Mobile phones, laptops, the internet, digital games... technology has become an integrated part of our daily lives and, hence, a central aspect of our learning.  A new generation of digital natives is growing up interacting playfully and effortlessly with this technology.  Social activities are organised, games are played, experiences are shared, things are searched for and found - we are in a network whenever we want and everywhere around the globe. 

In the context of therapy for children with autism, there is an increased use of technological aids.  This is often due to the fact that children with autism like clear and predictable patterns of interaction.  Many software and mobile applications as well as DVDs based on research in occupational therapy have been developed in order to convey social abilities to children with autism. One example, Transporters, is a well researched approach to help children recognise and interpret emotions properly.  While technological aids can yield good results, the challenges for their development are large and a central topic is often the transfer of learned material into everyday live. The use of technology contains the danger to isolate children even more, fixate on deficits and fears and teaching them things in a virtual world they cannot apply in the real. 

This is where this project wants to make its contribution and suggest a different way to think about the design of technologies for children with autism. 

  • We do not want to put the deficits in the center of the design of technologies, but rather take the child as an individual complete with the rich world they live in as a starting point.
  • We search for new roles for technologies in the life of children with autism, which go beyond the demand of therapies or interventions.
  • Technologies should be a source of purpose and fun. They should enable positive experiences over which the children have control themselves. 
  • Our technologies are supposed to help bridge the life of children with autism and their social environment and help them to share their experiences.
  • This also means that we do not follow direct therapeutic goals within this project, but want to concentrate on implicit and playful learning via social interaction, which is started by the child and supported by the technologies. 

To develop such technologies we have to work together with children with autism.  They are the true experts of their lives!  As researchers and designers we want to give the children an understanding of their technological environment in which they can design their lives and want to support them to realise their own ideas and plans.  This process is called "participatory design" and means that the users of a technology are actively involved in the design process of that technology.  In the context of joint work with children with autism, such an approach provides many challenges.  Methods have to be purposefully adapted and developed in order to enable children to think creatively about the design of technologies and to communicate their ideas.  Children are playfully integrated into the design process in all selected methods, e.g. via crafting, drawing or telling stories.

At the end of this process, there should be a "smart object" which has been jointly developed and built with the child.  A smart object can be a familiar item which has been augmented with special abilities.  For example, a plushy that can make photos and project pictures on the wall.  Since we want to be lead by the ideas of the children, we do not know what will be the end result.  This is the reason why we call it a "smart object" for now.  

As part of the known and familiar environment of the child mentors, teachers and school officials hold a special role in the process.  For once, there is the logistical collaboration so that regular meetings with the child can be organised and to ensure that these meetings do not create an unnecessary burden for the child and the daily school routines, but a fun and mutually helpful activity together. We want to design our activities so that they fit into the daily school routines of the child in any aspect and in the best way possible. We are aware of the fact that many schools are at the edge of their capacities and, hence, want to avoid it under any circumstances that our work adds significantly more effort. 

Are you interested?  Do you maybe know a child that could have fun in such a project?  

Please contact us and we would love to tell you more about the project in person. Email:   - Telephone: +43 1 58801 18793