I am a strong believer in the ways in which environmental cues influence thoughts and behaviors - especially in individuals with sensory integration issues. Though the 'psychology of color' is often downplayed in scientific literature - anecdotally speaking, I have found that my students often performed better in both individual and group tasks when distracting colors were removed or dulled in their surroundings.
Between the flickering of CRT computer monitors and florescent lights, and ridiculously bright (read: cheap) primary-colored paint splattered against the walls, it's no wonder our students have difficulty concentrating - even as a person with very mild sensory issues, I am often very negatively affected by distracting environmental influences. Something as small as a loudly-ticking clock is enough to distract me from even the most important task.
I have had the uncanny ability to find and work in centers that were just opening for business, transferring to new buildings, or simply had not been appropriately educated in the set up spaces for children with special needs. As a former teacher and behavioral interventionist - I can attest to the ways in which simple design changes can positively or negatively affect change almost instantaneously...because we are often improving classroom structure on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis throughout the entire school year.
It seems as though many who are 'in-charge' of these design decisions have little-to-no understanding of color theory, how it can affect moods/behavior (you would not believe how many times I've had to teach in neon-yellow rooms...), or little desire to acknowledge or change it. In my experience, it's money first, then the overall aesthetic for the purposes of company photos and tours, then MAYBE appropriateness of the environmental elements. Maybe...
As such, I have had to paint my classroom more times than I can count (without a choice in color scheme), use furniture that was x-size too big, or y-size too small, and attempt to garner interest in a shape-sorter designed for a two-year old...in an eleven year old boy. The 'mantra' of "make the best of what we have" has become far too common for my liking.
Why should we have to 'deal with' inappropriate supplies or ill-advised design plans (both architecutally and educationally)? Why should our children have to 'make the best' of their experience when many are already putting most of their efforts into overcoming the numerous challenges of daily life and are coming to us for support?
As a former design student, these experiences are not all that surprising. Why would they care about these things? They were hired to balance budgets, secure grants and supervise a staff of ____ semi-competently.
I find this entire notion of 'scraping by' in terms of the service we provide completely unacceptable. But then again, my rants about the importance of the almighty cost-savings ratio combined with an 'up with people' attitude are probably better served elsewhere.
Perhaps it's my own ignorance as far as the administrative/business sector is concerned that is providing me with the ability to rage without first taking into consideration the complexities of funding in the first place. Fortunately, I have no interest in ever learning that side of the field, and the internet is the 21st Century Wild West allowing for a wealth of opinionated article writing!
Obviously I'm not advocating for individuals with ASD to be forced into a world without color - far from it - I'm simply advocating for the use of informed color and design choices that can help rather than hinder progress. I have found that 'setting up rooms for success', the individuals I work with seem to have a much better experience. I usually accomplish this in very simple ways: turning the lights off or dimming them with a switch, covering as much of the bright paint as possible with soothing, neutrally colored paper and canvas, hanging fabric over florescent lights and windows, and playing soft, constant white noise as background to cancel out distractions from other rooms.
I feel as though utilizing a non-traditional approach in this (and many areas of the field) by drawing upon the expertise of individuals from various fields outside of the realms of education and psychology - including graphic, interior and lighting design, or even marketing and advertising - would enable us to better grasp understanding of the ways in which oft-forgotten elements impact our daily lives. In doing so, we can create spaces for the individuals we serve to not only experience education in a comfortable, inviting setting, but also to thrive by allowing them to focus their attention on what is important, instead of what pattern is repeating along the walls...