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Autism and gender: shifting the balance

Autism is a spectrum condition that affects people in different ways. The excellent Autistic Society website characterises the symptoms in five key domains:

  1. Challenges with social communication and interaction
  2. Repetitive and restrictive behaviour
  3. Over- or under-sensitivity to light, sound, taste or touch
  4. Highly focused interests or hobbies
  5. Extreme anxiety


An estimated one in 100 people in the UK experience some degree of autistic traits, with over four times as many boys as girls receiving a diagnosis – What is autism?

But research is challenging those averages with implications for the way we design our homes and offices. A recent large-scale study of ‘neurotypical’ students found that around one in three presented with some level of autistic traits, even though they had no formal diagnosis – Understanding the Reasons, Contexts and Costs of Camouflaging for Autistic Adults.
 Surprisingly, the male:female ratio of around 2.3:1, significantly more women than the classic models (4:1) or more recent work would predict (3:1).

The paper suggests the key to this under diagnosis may lie in the way men and women manifest those symptoms. Women tend to camouflage their differences, leading to a far higher risk of anxiety, depression, and stress – Similar overall expression, but different profiles, of autistic traits, sensory processing, and mental health between young adult males and femalesThe men tended to display higher levels of aloofness, systemizing (rule-based relationships and behaviours) and reduced sensitivity (or hyposensitivity). The women were more likely to adopt an empathising relationship style with greater hypersensitivity, and express higher intolerance of uncertainty, feeding back into that higher anxiety level.

But as Bouk de Vries points out, not everyone who is hypersensitive is also autistic – Autism and the Right to a Hypersensitivity-Friendly Workspace.

Between 5 and 16.5% of the general population experience some form of sensory processing disorder. For many, sensory overload can lead to complete shut-down and inability to function – Identification of Sensory Processing and Integration Symptom Clusters: A Preliminary Study.

For an employer, providing a space where your team can get on with the job is obviously worthwhile. This checklist for autism-friendly spaces is a great place to start –  Checklist for Autism-Friendly Environments (2016).

When it comes to the visual environment, low-noise and control are key:

  • Diffuse and low-glare
  • Control without flicker
  • Simple or low-contrast patterns in neutral tones
  • Blinds and sheer curtains


For De Vries, access to hypersensitivity-friendly offices, shops, schools and homes should not be a ‘nice to have’ but a basic human right that should be protected by law. The United Nations Charter for Disabled Persons and new Disability Inclusion Strategy support his view – Disability Inclusion Strategy.


Lightning tour of Light + Building Frankfurt – suggestions please!

– see more about the event here.

I’ve got just two days to cover a lot of ground. Planning to whizz through the main halls of course and take in the architecture tours.  I would love your thoughts on hidden gems I should see!


A great read – Vision Impairment: Science, art and lived experience

by Michael Crossland


This new open access book from UCL Press is a great read for anyone with an interest in inclusive design for a more productive, healthier and happier world. Michael combines personal stories and thought-provoking facts about barriers to access tor education and employment and the UN Charter on Human Rights – Disability Inclusion Strategy

Download it free: Vision Impairment: Science, Art and Lived Experience.

Bright lights and sensitive

Have you noticed how some people love bright lights while some wear dark glasses, even in winter, and hide from the sun?

The light level you prefer is unique to you. It depends on your culture, age – and even gender- women are more likely to be hypersensitive than men, especially through the menopause.

A task light is the easiest and most efficient way to boost the brightness if you need more light to see – brighter light can boost reading speed, especially in older adults – New insights into visually impaired patients’ preferred reading illumination and home-based reading speed with new task-lightingThe Effect of Illumination on Positive Fusional Vergenceand help you cope with smaller lettering too – Illumination and reading performance in age‐related macular degeneration.

But how do you know how bright a lightbulb will be?

The number on the box is in lumens – that’s how much brightness comes out.

A super bright one will be 3,000 lumens or more soft one will be maybe 300 or less

But a more useful measure is how much light reaches your eye and that’s measured in Lux

so the further away you are from a light source, the lower Lux you will get

But what really counts is how bright and comfortable it feels for whatever you’re trying to do

That depends on the balance of brightness in the space

Even a dim light in a dark room will feel pretty bright, especially if it’s coming out of a focused

beam or source.

Perceived brightness depends on the colour temperature too, so we tend to see a cooler or bluer light as brighter than a yellow or warmer light

The right brightness depends on your own unique eye and brain.

Older eyes need much more light than younger ones

Migraine, stress insomnia, medication will make some people incredibly sensitive to any light at all

So how do you know which light bulb to buy?

The lights you buy today will be in your home for the next five years 10 years and certainly longer than that in landfill.

So it’s worth investing – buy a selection of light levels or lumen outputs and beam angles and colour temperatures and just try them out to see how they feel ask others what works for them too

Just as you would a carpet tile or a paint swatch.

It’s really worth shopping around to get it right!

Get in touch!