Designing for Playfulness: Investigating the Therapeutic Potential of Technology
University of Wales
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Exploration and discovery are core components of play. For children with autism, whose needs are complex and diverse, the potential that technology affords for developmentally appropriate play is under researched. Many software programmes focus on operational routines and fail to maximise on the capricious, idiosyncratic and emergent fun that can evolve when children are relaxed and able to freely discover their interests. There are very few studies that reveal how children with autism benefit, in terms of their confidence and self esteem, when technology is utilised simply as a trigger for play and how this particularly influences emotional regulation, social communication and learning. The aim of this PhD is two-fold: to contribute to knowledge on the challenges of designing for play for children with autism and to make a contribution to research in the autism field by demonstrating the expressive communication abilities revealed by children through playful interaction with a software interface. The PhD overview critiques eight published works, which analyse and discuss the design methods, the nature of discovery-led interaction and the impact on children's play and communication. The early publications are cohered around participatory design, and how the relationships with end user populations influenced early prototypes and shaped initial evaluation. These studies paved the way for deeper investigations into the multi sensory capacities of technology in relation to the characteristics of autism. These studies furthered the contextualisation of the work by locating design in and with affordable everyday environments. The emphasis on situated-ness is understood from a philosophical perspective in the most recent and concluding studies, which draw on phenomenology for the meta-analysis of action and reaction. The final paper provides a confident argument for play as a means of exploiting the physical directness of tactile and auditory input. The studies reveal how even the most hard to engage child demonstrated creative and communicative ability beyond the expectation of his carers. The papers contribute towards an understanding of playfulness as an emergent, unpredictable and ultimately rewarding experience for children severely affected by autism. In the design field, the work represents a contribution to new knowledge in participatory and collaborative methods for developing responsive sensory interfaces for marginalised groups.
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