogs