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User Centred Design Project report

Design for autism

Contents Design Summary Context

Secondary research E-mail and forum posts Existing Products

Primary research


User interviews Expert interview

Concept development Final Concept

3 5 6 7 8 9 13


The project began with observation of products and toys being used in ‘Rebounders’ a Rebound therapy centre in Cardiff. The centre specialises in therapy for those of all ages with autism. It was clear that whilst some products were very beneficial to the users (primarily used by children and young teenagers) they often were not as enjoyable and satisfying to the user as other products. Through detailed secondary research into autistic spectrum disorder and primary research conducted within the Rebounders centre, the requirements for products suitable for use became clear and this project seeks to use this information to find a solution to these demands. The aim of the project is to create an enjoyable product (toy/ game or activity) that also stimulates the user and develops key physical and mental skills. The design should also be inclusive, noninstitutional in appearance, accessible to a variety of ages and flexible to suit different situations and locations

Design Summary


Rebounders entre

Trampolining 4 all

Rebounders was established as a charity in 2002, with 6 children attending, in 2008 they purchased a purpose built trampoline centre in the heart of Cardiff. Rebounders is open to all but specialise in working with children and adults with any type of special need or disability. Rebounders classes are open to children with any type of need or disability that would prevent them from attending a normal leisure centre trampoline class, or would put them at a disadvantage and therefore under pressure and stressed in such a class. This may be for physical, learning, behavioural or communication based reasons. Rebounders members range from those attending mainstream schools with mild coordination, language or learning difficulties, to those attending special schools with little or no mobility, speech or understanding. A number of clients have even been signed off by their Physio’s or OT’s due to the improvements they have shown, and this has been very encouraging.


Secondary research What is autism? Autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) are a range of related lifelong developmental disorders including Asperger Syndrome. ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms hence the use of the word ‘spectrum’; this is seen as a line that stretches from severely affected individuals to those whose symptoms often fade into ‘eccentric normality’ (Aarons and Gittens 1999, xiv). However there are common symptoms to all aspects which can be grouped into three broad categories: • Impairment of social relationships • Impairment of social communication • Impairment of social imagination (Aarons and Gittens 1999, 8) People with autism often see the world as a mass of people, places and events which they struggle to comprehend, this can inevitably lead to great anxiety. In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family and social life may be harder for them. It seems to sufferers that everybody else has a greater understanding how to interact, engage with each other. Some with Autism may wonder why they are ‘different’ to others. ( Autism is increasingly common

It must also be considered that for every child that is diagnosed with an ASD there is a whole family, often other siblings that are affected in a number of ways, this is not a small scale issue. Other Design considerations Senses are extremely important, many suffering with autism are either Hypo or Hyper sensitive to many of the following:

- Sight - Sound - Touch - Taste - Smell - Balance (‘vestibular’) - Body awareness (‘proprioception’)

All these must be considered when designing specifically for this area of need.

“Prevalence of autism and related ASDs is substantially greater than previously recognised. Whether the increase is due to better ascertainment, broadening diagnostic criteria, or increased incidence is unclear. Services in health, education, and social care will need to recognise the needs of children with some form of ASD, who constitute 1% of the child population.” (Baird et al on www.autism .org)


Secondary research Autism in the media In recent years there has been a growing coverage of the impact autism has on peoples lives and what steps should be taken to accommodate this and help others who are not affected understand the lives of those who are. There is also growing research in the possible causes of autism and to whether there could be a cure. Newsround report A recent special report presented by ‘Rosie’ who has aspergers syndrome. The report was designed to inform other children of how autism affects those who live with it and how they can understand their world better. “It mixes your senses up, I can feel words” “I wouldn’t swap my autism for anything, I wouldn’t be the same without it. For instance, I think it gives me my imagination” “ I was bullied at school... for me (having autism) made my anger a lot bigger” BBC article The BBC released an article exploring the influence of touch screen technology on the development of learning technology specifically for those with Autism. They focused on the ‘Findme’ app, aimed at nonverbal children from the age of 18 months upwards, the app encourages players to focus on other people and their needs, something people with autism find difficult.

