Course Focuses On Interior Design For Those On The Spectrum
Tara Filegar begged to be in the first-ever Seminole State College class about interior design for people with autism.
The topic hits close to home for Filegar. Her 13-year-old son, Capers, has Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of the condition. “I’ve learned so much in this class,” she said. “It’s a totally different perspective.”
The class, a pilot the Sanford, Fla. college hopes to continue as a regular elective, was suggested by Bert Fonseca, an executive with the international development firm Skanska who serves on the college’s Construction Advisory Board.
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His two children, Danny, 15, and Isabel, 14, have autism. The class is working on plans to redesign the kitchen and living room of their family home.
To keep the children safe, the students in professor Kathryn Rivera’s class have been discussing options such as locks that require a fingerprint to open, as well as induction cooktops that do not heat up unless a pot is placed on top. Magnetic boards or a chalkboard wall would allow Isabel — who loves to plan parties — to make changeable lists.
Groups in the class are also considering an iPad station, a feature that could draw both children into the kitchen and help them communicate their wants and needs. Fonseca will consider all the proposals, taking elements to use in the redesign.
During a recent class, students Ledy Martinez-Loor and Corene Beehner pored over swatches of fabrics, wall tiles and flooring samples. They were looking for materials to dampen noises that might disturb the children, as well as tables and chairs that are easy to clean.
“These are pretty, but not practical at all,” Martinez-Loor said of one velvety fabric, putting the swatch aside.
She said she loves the concept of the class. “These are kids. They have special needs. You can completely change their life, because their house is their world.”
Fonseca said he wants his children to feel at home at the kitchen and to learn skills that they can use as adults.
“We wanted to provide a space where our children can learn to fend for themselves,” he said. That includes gathering and preparing a meal and cleaning up afterward.
A.J. Paron-Wildes, a Minnesota-based interior designer, has become an national expert on design for people with autism in the 16 years since her son was diagnosed with the disorder.
She said designers need to imagine how the person with autism will react with their senses.
“If that class can teach that ‘design empathy,’ it will make them a better designer,” she said.
That’s what the class aims to do.
“A lot of what we’re doing is research to figure out what might work for this family,” Rivera said.