Researcher defines five-step approach to designing for children with autism

December 19, 2012
How do you design for children with autism?
In one meeting, the designer expects to play with the dolls, but the boy with autism actually wants to look through the house from a variety of different angles.

If designers want to develop effective products for children with autism, they first need to immerse themselves in the group they are targeting. This is the claim made by Helma van Rijn, who will be awarded her PhD for her thesis on this subject at TU Delft on Tuesday 18 September.

Rain Man

'Just like anyone else, with need products and services that suit their specific requirements and experiences', says industrial design engineer Helma van Rijn. 'But what do you do if you are commissioned to make a product for these children, for example, , but have no experience of autism whatsoever? Perhaps you would start by searching the internet for more information, watching the film 'Rain Man' or reading a book that explains how children with autism behave. You will then discover that the way in which children with autism really think and behave is left to your . You find out that the only way of gaining a closer understanding of the needs and experiences of these children is through direct contact with the children or with those who care for them and treat them.'

Confrontational

Van Rijn's PhD research involved investigating how designers can have meaningful meetings with these children and their carers in order to gain information and inspiration for the design process. She did this by 'confronting' students of Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft with a group of seriously on several occasions.

'It can be a little frightening, especially at the start', says Van Rijn. 'I remember my first meeting as a designer with an very well. Suddenly, a boy from the group climbed onto my lap. It felt as if he was not seeing me as a person, but rather as a type of bench that he could sit on. After a while, he started touching my head and hair, pushing his nose against mine and looking into my eyes. Although it was a special experience, it was also quite uncomfortable. Initially, I had no idea how I should respond. But you soon get used to dealing with these children.'

Five steps

The research conducted by Helma van Rijn demonstrates the need for designers to familiarise themselves with the new environment, to observe people casually, with no explicit aim, and to consciously try to identify occasions when people accord a different significance to objects and interactions than they do themselves. 'You cannot achieve this as a designer just be reading the literature. You need to immerse yourself in the group that you are targeting.'

Van Rijn believes that her conclusion could also apply to other difficult-to-reach groups, such as elderly people with dementia.

Her thesis describes a five-step framework. This framework involves five main activities (familiarisation, observation, reflection, theorisation and try-out) and transitions (exploring, immersing, connecting, releasing and applying). It describes and prescribes how designers can learn from their encounters.

Explore further: Toy teaches autistic children positive play

More information: Meaningful Encounters: Explorative studies about designers learning from children with autism in the TU Delft Repository: repository.tudelft.nl/view/ir/ … 6-bebc-5e2770538c5a/

Related Stories

Toy teaches autistic children positive play

July 1, 2011
A responsive, mechanised toy designed especially for autistic children six months and up has been created to teach positive play behaviours.

Two-Thirds of kids with autism have been bullied: study

March 30, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Nearly two-thirds of American children with autism have been bullied at some point in their lives, and these kids are bullied three times more often than their siblings without autism, a new survey finds.

Research reveals hidden anguish of schoolchildren with autism

December 18, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Schoolchildren on the autistic spectrum experience worrying levels of mental health difficulties, according to a new study by research psychologists from The University of Manchester.

Recommended for you

Late-breaking mutations may play an important role in autism

July 17, 2017
A study of nearly 6,000 families, combining three genetic sequencing technologies, finds that mutations that occur after conception play an important role in autism. A team led by investigators at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Females with autism show greater difficulty with day-to-day tasks than male counterparts

July 14, 2017
Women and girls with autism may face greater challenges with real world planning, organization and other daily living skills, according to a study published in the journal Autism Research.

Researchers investigate possible link between carnitine deficiency and autism

July 13, 2017
Researchers are always looking for new clues to the causes of autism, with special emphasis on prevention or treatment. At Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Arthur Beaudet has been following clinical and genetic clues in patients ...

How children look at mom's face is influenced by genetic factors and altered in autism

July 12, 2017
New research has uncovered compelling evidence that genetics plays a major role in how children look at the world and whether they have a preference for gazing at people's eyes and faces or at objects.

Oxytocin improves social abilities in some kids with autism, study finds

July 10, 2017
Children with autism showed improved social behavior when treated with oxytocin, a hormone linked to social abilities, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Children with low ...

Possible early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder

June 29, 2017
Measuring a set of proteins in the blood may enable earlier diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study from the Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.