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Designing for Neurodiversity

About Neurodiversity


Neurodiversity is the word used to describe the infinite diversity of the human brain and mind. With one in eight people estimated to be neurodivergent (i.e. having a neurology that is not typical) the importance of considering neurodiversity within the built environment is abundantly clear, enabling spaces to be inclusive for all users.

The term 'neurodiversity' refers to people with a wide range of sensory or neurological conditions such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and dementia.

The conditions are not learning disabilities, these individuals simply have a difference in the way their brain operates, which means certain environments can present them with challenges. By taking a neurodiverse design approach, it is possible to improve the quality of life for these individuals and create spaces that allow them to flourish.


Neurodiversity in the workplace

The United Nations estimated in 2016 that more than 80% of autistic adults around the world are unemployed. The National Autistic Society states that in the UK only 16% of autistic adults are in full time employment and only 32% are in some kind of paid work.

The stark reality is that neurodivergent people can face significant barriers to employment, despite the fact that many of these individuals have traits and skills that are highly sought after. Whether it’s an ability to think creatively or to concentrate on detail-orientated tasks for a long period of time, recruiting a neurodiverse workforce can access a hidden pool of talent - often requiring only a few simple adjustments or accommodations within the workplace.

For example, six months into its pilot Autism at Work scheme, prominent financial organisation JPMorgan Chase found that the new recruits were 48% faster and up to 92% more productive than their neurotypical peers. The scheme has since gone on to recruit more than 150 employees in eight countries around the world.

Layout & Outline carpet tiles

Neurodiversity in public spaces

Navigating public spaces such as train stations, shopping malls, libraries and leisure venues can be challenging for neurodivergent people. Despite the broad range of neurodiversity, representing a significant percentage of the UK’s society and workforce, the current code of practice for the design of buildings (BS 8300) focuses predominantly on physical impairments only. Therefore, there is a clear gap in publicly available guidance for built environment design that is truly inclusive.

Athy Library 357x268

Designing for the Mind whitepaper

Everyone should have the opportunity to thrive, which means designing spaces that improve the experience for all users. To assist specifiers and designers working towards this, we’ve created a whitepaper that examines the need for evidence-based guidelines for designing for the mind, with a particular focus on how the correct flooring specification can help.

Design for the mind whitepaper

Design for the Mind Whitepaper

Inclusive Design Publicly Available Specification

As part of Forbo’s commitment to inclusive design, we have partnered with the British Standards Institution (BSI) to develop a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) to provide guidance to specifiers, interior designers and facilities managers on the importance of neurodiversity in the built environment. Focusing on the design of both commercial and public buildings and spaces, the PAS explores numerous design themes including illumination levels, flooring, room acoustics and layout.

Read more about the project

BSI logo

New BSI standards

New inclusive-design PAS for the built environment

Working to further promote the importance of neurodiverse inclusive design within the built environment, Forbo Flooring Systems is pleased to announce that is has teamed up with the British Standards Institution (BSI), BBC, Transport for London (TFL) and BuroHappold to develop a Publicly Available Specification (PAS).

The fast-tracked standard, PAS 6463 Design for the mind – Neurodiversity and the built environment – Guide, will provide information for designers, planners, specifiers, facilities managers and decision-makers on particular design features which can make public places more inclusive for everyone, in particular by reducing the potential for sensory overload, anxiety or distress. It will address sensory design considerations including lighting, acoustics, flooring and décor.

Read the full press release here (BSI website)

BSI logo

“A floor is one of the largest surface areas within a building, with everyone that enters the space remaining in constant contact with it. As such, getting its specification right is critical to the holistic design of a truly inclusive environment. In fact, through our previous work and experience with dementia-design, we know the positive impact that informed design considerations, such as incorporating good acoustics or tonal contrasts, can have on the way people use, interact with and respond to a space.

Therefore, we are really looking forward to working with BSI and its other sponsors on this very important project, which will hopefully form an important stepping-stone for future national and international building standards.”
- Donna Hannaway, Care Segment Manager, Forbo Flooring.


There are around 700,000 people with autism in the UK – more than 1 in 100.

Autism is defined as a developmental condition that affects the way the brain processes information and impacts how people perceive the world and interact with others.

People with autism see, hear and feel their surroundings differently to other people.

Autism is a spectrum condition and presents in a number of different ways and at varying levels of severity. It is a lifelong condition, the cause of which is still being investigated. While autism will affect individuals in many different ways, they share certain characteristics including difficulties with social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and sensory sensitivity. They may also have restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours and highly focused interests.


While autism is not a learning disability, around half of people with autism also have some degree of learning disability. This means that they will have issues understanding new or complex information and may struggle to learn new skills.

There are around 700,000 people with autism in the UK - more than 1 in 100 - and although the reason is still unclear, it does appear to affect more men and boys than women and girls. However, a part of this difference is believed to be an under-diagnosis of the condition in women.



There is an estimated 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia.

Dementia is an umbrella term that covers a range of conditions that affect the brain. There is an estimated 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, a number which is predicted to reach more one million by 20251 and two million by 2051.

Currently 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 have dementia and 70 per cent of people in care homes have dementia or severe memory problems.

Dementia damages the nerve cells in the brain and affects how messages are sent to and from the brain. Dementia UK states that there are over 200 subtypes of dementia with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia.


Each of the different types of dementia has a different set of symptoms and effects. For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia in the UK, may experience problems with memory, thinking, reasoning, language or perception - they may have problems seeing things in three dimensions and judging distances.

In contrast, with dementia with Lewy bodies, memory is typically less affected than with other forms and it primarily affects movement and motor control.

Therefore, a person may be more prone to falls, have tremors similar to Parkinson’s disease, shuffle when they walk and have visual and auditory hallucinations due to the damage to nerve cells in the brain. However, each person with dementia will experience the condition in a unique way and as such will have different needs.

Forbo have partnered with Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC), an international centre (based at Stirling University) which draws on 25 years of global research and practice, to identify which products in our portfolio can contribute to improving the quality of life for people with dementia.

Read more about designing for dementia
Read more about the Dementia Services Development Centre


Caudwell International Children’s Centre (CICC)

CICC is the UK’s first independent purpose-built facility dedicated to autism diagnosis, intervention and research.

Shaped in a butterfly figure of eight, the 60,000 sq ft building houses a variety of multi-functional spaces including state-of-the-art assessment suites, a sensory integration room and teaching kitchens.

Careful consideration went into every aspect of the building, ensuring that all of the internal and external materials and elements would be suitable for the needs
of people with autism.

Read more about Caudwell International Children’s Centre

Caudwell childrens centre

Hillingdon Hospital’s NHS Foundation

The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust refurbished the Beaconsfield East Ward to create a rehabilitation ward for older adults, many of whom have dementia. The 20 bed ward was organised into four by four bed bays and four single rooms, with additional reception, sensory areas and utility service areas.

The Beaconsfield East Ward also won the Best Internal Environment Award at the Building Better Healthcare Awards.

Read more about Hillingdon Hospital

Hillingdon hospital