Specialist Area Autism Denmark
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.
Most of the homes are units or apartments, either within the main building that also has support services and staff or very close by. Some of the buildings have been refurbished or renovated from existing buildings while others have been newly designed and built. The new Seniors House in the town Hinnerup, for example, was designed specifically as a fully supportive residential home for the aging population of Denmark on the Autism disorder spectrum.
One particular style of housing which was very interesting is “At Home”. This home model has been specifically designed and built as small, individual houses that can be moved to different locations when required. They are modular in design and have a studio and one-bedroom model available currently. While the concept and the homes are quite new, the idea is that they could be moved to another site if the person was to move. As people on the spectrum often have heightened anxiety and difficulties with change, the familiarly of the space of their home can be transported to a different place to aid in the relocation process should a person need to move.
AT Home units are currently at various sites around Denmark however, the apartments we visited are in the town of Tørring. These AT Home apartments are located in a cluster on the grounds of a larger residential facility with apartments and support staff on hand. The idea behind these homes is to provide even more independence for each person, yet they are still close to help when it is needed. In this case, the assistance comes from the support staff in the central building however, it could easily be the parents of the AT Home resident if the unit were placed in their backyard. When we were visiting the Tørring community, a group of young people went grocery shopping together, along with a support person who drove them and was available to give support to anyone who needs it when shopping.
To compare it to Australia, Specialist Area Autism is a government department, and they are very progressive in their thinking. Led by their CEO Lars Aarup Jenson, who has a passion to explore and provide homes for people with autism that is built specifically for their needs, they continue to strive to learn from others and keep improving to provide the best services and housing possible.
They are a group of people who are eager to learn from the past and build upon previous projects to improve the facilities to suit the needs of the target group using them. No two residence or day facility is the same, though there are common themes across all that says a lot about the ethos and values the department stand by. Personal autonomy, independence and giving appropriate support to all are key themes in the department and are clearly echoed throughout all the sites we visited in Denmark.
It was an absolute pleasure to visit and I feel I’ve learned a lot about the possibilities of Autism-friendly design. The Danish perspective of design is quite unique compared to what I’ve seen before. Though there are similarities in the strategies used compared to other countries I’ve visited, the execution has a significantly different feel about it. Homey and minimalistic come to mind, with the ability to personalise the spaces the citizens live in to make it the ideal space for them.
I’m very eager to continue following the progress Specialist Area Autism make and am excited to keep learning from them. Thank you for hosting Jasmine and I over the course of our time there, it won’t be forgotten.