Is simplicity the key to engagement for children on the autism spectrum?
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This article presents a conceptualisation of technologies as simple, ambient forms. By avoiding the tendency to solve problems and by being open to interaction that emerges through repetition and flow, we argue that technology can offer more for people than functionality. When the user is given freedom to discover control without burdensome cognitive demands and the fear of failure, even everyday technologies can arouse curiosity and thus reveal untapped ability. What is unique about our work is its therapeutic application as a medium for engaging the most hard to reach children on the autism spectrum. Our theoretical foundations are drawn from the human–computer interaction paradigm of tangible interaction. This is of interest to us as a framework for the study of the physical and sensory manipulation of information. For children with cognitive and developmental delays, discovering a close match between physical control and digital response has proved both rewarding and motivating. The significance of this is illustrated through a range of studies undertaken with children with autism spectrum disorders. These include a mixed group attending a holiday club, a study that introduced keyboard activities to children with poor receptive communication and a case study using an ordinary microphone. The research captures emergent, exploratory interaction with a software application called ReacTickles. The case study uses a specifically customised video coding technique to analyse idiosyncratic interactions that demonstrate the impact of simple, playful interaction on self-esteem and creativity.
Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, volume 16, number 2, p129-141
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