The Sensory Garden and Playscape: Applying Principles of Design to Create Effective Outdoor Multi-Activity and Multi-Sensory Environments for Use at Institutions That Treat Children with a Broad Range of Special Needs with a Particular Focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder

Master's Thesis


Contemporary designers often seek out complicated problems that affect underserved and vulnerable populations. Throughout the developmental process, designers nurture constituent relationships, build coalitions of experts, and utilize design thinking combined with an acute sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of those for which the project is intended. This collaboration results in the development of numerous solutions that are inventive, cost-conscious, and seek to delight and inspire. Ultimately, the final result is an innovative synthesis of elements that have the capacity to change — for the better — not only the experiences of the community of users, but also the lives of participant experts, designers, and makers.

Designed to be safe and welcoming, ecologically sensitive, and maintainable by existing tools and equipment, The Sensory Garden & Playscape will engage children and clients in educational, therapeutic, and playful ways. Situated in a setting that seamlessly integrates with the existing landscape, this project’s eight distinct components facilitate and enhance communication, crisis de-escalation, compliment appropriate classroom curriculum-related learning, and promote the development of social and workplace skills.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04172015-155358

Author Michael Edward Swoboda
Advisor Robert P. Sedlack
Contributor Andre Murnieks, Committee Member
Contributor Paul Down, Committee Member
Contributor Ann-Marie Conrado, Committee Member
Contributor Robert P. Sedlack, Committee Chair
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline Art, Art History and Design
Degree Name MFA
Defense Date
  • 2015-04-14

Submission Date 2015-04-17
  • United States of America

  • Sensory Garden

  • Autism

  • Therapeutic Landscapes

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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