Author: Shelly Dival

netherlands autism friendly

What I’ve learned from the Dutch

I spent 7 days in a basement apartment of a lovely couple’s home near Vondelpark in Amsterdam, with a yellow labrador sitting outside the door in the warm sun. Aside from getting used to the killer-cyclists, who stopped for no one but the tram, my stint in Amsterdam was a gorgeous experience I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

My contact in the Netherlands was Dr Flip Schrameijer, a social psychologist and founder of Architecture for Autism, a website which is dedicated to Autism-friendly built environments. With a background in the mental health sector, Flip is a researcher and author of multiple books within the healthcare sector. His interest in Autism evolved after writing some publications for a Dutch research centre, Dr Leo Kannerhuis, based around Autism.

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Inside L’éveil du Scarabée

Patterns and the natural environment

Throughout my research project, one trend that had been particularly strong is the impact the natural environment has on the design and conceptual centre of buildings and spaces for people on the Autism spectrum. When I say the ‘natural environment’, I refer to the colours, shapes, textures, lighting and patterns that all, in one way or another, can be found as an occurrence in nature.

A few weeks ago now, I got the opportunity to meet with Dr Ute Leonards, a researcher in the School of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol. One of the particularly interesting perspectives to come out of this meeting is the effects that patterns can have on a person and the way they can be settling or disruptive to a person, particularly if they’re vulnerable. This vulnerable group can include the elderly, the injured, the ill and those with a disability or medical condition, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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London Tower Bridge

A London mini-break

Dear Jacson,

London, London, what a beauty you truly are. After the frantic rush that has been my reality these last two months, boy was it nice to slow down for a minute! Having 10 whole days in one place doesn’t sound like much, but when you live out of a suitcase, let me tell you it is blissful and I enjoyed every morning I didn’t have to re-pack my stuff.

After meetings with two London-based contacts earlier in the week (more on that to come so keep an eye out on the Socials for more), Jaz and I relished the time to explore London-town. What a wonder to finally be there and see the places I’d always seen in movies and in art.

While we stayed in a gorgeous Airbnb in Chelsea, we got some well-needed rest days where the most we did was go to the Tesco around the block for more hummus and wine. Of course, there were also some incredible days being “those annoying tourists” too.

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Loch Earn in Scotland

A week in Scotland

The trip into Scotland was memorable for many reasons. The snow and sleet on the drive from Cambridge (it’s spring, right?), castles around every corner, the tartan (I have added to my wardrobe) and Scottish Autism.

During my time in Scotland, I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew Lester, the Architect responsible for designing one of the first schools specifically designed for children with an Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Andrew’s background is a personal one as his daughter has ASD and, by his own words, has had very challenging behaviour from a young age. His wife and he wondered where she would fit in and be able to learn, as the existing school system was not suitable for her.

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Specialist Area Autism Denmark

Dear Jacson,

I’ve just spent a week in Denmark and it wasn’t long enough!

Despite the peculiar beginning to the week (get caught up here), I’ve found the Danes to be extremely welcoming people. Every single person at Specialområde Autisme (or Specialist Area Autism) were very happy to show Jasmine and I several of the homes and services for people who are on the Autism disorder spectrum.

The communities around the city of Aarhus, where I was based for the week, cater for people of all ages, with a variety of care available depending on their individual needs. From those who are just old enough to leave home and want to start living independently, to those who need more one-on-one help every day, and also nannas and pops who have their own homes, but within a communal space that gives the citizens company and places to socialise, as well as professional help whenever they need it.

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