A boy interacts with Leah Mattingly, a senior CAP interior design student, in the Healthy Autism Design Lab as Professor Shireen Kanakri (second from left) speaks to the participant’s mother. After each play session, parents are given an analysis of how environmental changes affected their child.

Dr. Shireen Kanakri is leading the Healthy Autism Design Lab. Located in the Applied Technology College building, the lab creates different sensory effects to help researchers observe children’s reactions to different environments. Several CAP undergraduates are assisting her research, as well as an undergraduate psychological science student and an audiology doctoral student.

In the last year, the Healthy Autism Design Lab has expanded the number of participants — ages range from two to 22 — with about 45 families involved in her research. Nearly half are associated with Ball State, but families from nearby Indianapolis and Cincinnati also are participating.

As part of the research, parents are brought in to play with their child inside the lab while the researcher monitors them outside. Dr. Kanakri uses the lab to record how children respond to changes in noise, lighting, and colors. At the end of the two-hour play session, parents leave with analysis provided by the researchers on how each environmental change affected their child.

The researcher believes that schools might be able to help children learn by adding acoustical panels, moving children on the autism spectrum away from noises such as blowing air conditioning ducts, or by replacing fluorescent lights with LEDs.

Dr. Kanakri said she hopes the data developed through the lab will ultimately be used for the benefit of families everywhere, helping them create specific environments that improve their children’s quality of life. Learn more about Kanakri’s research and the Health and Environmental Design Research Lab.