This is a blog about design from my perspective as an autistic person (tentatively diagnosed with Nonverbal Learning Disability). I cover both design issues for autistic users, and particular designs I happen to like (while trying to give reasons why they may appeal to other autistics). I’m not a professional designer, just someone who likes what he sees as good design. My perspective as a design-minded autistic may be of interest to others (particularly autistics and those designing for them).
Any estimate of the autistic population is controversial, but according to the CDC about 1 in 68 children in the United States has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and the percentage has been rising (see chart below). That may seem a low percentage to some, but there’s a large overlap between the special needs of autistics and senior citizens (for instance, compared to the average person many individuals in both groups tend to have poorer coordination, and are more easily confused by audio-visual stimuli).
Add the ASD and Senior demographics together, and you have a large consumer base for designs specific to their shared needs. In addtition, the percentage of persons aged 65 or older is projected to climb rapidly throughout the developed world. In many cases, the designer’s ‘typical user’ profile may need to be modified to account for the growing ASD-Seniors market share, and this can often be done without compromising the general appeal of the product.
A simple presentation on NLD, from the YouTube channel of the National Centre for Learning Disabilities. No fancy (distracting) graphics, just the facts.
A slightly eccentric site that does what it says. Carryology is a design site that covers anything to do with luggage, baggage, carry-ons, cases, handbags and wallets. Pretty much anything that you carry, that carries something else. As always, we checked the site-design for autistic-friendliness. The subdued colours and neat layout are easy on the eyes, and the reviews and articles are informative too. Also top-notch pictures all round.
New to Carryology?
To get you started on your quest to Carry enlightment, here’s five hand-picked posts we think will help get you up to speed:
#1 – Slimming your wallet – 5 Steps to reduce the bulk in your back pocket.
#2 – Backpack or Messenger? – A guide to help you choose the right bag for your day to day use.
#3 – Leather Care Tips – Essential care advice to keep that hide looking as good as new.
#4 – Choosing Good Rolling Luggage – If it’s wheeled travel bags you’re after, start here.
#5 – What makes a great wallet – The basic fundementals of good wallet functionality and design.
Autistics are often highly creative, but many of us need help bringing ideas to the market. Quirky is a collaborative website that allows users to suggest new inventions, comment on submissions, and vote on which should be made by Quirky, to be sold on the site itself. The idea’s originator will receive royalties on each item sold. Of course, by letting Quirky do all this, the inventor will have to cut some slack on intellectual property rights (given that Quirky is carrying most of the legal and financial risk). Interested inventors may wish to check out the site’s IP FAQ page for more details on that aspect. Even if you’re not an inventor, Quirky is a fine way to dip your toe in the designer’s craft, by suggesting improvements to other people’s inventions. That way, you’ll get hands-on experience in product design, even if (like me) you can’t draw to save your life!
How do I participate in Quirky?
Once you’ve signed up for a Quirky account, there are tons of ways to get involved:
1. Have an idea that you’re dying to see developed? Fill out the problem and solution text boxes on the welcome page and click “Continue idea submission,” or simply click
2. Help us select the next great product by voting, collaborating, and commenting on product ideas. You can also contribute to the design and branding of products in development, or help us determine their price. Click on the Participate or Upcoming tabs at the top of the Quirky homepage to get started.
3. Snag some Quirky products of your very own by clicking on the Shop tab. You can also promote Quirky products among friends and family to earn a share of the profits through social sales. Click on your name in the top right of the page, then select “Social Sales” for more information on our referral program and your unique social sales link.
4. Meet fellow community members through submissions and the Quirky Forums. You can find like minded people, follow your favorite community members, participate in discussions, and start your own topics. Don’t forget to check out our blog, Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest Quirky news. The list goes on and on.
[From the Quirky FAQ]
A common thread through most autistic disorders is a lack of awareness of non-verbal social cues; things like body-language, facial expressions and the ‘unspoken rules’ of sociability, that non-autistics pick up intuitively. Autistic children need to have the meanings of different non-verbal cues spelled out (for example, that a frown means someone is upset), along with the social conventions around various activities (such as making friends). The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules is a handy guide for tweens-to-teens with autism, on the basic norms of etiquette and good people-skills. The book comes highly recommended by many parents of autistic teens. The author, Jennifer Cook O’Toole, writes from first-hand experience as someone with Aspergers.
