The Impact of Indoor Environment Quality on People on the Autism Spectrum
People on the autism spectrum are widely reported to have differences in how they process sensory information compared to people not on the autism spectrum (neurotypical). These differences in sensory processing are prevalent regardless of age or IQ level. All people are affected by the built environment, with indoor environment quality (IEQ) linked to comfort, productivity, health and wellbeing. However, there is little research about the direct impact of the built environment on autistic adults. This study investigates whether differences in sensory processing impact how autistic people experience the built environment, and whether there were patterns in the effects of different IEQ factors. Adults on the autism spectrum (n=83), neurotypical control adults (n=134), and adults with other conditions affecting sensory processing or who were closely related to someone on the autism spectrum (n=59) participated in an anonymous online survey. Participants were asked about their home and workplace, experiences of the general built environment, and general sensory sensitivity. Autistic participants, who reported significantly higher sensory processing scores than Control participants, consistently reported higher levels of discomfort in both their home and workplace environments, feeling more overwhelming, stressed, and distracted, and less safe than the Control group in both environments. Though shopping malls, supermarkets, other retail and medical buildings are all essential buildings that people need to frequent to meet material needs and stay healthy, they all caused greater discomfort and distress for Autistic participants, who also avoided them more often. The odds of an Autistic participant avoiding buildings was 8.8 times greater than the Control group. Higher discomfort and distress reported by Autistic participants in office buildings may affects the low employment rates in this population. People and People Noise were the IEQ factors that, across multiple environments, were rated as highest as a cause of discomfort and avoidance and had the largest difference between Autistic and Control participants, followed by Glare and Electric Light. Meanwhile, Temperature was rated equally highly by both groups, having a large effect but no difference between groups, with a similar trend seen in Air Quality and Air Movement. Autistic people already struggle with social isolation, early mortality, and low employment rates, which are likely compounded by greater sensory stress from the built environment. Further research into understanding the relationship between the effects of the indoor environment and the differences in sensory processing in people on the autism spectrum is essential to creating solutions for a more accessible built environment.