Inclusive Urban Environments

Social inclusion, sense of belonging, being able to interact with peers. Some children feel a higher need than others, but it becomes an issue if a child or teenager misses these common daily social interactions in their urban environments that seem so natural for most of them. Especially children with often limited access to their social environment, such as children with autism or hearing loss, might even become reluctant to go to school if they miss a sense of belonging and feeling that the school is also their school. Playgrounds, schoolyards, canteens and hallways are the places where most children socialize and what we focus on in this project, funded by the LDE Centre for BOLD (Big, Open and Linked Data) Cities and NWO.


Our Blog on Autistic Pupils in School

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Our Collaborators

                        BOLD Cities logo

TU Delft logoLIACS logo  Screenshot 2021 03 30 at 21.50.10  Screenshot 2021 03 30 at 21.53.10

The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities

A joint initiative binding three universities to solve social issues using large urban data. Within this framework, we work with Dr. ir. Alexander Koutamanis (Architecture; Delft University of Technology), Dr. Mitra Baratchi (Computer Science; LIACS), and Dr. Sarah Giest (Governance; Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University). The Centre for BOLD Cities funds our research on inclusive schools for children with autism and hearing loss.

Clinical experts

We work closely with clinical experts and patient associations (e.g., NVA). Dr. Els Blijd-Hoogewys is a clinical psychologist at INTER-PSY, a centre that provides integrated care for mental health and interventions. Dr. Kirstin Greaves-Lord (Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam) is a senior researcher at Jonx and a senior lecturer at the Department of Clinical Psychology of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. She is the co-founder of Academic Workplace Autism, which bridges between research and practice and designs projects for knowledge transfer about autism.

Play experts

Dr. Guida Veiga (University of Évora, Portugal) brings in her expertise on motor development and leisure activities in urban environments and its impact on children’s socioemotional development. We also work with Martin van Rooijen (University of Humanistic Studies) to study the application of loose parts play in schools.


Inclusive environments Collaborators 
Our collaborators (left to right): Dr. Els Blijd-Hoogewys (INTER-PSY), Dr. ir. Alexander Koutamanis (Delft University of Technology),
Dr. Sarah Giest (Campus Den Haag), Dr. Mitra Baratchi (LIACS), Dr. Guida Veiga (University of Evora, Portugal),
Martin van Rooijen (University of Humanistic Studies)



2020 July Loose-parts play intervention completed in the first school.
2020 June International webinar series “Recent development on sensor technology” successfully held.
2020 June New PhD project launched with grant by the Centre for BOLD Cities/NWO.
2020 March
Implementation of loose-parts play intervention at schoolyards started.
2019 May The NWO project officially started with the first consortium meeting.
2018 November Adva started data collection.
2018 August Adva awarded the Marie-Sklodowska-Curie-LDE LEaDing fellowship.
2018 July The NWO grant awarded.
2016 October Carolien won Public Award in Smartest Project contest for the research on playground behavior using the innovative sensor technique.
2016 First study on preschoolers at playground conducted, with Dr. Guida Veiga (University of Évora, Portugal) and the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS).



Funded by the NWO, the LDE Centre for BOLD Cities and the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus (LDE) fellowship, our projects are multidisciplinary in nature and want to promote innovative changes to the urban environment such as school infrastructure, to facilitate modes for children and adolescents with autism or hearing loss to interact with peers, and to increase awareness of diversity and inclusion. New means of unobtrusive data collection (e.g., sensor data from Radio Frequency Identification Devices) are utilised to measure social participation and to evaluate interventions, together with observations and questionnaires.

Inclusive environments Staff 
Staff (left to right): Prof. dr. Carolien Rieffe (principal investigator), Dr. Boya Li, Dr. Adva Eichengreen
Dr. Yung-Ting Tsou, Brenda Sousa da Silva, Maedeh Nasri

Breaking the cycle: an inclusive school environment outside the classroom for pupils with ASD

Social network centrality

This NWO-funded project aims to create an inclusive school setting with and for autistic pupils during their leisure time at school, thus increasing social participation. In close collaboration with Clinical Psychology (Dr. Els Blijd-Hoogewys, INTER-PSY), Architecture (Dr. ir. Alexander Koutamanis, Delft University of Technology), Computer Science (Dr. Mitra Baratchi, LIACS), and Governance (Dr. Sarah Giest, Campus Den Haag), we analyse and adapt the physical, social, and cultural environment in schools. Dr. Boya Li and Dr. Yung-Ting Tsou coordinate the project. Maedeh Nasri starts her PhD research in June 2020 within the Centre for BOLD Cities to design algorithms for extracting social behavioural patterns of pupils and their use of space based on sensor data. 

Enhancing social participation of deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children

Dr. Adva Eichengreen received the Marie-Sklodowska-Curie-LDE fellowship in 2018 and leads this project, focusing on environmental barriers to social interactions of DHH children with their hearing peers. Together with Dr. ir. Alexander Koutamanis (Delft University of Technology), this project assesses the acoustic characteristics of school areas, DHH children's accessibility in social context, and cognitive and emotional attributes of hearing classmates. With Martin van Rooijen (University of Humanistic Studies) an intervention based on loose parts play was designed to promote playfulness and social well-being.

Being deaf at the playground: The effect of a hearing loss on children's social participation

Brenda Sousa da Silva starts her PhD research in 2016 on this project, funded by Portugal Foundation for Science and Technique (FCT), and in collaboration with Dr. Guida Veiga (University of Evora, Portugal). The project focuses on the effects of hearing loss on the social and emotional competence of Portuguese children. She uses a multi-informant and multi-method approach to access social participation and socio-emotional functioning in preschool children.

Brenda playground 2