Tactile Technologies for Play and Learning

Framework for engaged transdisciplinary teaching and development of technologies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

This project is for a two-semester transdisciplinary curriculum to conceptualize, develop, implement and analyze new and innovative technology-embedded playscapes for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Students from courses in Architecture and Computer Science are given the opportunity to experience the entire technology and architectural development cycle from design within an academic setting to installation and testing within the hands-on setting of ASD-based classrooms and therapy centers in Ann Arbor. In the fall semester, students will explore concepts and develop initial prototypes. The most successful projects will be advanced and installed at the local facilities in the winter semester. Technologies will uniquely focus on activating textiles as tactile interfaces, environments and landscapes, where play and social interaction are utilized as the primary means of engagement and learning.

The students, working in interdisciplinary teams, will be embedded in a truly collaborative learning experience involving experts in the field of autism research and education, and, most importantly, working closely with specific children with ASD who have been selected to be a part of this project, along with their families and therapists. The work will center on identifying the nuances of each child’s issues related to behavioral regulation, fine and gross motor control, communication and social interaction. The students will be given lectures by expert faculty and practitioners, providing a fundamental understanding of ASD and state-of-the-art teaching and research methods. A key feature of the curriculum is an integrated two-part workshop, titled Mindfulness in Design, Play and Learning for Autism. Involving experts Dr. Rita Benn (U-M Integrative Medicine), Dr. Mary Spence (Michigan Collaborative for Mindfulness in Education), Onna Solomon (PLAY Project Therapist), and Erika Cech (ASD Classroom Teacher), students and families will work together with local filmmakers to generate a series of short films that depict a positive view of the unique mental make-up of each child involved in the project. The core of the students’ action-based learning will emanate from the tacit knowledge gleaned through data and insights from the people working with the children, the experiences of the families of the children, as well as moments of hands-on interaction with the children themselves.

The project is collaborating with Spectrum Therapy Center, the ASD Classroom at Haisley Elementary, U-M Center for the Child and the Family, and the Friendship Circle in West Bloomfield, working closely with their families and therapists to develop specific technologies which will ultimately be installed and tested at each location.

Project Team

Sean Ahlquist, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

David Chesney, College of Engineering