Building tomorrow, together

Future50 Appeal | A future vision
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Providing a world first in technology

Many people with autism are non-verbal and/or unable to understand or articulate how they are feeling. The drawback of a medical regime based only on observation, is that this alone can never fully reveal what is happening physiologically within the patient. Observers can only go on what they see and the behaviour being watched may be related to an incident that happened a week ago or just the day before.

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At the new unit, biometric sensors – worn on lightweight bracelets which resemble wrist watches – will gather physiological data, enabling experts to map how people’s anxiety is increased or decreased depending upon factors such as where they are in the building, their proximity to other people, background noise and time of day, for example.

The biometric technology will effectively ‘see inside’ the bodies of those with autism by measuring minute physiological changes such as surface skin temperature and heart rate.

Staff will also monitor individuals’ responses and this will be cross-referenced with other data captured by the wrist bands.

Ultimately, staff should be able to step in and prevent meltdowns, once they understand what is triggering an individual.

The Helen House trials

An initial trial of this biometric technology is beginning at Helen House on the Raby site. 

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Helen House was built in the 1980s and is challenging in many ways for residents on the spectrum as it has narrow corridors and lacks natural light. Autism Together staff experience more incidents here with residents than at any other unit.

The purpose of the trial is to test how their home environment impacts those on the spectrum within this building. The results, gathered over five to 12 months, will then inform the rebuild of the entire house and the old hall itself. Ultimately, this trial will enable the development of an algorithm which identifies environmental triggers for people with autism.

The results will also be measured against the success of the Ferns and the Willows, two of the new units built on the Raby site prior to the advent of the biometric technology. Staff are achieving fantastic results in both these autism-specific buildings but whilst they think they know why the buildings are successful (natural light, spacious, curved corridors, small communal spaces etc), there is no real-life data from residents to support this. 

The design

The layout will afford maximum flexibility enabling us to cater for a wide range of different needs and will respond to the specific needs of people with autism. 

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The specific design features contained within the proposal are as follows: 

  • En-suite facilities (encourages personal skills)
  • Shared lounge (encourages social interaction) 
  • Training kitchen (encourages daily
    living skills –  cooking and washing up etc)
  • Wide corridors (ensures people
    don’t become overcrowded)
  • Sensory room
    (to help alleviate stress and anxiety)
  • Activity rooms (to enable specific interests
    to be addressed, eg arts and crafts)

The costs

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We estimate the full costs will be as follows:

Construction costs: £2,135,000

Professional and planning fees @ 8% £60, 000  

Furniture and fittings: £305, 000   

Total estimated costs: £2.5 million                            

The revenue costs will be met from fees paid by local authorities or by families in receipt of direct payments, and we know from our discussions with local authorities that there would be considerable demand for our specialist service