Acoustics’ impact on autistic children focus of Ph.D. study

The impact of acoustics on autistic students’ learning is being studied by Shireen Kanakri, a Ph.D. architecture student at Texas A&M.

Planning and designing a classroom to address the auditory sensitivity of autistic students is critical, she said, but there has been surprisingly little architectural research in this area.

“I hope to provide greater guidance,” she said, “on which noises in the classroom should be addressed through the use of noise-reducing or noise-absorbing materials for ceilings, walls, and floor coverings, the selection of sound-deadening classroom furnishings and the spatial design of classrooms featuring partitions, transition spaces, and divided work areas to prevent reverberating sound."

Her study will include sounds from air conditioning, students in class and nearby classrooms and loud noises.

For approximately six weeks this summer, Kanakri has been in classrooms at three Houston schools for autistic children with a decibel meter, video recorder and a laptop computer collecting data for analysis and presentation.

In the study’s first phase, Kanakri will document the teachers’ responses regarding the most significant noise factors that affect the children’s behavior, the most common behaviors of the children when they have noise in their classroom environment, and teachers’ suggestions regarding improving the acoustical environment inside the children classrooms.

In the second phase of the study, she will will document specific behaviors using the video recorder and sound meter. These tools will allow for a comparison between environmental conditions and the behavior of the children when specific noise types occur.

Kanakri is performing the study with guidance from Mardelle Shepley, director of Texas A&M’s Center for Health Systems & Design, and Lou Tassinary, the College of Architecture’s associate dean for research.

posted July 31, 2012