From Research to Realisation.

Sensory Toy: How It Relates Back To Autism.

The prototype I have made is designed in mind to aid the needs of someone with ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition). Specifically, the prototype is designed to aid the recovery of someone in sensory overload. By programming the lights to be gentle and soothing, and with the prototype’s tactile nature, it will provide a calming effect. To tailor this prototype to someone experiencing sensory overload, I investigated a variety of sources through articles, journals and PowerPoint Presentations centered around Autism and the different signs or symptoms one may experience. Through this series of investigation, I have learned that there may be different triggers or signs or symptoms that one person with autism may demonstrate, whilst another may experience things differently. No one person is affected the same. This blog post will discuss the importance of that finding and how I am applying a specific field to the developed prototype.


^ By investigating a breakdown on the seven senses and how these are experienced differently to those on the ASC spectrum, I was able to narrow down the field and specifically design and develop the prototype to one specialisation.

Sight and Touch: the specific area of autism I selected. I chose sight and touch, because it was extensive in terms of what I could design and develop. I could add textures, apply lights, combine the two or revert back to touch and add indents and different textures.

To investigate designing a prototype, I took inspiration from a small object on the market called a Fidget Cube.

Having held a fidget cube and being able to feel the texture of each element of this object, it enabled a better understanding of the sensations of touch; what felt nice or what felt abrasive. I took inspiration from a few elements of the fidget cube and the sensations it provided when touching it and applied that to my own CAD design in Rhino.

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^ As my investigation continued, I discovered that the perceptions of someone on the ASC spectrum aren’t unified. For example, White and Oliver’s different experiences of sound demonstrate how the same situation can be perceived differently by someone on the spectrum. For this reason, I decided to not include sound in my prototype, as it would be too subjective.

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^ Discovering the intensity that someone feels on the spectrum, I took this into consideration when I started designing my prototype in Rhino. The prototype would be comfortable to hold and would be designed so that it would be a passive object. The idea would be that the prototype would be something that someone on the spectrum could interact with, but not interact with them. I wanted to minimize the possibility of someone perceiving the prototype as intrusive.

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^ Investigating sensory sensitivities was a pivotal moment in the designing process of my prototype, because the research gave me a better understanding of what to avoid or include in my design. For example, someone with hypersensitive senses dislikes dark and bright lights, whilst someone with hyposensitive senses is fascinated with reflections or brightly coloured objects. This meant I needed to consider the following things for my design: lights, smell (product material), texture, size.

Light: I needed to carefully consider how I wanted my prototype to light up. I needed to consider what could be a trigger for someone on the hyper/hyposensitive spectrum and avoid bright or dark lights. This has led to the decision that I will have gentle, soothing lights that sit in the middle of bright-dark spectrum. The colours will be pastel and not too fluorescent. The lights will be programmed to activate slowly in a calming, pulsive rhythm as to avoid triggering someone. Also, whoever is holding the product, will have full control over that process.

Smell: This was harder to consider in terms of developing with material process. I needed to consider what material I casted the product in, as long-lasting smells of materials could provide negative for someone experiencing hypersensitivity. The current prototype is made of transparent resin, which lacks any odor once the cast is dry.

Texture: By investigating market research and what currently already exists in today’s market, inspired the nodules and interactive nature of my prototype. I have a better understanding of the variables of texture now and which ones are positive and negative.

Size: This was another issue in the development stage, because I originally had the intention to design a prototype that could be portable and pocket-size. However, due to the size restrictions, it proved difficult to also apply lights if I kept it to the original concept scale. The current prototype is larger in scale than I had originally liked, but this is a good starting point. As I gain further confidence and skills in programming and designing concepts for products, I will make the product smaller in scale.

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^ When someone is experiencing sensory overload, they may utilise only one sense at a time – a Mono process. The idea behind my prototype is designed with that in mind. The prototype can provide relief by being a reliable anchor. For example, the prototype only has one function: when the button is pressed, a series of lights begin. There is no surprise elements or unexpected reactions. The user is going to know what happens and has full control over what is going to happen. For example, the prototype is like the process of breathing into a brown paper bag to prevent a panic attack getting worse.

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^ As above, my prototype will hopefully provide structure and stability; something that the user can rely on. The prototype is designed to be passive, to provide aid on a personal level.

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^ In conclusion, it is my hope that my product will be useful for those on the ASC Spectrum in a number of ways.

  • Lights to visually aid the calming process.
  • Tactile elements for those who need physical stimulation.
  • Discreet design for everyday use.

Author: lawrenceaaronmaker

Studying a BA Hons in Artist, Designer; Maker at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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