My mission is to teach and develop effective ways for autistic children to manage their repetitive behaviours and insistence on sameness.
Autism is extremely variable from individual to individual. The majority of people on the spectrum have completely different needs, behaviours, and abilities from one another. There are, however, a few general behaviours that are common to the majority of those with autism. Some of these characteristics are as follows: -deficit in communication skills – limited social motivation, difficulty reading facial expression, trouble using expressive language -focus on details/small features rather than the whole picture -strong visual/spatial understanding -insistence on sameness/restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour -preoccupation with objects -prevalence of ADD -self-stimulatory behaviour (arm flapping, pen flicking), often associated with a fascination with movement (spinning, bending, flicking, twisting) -trouble understanding relationship between behaviours and environments -limited use of imagination/creativity
It was clear that there were several points of interest where design intervention could help deal with a particular issue. At this point I read a little further and spoke with several parents/teachers of autistic people to find a clearer point of focus. I decided to narrow my focus into what are arguably the most debilitating parts of autism - the lack of social interaction and general lack of acknowledgement of social norms/mores/behaviours.
Both of these areas have serious implications on the life of an autistic individual. A lack of social interaction makes it extremely difficult to become independent. A lack of understanding of social norms/mores/behaviours is manifested through various self-stimulatory behaviours that can lead to difficulty functioning within school, home, and public environments. I have decided to focus on the latter issue because I think it creates so many barriers for a young autistic child. It can be extremely difficult to capture attention for extended periods of time, which coupled with the high prevalence of ADD in the autistic community can lead to a strained education process among other issues.
I have begun working with two different schools for autistic children – the Learning Spring School and the New York Centre for Autism Charter School. I conducted initial meetings with both schools that have provided valuable information and insight into autism. Currently, I am setting up sessions to go in and observe students in the classroom to collect more direct observational research. I would also like to continue speaking with parents. They have a unique understanding of autism and provide helpful information and anecdotes.
Target Market/Age Group:
It is difficult to define the age-range I am targeting because there is variation between physical age and mental age. Ultimately, designs for autistic children may end up being viable for autistic adults as well. This is something that I need to explore in more detail.
I would like my product to be a reasonable price so that it can reach the widest audience and thus have the greatest impact.
The materials I will be using for my product are explained in the design proposals below.
I intend on prototyping my design so that it can be evaluated in the schools that I am working with.
(See larger sketches here.
1: A structured backpack/suitcase. This would allow children to have the tools/equipment (pens/pencils, books, other daily items) they use each day to always be in the same place. This would provide consistency for the child, and would reduce frustration finding an object at home versus finding the same object at school. The intended materials for the carrying device would be a soft outer shell with a more rigid internal structure. This would provide stability so that everything would stay in place, and comfort while wearing the backpack.
2: A wristband to address self-stimulating behaviours. The device would be made of several components that each allow for a different action to be performed (twisting, pulling, bending, etc.). Components could be selected and combined to suit each individual child. The idea is not to stop self-stimulating behaviour, because it makes the child feel safe and it is a necessary part of their day. Rather, the child would be taught to incorporate playing with the device into their daily schedule – if they felt the need, they could start the timer and play with the components until the time was up. They could then continue going about their daily activities without constant distraction. The intended materials would be similar to the backpack – soft yet rigid.
- A set of dishes that gradually sensitizes children to difference. The dishes would be made to all look extremely similar in form/shape/size, but all be slight variations on one another. These differences would be slight so that the child would feel that they were using the same objects that in reality were slight variations. This would help teach the child gradually about decreasing insistence on sameness. The dishes models would be made of resin-hardened fabric and then cast in coloured slip (the coloured slip has a much softer look/feel than glazed porcelain, similar to Fimo).