About the author: O’Toole was diagnosed as an Aspie in adulthood, is the mother of three Asperkids, the wife of an Aspie, an award-winning Special Educator and two-time author of ￼brand-new books for and about Asperkids (Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome, and The Asperkids’ (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Guidelines for Teens and Tweens, from Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2012). Both books were chosen by Autism Speaks as “Main Resources for Families,” and Autism Asperger Digest selected Asperkids to the “Top 12 Books to Read When a Loved One is Diagnosed with ASD.” Her third book, The Asperkid’s Launch Pad: Homes That Empower Everyday Superheroes will be released in Spring 2013. [From Amazon]
In the UK, musicians from the Orchestra of St John’s spend 40 days a year playing at schools for autistic children. Over 11 years, the OSJ has entertained over 35,000 autistic kids across Britain. The orchestra’s conductor, John Lubbock, has an autistic son and founded a charity called Music for Autism in 2001, to bring music to children in special schools.
‘One of the reasons I love doing this is that there is such joy in these schools and the staff are so caring,’ Lubbock says. ‘Every tiny increment of improvement is a massive celebration; there is no failure. You can’t ever fail. In what other part of life could you say that?’ [quote from The Telegraph]
via The Telegraph
Britain’s Oxford Playhouse recently put on the children’s musical ‘Spot’s Birthday Party’ with a difference. It was a ‘relaxed performance’ for autistic children, where they were allowed to come and go, and even make as much noise as they liked (some autistic children have involuntary verbal tics). What a breath of fresh air. I’m sure more can be done to bring the Arts to autistic audiences. Perhaps a special auditorium, with soundproof wireless headphones for every audience member, so everyone can enjoy the performance and still make noise?
Relaxed performances are aimed at anyone who would benefit from a laid back environment including people with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, sensory or communication disorders, a learning disability or very young children who might be afraid of the dark. The atmosphere in the auditorium will be relaxed with the house lights on a slow fade system. Audience members will be free to come and go as they please throughout the show and make noise if they want to. There will also be a space where you can go and relax outside of the main auditorium in both our Foyer and Circle Bars. In advance of the performance there will be a visual story available on request from the Ticket Office, to help families and young people familiarise themselves with the theatre and performance before attending. [From the Oxford Playhouse website]
For reasons unknown, many autistics also suffer from environmental allergies. Steam-cleaning is the most allergen-neutral way to rid the home of dust, bacteria, mould, bugs and other irritants, without adding potentially harmful chemicals to the environment. Steam cleaners use only water (often tap water is fine), and rely on high-pressure super-heated steam to clean and sanitize. PSI (pounds-per-square-inch) and temperature are two important criteria for choosing a steam cleaner, and industrial cleaners (though more expensive) usually do a better job than models designed solely for domestic use. Steam-cleaners can be used on most hard surfaces (probably not so great for carpets, unless the machine has a vacuum function. BTW compared to carpets, hard flooring traps fewer allergens) and are especially effective in bathrooms, kitchens and garages. Also kills bed-bugs in mattresses, and de-grouts tiles.
Like many autistics, I find driving difficult and never bothered to get a license. Clumsiness, absent-mindedness, poor reflexes and anxiety are some of the issues that may challenge autistic drivers. For those who encounter such problems (autistic or otherwise), there are now alternatives to the standard car that may be easier to drive. Two are shown below, the Renault Twizy and the Piaggio MP3. The Twizy is what they call a ‘microcar’, an electric-powered vehicle for city driving. The main advantages of the Twizy are its maneuverability, compact size and small turning circle; making it easier to park and weave through city streets. Doors are optional, and removable for better all-round visibility. The driver’s seat is in the centre, further improving side-visibility. The first video below is ‘with doors’, the second ‘no doors’.
Having said that, there are a few concerns worth highlighting for the Twizy. There is a single back-seat, but it’s cramped. The optional doors have no windows, so the interior is ‘open to the public’ and you’ll get wet in heavy rain. UPDATE: It turns out you can now buy windows for the Twizy either from Renault or third-party suppliers. Just google ‘Twizy windows’.
The Piaggio MP3 is a three-wheel motorbike that offers the stability of a car without the restrictions of driving a one-ton steel box. The two front wheels tilt on corners, so it feels like a normal bike on the road. But unlike a normal bike, you can come to a full stop without putting your leg out, and no worries about falling over. The MP3 offers excellent all-round visibility and handling: but it’s still a bike, with most of the usual disadvantages when it comes to security and weather-proofing. The Twizy and MP3 are just two of the many motoring alternatives out there for autistic drivers, choices depend on your particular strengths and weaknesses. Other options include trikes, motorbikes with sidecars, and other types of microcars.
Autistics can be highly sensitive to disorder and messiness, and prefer to do things (such as cleaning) according to fixed routines, for predictable and optimal results. Thankfully, there’s a nice website called Clean My Space that caters to that obsessive-compulsive in all of us, autistic or otherwise. Importantly, the site design is autistic-friendly, with cool colours and easy navigation. I particularly enjoy the videos, which are professional-quality and presented with light touches of humour. Definitely one to bookmark if you do the cleaning around the house.