“She has gone from being a little girl who had no way of showing us how much she knew, to a little girl who now has a portable device she can laugh, play and engage with,”


E-research Another Cornish charity working with Autism, I contacted them after seeing they had an active facebook page and got a positive response. After phoning their office they seemed keen to be involved in projects, primarily in the future but asked me to give them some more details in what I was interested in. I am yet to hear back a second time but see it as a possible future contact.

A summary of my contact with one Cornish charity working with those on the Autistic spectrum. Unfortunately it did not develop any further past this point, it seems that I was not able to explain clearly enough the principle of my project or that it was not suitable for the work they did.


Existing products PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) PECS is a flexible system that develops with the user. Focused completely on teaching communication skills, the product is beneficial but not necessarily enjoyable and exciting, which would help in encouraging the child to use it repeatedly. Tomcat trike The trike is a specially designed bike for those with special needs. With designs varying from minor adaptations for those more physically able through to designs will fully supported seating and use, with a innovative carer control handle. This is a product which enables those with profound learning difficulties and physical disabilities to participate in cycling, with a strong focus on enjoyment and motor skills. Gobug This toy is an award winning design that is not only enjoyable but stimulating too. The game involves remote controls that encourage co-operative play to achieve goals and directions together. Gobug also develops spacial awareness, social interaction, motor awareness and is enjoyable too.

The lack of well designed products and toys that are not only enjoyable but also develop key physical and mental skills is noticeable. Many parents develop and modify them themselves. This project’s key aim is to address this problem.


User interviews Interviews at Rebounders - special needs children’s classes Child: Sam

Age: 4.5

Parent: Gwen

“The product must be fun for Sam to engage with it. Educational resources are only useful if they are enjoyable.”

Child: Dylan Age: 5 Grandparent: Corinne “Don’t feel specialist products are needed for Dylan”

“Sam enjoys cycling with stabilisers, using a small trampoline, also enjoys using swimming pool ‘noodle’. Sam also uses booster seats and bibs whilst eating.”

“Dylan enjoys playing on Bikes, with trains, toy motorbikes, playing outdoors, trampoline, he is very active and it is important to build motor skills.”

“Toys which develop basic motor, verbal and cognitive skills and that Sam enjoys using are often aimed at younger toddlers, Sam cannot have his favourite characters or images on the toys that are suited best to him. This is also embarrassing when playing with peer group i.e. having friends over after school.”

“Outdoor play gyms would be good, these are very expensive for individuals and schools have worries over health and safety issues.”

“In general the price of specialist products is very inhibiting. Because each child has individual tastes and hobbies’, buying expensive products is very risky as there is no assurance it will be used. “ “Very hit and miss with sensory, seems to really enjoy lights (flashing light globe) but gel egg timer he’s not interested”

“Fisher Price toys seem to last for years, don’t have small plastic bits that break and cannot be repaired. Vtech – Good feedback as you play, lots of talking and interactivity.” “Always seems to be lots of paperwork to obtain specialist equipment, by the time it’s obtained the child has often grown/moved on in needs/moved class etc.”

Child: Alex

Age: 8

Parent: Dilek

“Amongst other things Alex uses Tomcat Trike – Has a ‘carer’ handle which can control steering and brakes – Various support accessories are available – Two piece frame for transport. We use this because Alex is unable to use a standard bike and this develops motor skills” “Alex uses lots of non-specialist products like a trampoline, climbing frame, swing, iPhone and iPad are both great because touch screen is extremely intuitive. Uses a gym ball, likes watches, has bead run thing from Ikea (cheaper than a specialist one) Leapfrog systems” “Buying expensive products carries a big risk, things like lights are very interesting but needs a specialist space really. Could there be a way to test toys before buying?”


Expert Interview Rebound Therapist Two possible outcomes - Something used on the trampoline during rebound therapy - A product used whilst off the trampoline that continues the benefits of rebound therapy and key principles it introduces. Product to be used on Trampoline:

Product to be used off the trampoline during ‘play’ time:

Currently on the trampoline they use standard exercise equipment such as fit-balls, ‘peanuts’, hula hoops and a variety of balls, bean-bags etc. A longer special purpose ‘peanut’ would be useful. Most are only suitable for children but a larger one would be ideal for adults.

Something that continues the principles of rebound therapy. Sensory Considerations are important.

