Lighting and neurodiversity: part 1.


Jonathan Rush, Director

What can designing lighting to support people with neurodiversity teach us about our general design practices?

As a person who designs the lighting within spaces that people live, work, learn, and relax in, I am somewhat embarrassed to acknowledge that until recently I knew very little about the lighting needs of people who are neurodivergent.

I knew the basics about overstimulation, distraction, avoiding strong contrast, glare, etc, but nothing concrete and very little that hits our design processes to make a substantive change. Recently I have taken a much keener interest and there are some interesting findings that may help our wider design processes if we were to follow them.

One interesting point is that the lighting needs and recommendation for those of differing neurotype often directly contradicts the established narratives.

For example, guidance for daylighting in schools (Designing schools for autistic pupils) suggests reducing views out of windows as they may be overstimulating, whilst thinking in the health and wellbeing sphere encourages views out of windows as they provide a connection to the outdoors and a useful distraction from screens.

But equally, under stimulation may be an issue for some people so a range of spaces, moods and lighting environments is preferred – or the ability to change the lighting environment to suit.

It is thought that more than 15% of people in the UK are neurodivergent. Add to this the percentage of those with visual impairments and other hidden disabilities, and when we follow standard lighting guidance, we are only designing for a percentage of people who use the spaces we design.

And whilst neurotypical people make up the majority, the 15% figure may not consider the vast range of human types that make up our population. There is no distinct line between a typical brain and an atypical brain when it comes to how we perceive space.

To me this shows what a rich tapestry of types we are and how we generalise far too much in our design discussions.

In part 2, I will be discussing the three lessons which can be used when designing for neurodiversity.