100 WORDS Aid Autism projector is designed for use in schools to help autistic children to collaborate through teamwork by solving puzzles. A common trait of autism is the unwillingness of the child to engage with others whilst one of the most social experiences is playing board games! With this in mind, the product has a lot to offer children with autism. It helps users work in unity on verbal, physical and non-verbal communicative levels. The projector is designed around encouraging autistic children to work as a team, to engage with each other in order to solve a jigsaw and work together to turn on the projector to help them complete it.
After a hard 7-9 months thinking about my honours project it is time to reflect back on all that this year threw at me (including the many ups and downs along the way). This is a good way to identify what helped me mould my product.
I started this year with two projects on my mind, either to design for helping people with autism or to design prothetic limb attachments. I explored each of them further in order to decided what I was going to take forward. As this was my final year I felt quite apprehensive that I was going to make the wrong decision. This seemed to be one of the biggest hurdles I faced at the start of the year. I was open minded, but upon reflection I was perhaps too open with my decisions at the start of the year, as I found it very hard to commit. My first commitment came when I decided on designing for people with autism over prosthetic limbs. I came to the decision after exploring both avenues and identified insights in both areas. For the prosthetic limb attachments subject I found out that people who had lost limbs struggled with their confidence and as a result thought it would be interesting to bring in my interests of health and fitness into play as through getting fit and healthy you gain confidence in both your physical and mental self. Therefore I wanted to aim my research at weightlifting attachments. With a lot of experience around this subject area I felt it would be a wise place to focus on. However, ever since I came to study product design at university I have always had my honours project at the back of my mind. I have a close family member with autism and as a result I have always been interested in designing for him in my 4th year. This was the decider, as even though I developed an interest in health and fitness, I know that 4th year is all about challenging yourself. Therefore, I knew I would regret not challenging myself to design for an area that I previously did not know much about. My dissertation was centred around health and fitness and their could have been an overlap, which would have made this years research a lot easier for me. However, I felt that after looking back that it was a wise decision for me to have two completely different subjects as it allowed me to go switch my attention to something else when one of the modules was getting too much.
Autism is such a wide subject and I found it extremely hard to narrow down my goal at the start of semester 1. My research continued into the world of autism and from desk research to speaking to my family about potential challenges they and their son face in day to day life. The difficult thing wasn’t identifying a challenge, it was narrowing it down that was the hardest part. There was everything from hygiene, communication skills, and sleeping to general happiness. After Guru’s day my research and feedback seemed to point me in the direction of designing an area to which my family member could go when it all felt too much. At this stage I became aware that my project was was very personal and any critical feedback may be taken quite harshly. The PeDeTe presentation feedback allowed me to take a step back from my project and not be too closed minded and emotionally attached to what my family were suggesting and look at autism as a whole. My feedback was critical over the fact that it is very hard to measure happiness. As a result of this and some family circumstances I decided to consider my research area again into the struggles of children with ASD communicating with everyone around them. My research at this stage was more specific towards autistic children’s communication skills. This challenge has an effect on family relationships, social relationships and transitioning into adulthood. My plan was create something that could go a small way to making any of these aspects easier for children and families affected.
After the Richard burns talk I realised that even though my research has been vast it was still in the research stage. I seemed to have a little bit of catching up to do. I am very pleased that my research at this stage was so wide as it gave me a deeper understanding into autism. As I found out later on that many things overlap no matter what area you are designing for. Shortly after that my research became more in depth through getting into a special needs school where 58 percent of the children are on the autistic spectrum.
Through observation in the workshops I conducted, I gained many insights to which I moulded my product around. Once I decided on a concept and after mocking it up on my second workshop visit with the school, I had to focus on technology (and actually turning an idea into a working prototype). I didn’t really know where to start when it came to the technology aspect, originally I wanted to focus on kinetic energy but the feasibility of using this technology wasn’t great. When moving to Arduino after deciding this was the best way forward, I realised my coding skills weren’t the strongest but what I was trying to achieve was relatively simple. It was really just a timer for an LED to turn on. I came across a few hiccups on the way but with a bit of help from others I got there pretty quickly.
Once my mark II presentation was complete, I felt pretty pleased with the stage I was at. If there is one thing I have learned from this year it is that it is always good to just take a step back once you have reached a certain benchmark. This allows you to weigh up what the next step should be without just jumping in head first. I had made a fair few changes from Mark II to my final product and I am very pleased overall about how it turned out. When making the final product I had a few problems but nothing major. I really enjoyed the hole making process especially from mark II to the final (mark I was a bit hazy).
The final stage was testing the product out. I had not been into the school since my 2nd workshop. Although I was happy with my overall design of the product, I was slightly apprehensive to the reactions that I would get when bringing it into the school. Fortunately, the reactions were far better than I anticipated and the children really interacted with each other and the product. This was exactly what I wanted to see.
In conclusion, I was more than happy with the way that this year went. I particularly enjoyed my 2nd semester as I moved away from desk research to actually experiencing something that you cannot get from sitting at your computer. In my 4 years I felt this was the first time I really got properly into what I was doing. Maybe this was due to the subject I chose or the extended timescale in comparison to other modules, but as soon as I had a solid idea I just couldn’t wait to get the next thing done. Ultimately, that’s what gave me the motivation to finish at put my all in even when it was getting tough.