A Multisensory Environment Design for an Interface between Autistic and Typical Expressiveness (Mediate)
2001 - 2007
Even ten years later I still feel privileged to have worked on the Mediate Project as Technical Co-ordinator and as one of the designers and engineers of the Vibro-Tactile Team. While the the technology has certainly been overtaken by time a considerable part of the sophisticated Mediate ethos has not yet been bettered.
We collaborated with specialists based in the UK, Spain and Holland to produce an unique multi-sensory environment for young people within the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). From the very first design stage we involved and enjoyed the participation of young people from this community.
The overall design was tailored with great respect to the unique nature of ASD children and yet was self-adaptive to the behaviours, gestures and repetitions of each individual child.
Once the environment (built in Portmouth) was complete, sessions took place in London, Hilversum, Barcelona and Portsmouth. We were able to observe extraordinarily positive changes in the states of the users during and after sessions. They demonstrated considerable engagement, most not wanting to leave the environment and wishing to return when they had finished a session. The parents and carers also reported noticeably positive responses from their children’s Mediate sessions, improving their general well being for some time afterwards. A regular request from the parents and carers being - ‘when can we have one please’.
Panoramic view of the interior of the environment
The aim of this project was to design, produce, build and validate an intelligent, immersive, multisensory, interactive environment that reacts to the unique user, and allows that user to create expressions of their own sensory experience: creations which can be replayed and communicated to others. The environment was transportable and travelled to sites in London, Hilversum and Barcelona.
MEDIATE was a multisensory environment developed specifically for children with autism and limited verbal skills. It was multisensory in a sense that it had a visual, an arual and a touch input and output system. The environment was intended for one user at a time and the user is competely in control. Carers or parent are not encouraged to facilitate or prompt interaction, although observation is recommended as part of the process.
The interaction consists of a dialogue between the child and the environment - when the child first enters the space, their body creates feedback that is directly related to the responses one would find in the physical world: their footsteps make an amplified crunchy sound like a shingle beach, the body's silhouette and its moving gestures are crudely reflected on the large screens like a shadow, the voice is echoed. This is to help the child find confidence in their explorations and to become aware that their actions and their bodies are having a direct effect. Once they have investigated a certain area, the feedback will become less direct and more abstract - so instead of crunching noises, the feet might produce choral singing voices. This is to encourage creative exploration, while still maintaining a clear cause-and-effect relationship.
'The Tunefork' under construction
Official Website : - MEDIATE Project
University of Portsmouth (Co-ordinator)
Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht -Audio
Universitat Pompeu Fabra -Visual
Kings College London - Institute of Psychiatry
Show Connections Limited - Fabrication