Texture is an important aspect to consider. Could it have various textures included within the one design? Bean-bags are useful to sit participants on but lack stability, could it be adapted to allow people to hold onto it, give specific handles in appropriate places. Maybe a more tailored shape to the use, again consider texture and other sensory implications.

Based on observations within the Rebound centre, a product used off the trampoline would be more appropriate as a tool to continue the work of rebound therapy whilst playing. This gives a strong project structure on which all developments should be based.

Majority of children will ‘flit’ between toys, spending very little time with each before becoming distracted by another child or toy, something that would hold their attention, allowing them to practice and develop a skill. Co-operative play is rare and can be extremely beneficial, social interacting can be very fleeting as children take turns on trampoline so have different routines. Incorporate more fine motor skills, as many on the autistic spectrum lack these skills and rebound therapy is not specific to developing these, this would supplement the work well. Parents are always keen to play with children, something parents could participate is always good.


Concept developed through secondary and primary research.


Memory and spontaneity Recreating actions from previous attempts and responding to unexpected situations

Visual planning of routes User visualises where the ball must travel through the maze in order to achieve set goals

Co-operation and competition Users can work together to achieve or compete to set the fastest time on a task

Understanding of forces Users must act in understanding of basic forces and how they can influence these

Sequential motor skills Through repeated use, sequences of moves and positions are learned that can then be adapted to new tasks and goals.


Development 1: Initial CAD model of developing concept showing unassembled parts in Inventor. Image shows the ability to dismantle rockers for easier storage and Perspex lid to prevent the marble being taken out or distracting from the primary aim of the game.



2: Fully assembled concept, sliding and rotating walls within the maze provide both mental and physical stimulation to the user. The continuing aim to is that the design will have specific designed in benefits for those on the Autistic spectrum but also be a game that can be played by or with anyone, a truly inclusive product. 3: prototype, showing simplified system or controlling walls. Groove system was originally cut but this interfered too much with rolling of the ball around the base. Simple peg system is not ideal, allowing for only limited flexibility, however will suffice to test concept. 4: Doubled-up rockers give increased stability, construction has a crude appearance, this should be improved. Edges may also need softening or possible shape change with rounded corners.


4 “Customisation is good, but needs refinining” “The design is very ‘autistic’, I think Occupational therapists would love it” “Design needs to prevent boisterous children damaging it or possibly injuring others” “Flexibility is key, needs to be suitable in a variety of situations, not just Rebounders”



5: User testing at Rebounders Centre, with Owain. It became immediately obvious that without clear distinction, the product would be used outside of it’s normal intention. Parent’s were keen to encourage the child to use it as directed but It was extremely useful to observe how it was intuitively used. 6: Examples of feedback from both users and experts on the prototype tested. Overall they were very positive about the design and concept however there were obvious refinements and ideas that I hadn’t taken into consideration.


/ physical / mental / stimulation /

Co-operative play / Turn-taking / teamwork / competition / Fine Motor Skills / Gripping / twisting / screwing /

Fully customisable maze Individual and group use Develops four key areas High build quality


/ patience / persistence / practice /

Forces / rocking / tilting / rolling /



2 1. Example of file used to cut basic shapes, re-designed after user feedback, on CNC miller 2. CAD render showing the basic shapes assembled prior to maze system being added


Working Prototype


Evaluation of design After the creation of a second prototype, initial user tests and feedback it has been possible to evaluate the success of the design in its current stage of development. Strengths: - All those using and seeing the product have remarked initially how the shape is pleasing to the eye. - Users feel the concept is strong and definitely enjoyable, especially appreciate the ability to customise the entire interior maze. - Production is simple and primarily single, renewable material. The build is durable and simple, no parts to break or wear quickly. Weaknesses: - Magnetic contact points should be stronger to cope with heavier ball being used (e.g. marble). - Further refinement needed to accommodate Perspex cover to prevent the ball being taken out of the maze. - Develop colouring of the game, use variety of bold colours to signify different goals and routes etc.



Project report Design for autism Secondary research E-mail and forum posts Expert interview User interviews 13 Existing Products 9 8 7 5 6 3...


Project report Design for autism Secondary research E-mail and forum posts Expert interview User interviews 13 Existing Products 9 8 7 5 6 3...