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Ergonomics helps autistic children


A research team comprising of an ergonomist, autism expert and interactive design and media artists, are using ergonomics to design an interactive, polysensory environment for children with ASD (autistic spectrum disorders) to meet the youngsters’ needs in a way that can be tailorable to specific needs.

Delegates to the Ergonomics Society Annual Conference in Swansea this week (14-16 April) will hear from Andree Woodcock, a member of the project team, on how they plan to use the latest multimedia computer technology to engage with children in new and interesting ways.

It has been estimated that autism spectrum disorders may affect as many as 50,000 families in the UK. Polysensory environments, which often involve projecting moving computer images onto surfaces combined with sound and light, already have been shown to work with children with varying levels of autism.

However the research team based at Coventry University plan to develop this technology further by taking a user centred approach to design and development that puts children at the heart of the design process. ‘Our final environment will consist of a series of modules, each of which will be developed through an understanding of children’s needs and sensitivities.’

This in itself is problematic as the children themselves are not always able to tell us what they think. Therefore, the team plan to work closely with parents, carers and staff at various centres around the country.

A recent survey conducted by the team has demonstrated the wide variety of sensitivities children with ASD have – for example some children are extremely sensitive or show a marked dislike for certain colours, noises – whereas others will react to different things. This wide variation is a challenge for the designers in the team who have to provide an environment that will be engaging and non-threatening to a wide spectrum of children.

Darryl Georgiou, a specialist designer in interactive media, has worked with disabled and deaf, autistic children in the past. He said: “Autistic children often cannot focus for more than a few seconds but already computer and digital technology is changing that and it has such potential. There are varying levels of engagement and the idea is for the child to take control. Our aim is to engage with kids who have never responded like this before.”

The design of polysensory environments for children with autistic spectrum disorders is a three-year project funded by the Arts Humanities Research Board (AHRB). Through it we hope to show ‘that by working together scientists and designers can use technology creatively to reach out to all people in the community, and also extend our understanding of user requirements and evaluation methodologies”

The first paper from the project team - Darryl Georgiou, Jacqueline Jackson, Andree Woodcock and Alex Woolner - is being presented on Thursday 15 April by Dr Andree Woodcock, at the conference at the University of Wales.

For further information about the Ergonomics Society Annual Conference contact :

conference & marketing officer Sue Hull ( or external relations officer Amanda Bellamy ( on 01509 234904 or 07985016356. Dr Andree Woodcock of the Visual & Information Design Centre, Coventry School of Art & Design, Coventry University can be contacted on 0115 8453785. Alternatively, Alex Woolner can be contacted on

Amanda Bellamy | alfa
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