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Children's Hospital of Orange County, Thompson Autism Center, Orange, CA

February 2020
EDAC Advocate Firm Project
CHOC Autism Clinic Level 2 Waiting, CannonDesign, 2018



EBD Goal

The goal of the Thompson Autism Center at CHOC is to bring leading-edge, evidence-based design practices to clinical and research spaces to ensure children with ASD receive the best care possible throughout their youth and into early adulthood.


The Thompson Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) will evaluate children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and promote better outcomes. Opening in late 2019, the 20,000-square foot center will be a patient-focused environment and is one of the few clinics in the country dedicated to ASD patients. In partnership with Chapman University, the Center will also help patients and their families navigate the education system, from preschool to college. The Center has space for acute behaviors, safe spaces, toilet training, Adaptive Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, and education, as well as patient modules for assessment, consultation, and clinical evaluation.


The number of children diagnosed with ASD is growing. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 indicates one in 59 children has ASD — a large increase from 2004 which reported about one in 125 children diagnosed with ASD. While early diagnosis and intervention can be critical in delivering benefits throughout patients’ lives, the mean age of diagnosis remains around four years of age. There are few clinical spaces focused solely on early autism diagnosis, treatment and management.


With a $10 million gift from William and Nancy Thompson, the founders of The Thompson Family Foundation, CHOC wanted to design a centralized facility to raise awareness, support, provide interventions, assessment, therapy, education and research for children and families affected by ASD. The Thompson Autism Center at CHOC will focus on early diagnosis and intervention. The modular design allows for a team-based multidisciplinary approach that has adaptability for future care concepts, including possibly telemedicine and support for clinical as well as psychological interventions.

There is not a wealth of existing data about environments for autism patients. Therefore, evidence and supporting design solutions were derived almost entirely from primary sources: personal interviews with doctors, researchers, parents, and families.

One of the key planners is the father of a boy with ASD. He brought his passion to use the best evidence-based design (EBD) ideas to the project. Literature reviews yielded design ideas about controlling environmental parameters such as light, color, sound, spatial transitions, artwork, and safety suggestions. All Overview: these factors were brought to the table and became integrated into the new center. Some existing research that informed the space included:

  • A 2018 Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) report from a school in Cairo, Egypt focused on students with autism, offering results related to the implementation of the Autism ASPECTSSTM Design Index developed by American University in Cairo professor, Magda Mostafa, in 2014. This index uses a matrix approach that ranks design attributes of acoustics, spatial sequencing, escape spaces, compartmentalization, transition zones, sensory zoning and safety.
  • To inform the plan for lighting and acoustics, the design team consulted recent research from Dr. Shireen Kanakri, a professor at Ball State University and director of the Health Environment Design Research Lab (HEDR). Her insight informed design decisions related to color, light and sound. Kanakri suggested we dedicate one of the ABA therapy rooms for future studies.


The design team plans a full POE of the facility 6-12 months after opening. Given there are very few health centers dedicated to people with autism, the results could serve as a new resource for helping those living with autism.