Supporting Unique Needs

A Collaboration Between Learning and Design Session

AIA Continuing Education Provider

1 LU

Pending Acceptance and Subject to Change

Recent disruptions in our school systems have placed an incredible emphasis on the important work done daily in physical settings to support students with unique learning needs. As equitable and supportive learning environments for distinctive students and staff are co-created, the expertise of two vastly different worlds collide and gaps in understanding can result in missed opportunities. The complexities of special education support systems and differing student needs can leave designers scrambling to catch up to nomenclature and program requirements. In addition, the timeline of the design process can put educators and administrators in a difficult position trying to forecast constantly evolving needs. By working to bridge the gap between these two different worlds, we can collectively create environments centered on a purposeful and empathetic approach to supporting unique learning.

Join us to understand how the four types of special education needs can be supported far beyond the walls of focused classrooms, appropriately connecting students to their peers, building-wide. By exploring the critical components of specialized spaces for learning, we’ll focus on best practices of both educators and designers as they work to create uniquely supportive and future-focused experiences. We’ll share research on the daily learning efforts of students with varying needs and the personal perspectives of educators who specialize in this area of expertise to help shed light on the opportunities available during the creation of new or renovated SPED spaces. In addition, we’ll highlight positive takeaways during the recent uncertainty of COVID with regard to the comfort and emotional wellbeing of students with anxiety. Together, we can begin a conversation on purposeful connections and provide useful takeaways for experts on both sides of education and design, all working toward the common goal of supporting each and every learner. We hope you’ll join us!

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify the four types of special education needs and how they can be supported through physical space.
  2. Explore the shifting variables in special education to better support students of all ability levels.
  3. Understand research on the perceived opportunities and challenges of educators in special education focus areas.
  4. Become familiar with the timeline of a design process and its impact on scalable decisions in the special education realm.

Michelle Chavey

Kristine Dorn, Educational Resource Leader, Hollis + Miller Architects
Kristine’s passion in researching the impact of the built environment on teaching and learning spans collaboration with both educators and administrators as well as the architectural design team members. Armed with a background in design, Kristine is currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational psychology and is passionate about environments that impact the well-being of students and staff alike. 

Track: The Experience of Place

The built and natural environments have profound impacts on our behaviors both for better and worse. How do we cultivate a sense of place for better? How might the built and natural environments be made to enhance teaching and learning? How might school buildings and grounds foster a sense of community by reflecting those they serve?

Primary Core Competency


Marriott Rivercenter
San Antonio, TX

October 5-9, 2022


+1 480.391.0840