Reactivites©: Autism and Play
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ReActivities© are digital play sequences which encourage the integration of social, emotional and cognitive development in children on the autistic spectrum. Funding from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), Learning Programme, has enabled a collaborative approach to the development of the ReActivities© software. As a result of working directly with children on the autistic spectrum and those who support them, an organic design process has emerged which embraces their distinct needs and characteristics. Discovering how autistic children play has been revelatory. Something which normally developing children experience so naturally is often profoundly missing in autistic children for whom high levels of anxiety can inhibit playful experiences and increase the rigid, stereotypical and challenging behaviours which have a negative effect in social situations. Interactions with objects that offer repetition, pattern and similarity combined with colour and rhythm are regularly used by autistic children as methods to reduce anxiety, however little has been done to interpret these sensations in digital environments. Thus the aim of ReActivities© has been to offer a rich physical and cognitive experience which simulates the perceptible characteristics of phenomena such as elasticity, velocity, gravity and inertia. This is an advanced form of cause and effect that promises a unique form of expression in response to exploration with computer technology. There are numerous thoughtful and engaging websites designed and maintained by autistic people which are testimony to the theory that computers, and particularly electronic networks, offer enormous possibilities for creativity, communication and fun, which are so often suppressed by the tensions and anxieties of daily life. In response to this the project is utilising open source technology to enable autistic users, many of whom are already conversant with programming languages, to adapt and re-generate the software. Fostering a community approach to development affords further opportunities to explore an innovative, inclusive design method that, should it prove successful, could provide a model for other marginalised groups.
2006, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 149–156
Authors post-print. Publisher's copy available from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14626260600882414
National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA)
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