Facilitation and Freedom in Evolving Systems


Session Title:

  • Technology, expression & wellbeing

Presentation Title:

  • Facilitation and Freedom in Evolving Systems




  • Our love affair with personal screen-based technology – in particular the touchscreen – has been at the expense of much of the sensory engagement that emerged from early digital interaction. This infatuation with screen-based devices has installed a two-dimensional interaction metaphor as the de facto standard for engagement; something that is potentially worrisome for those with developmental disorders and disabilities. Many of the applications marketed to those with sensory processing disorders simply emulate existing physical interventions on the latest iDevice; however it is the quiet rise of DIY technology that promises more expressive and engaging experiences. This is buoyed by increasing accessibility of platforms like the Arduino microcontroller, which have more in common with a history of immersion, kinetic art and early multimedia installations than touchscreen mobile devices. In my research work with children who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I look to a history of physical interactivity and immersion as highly relevant to those who have very specific sensory processing issues. By constructing evolving systems with a focus on facilitation and freedom (both of the designer and of the participant), the aim is to allow the unique expression of the child to emerge, directing their own engagement. The self-determination to express agency and a sense of place is vital in giving children with an ASD a voice. To be given this freedom will require a disconnect from the screen interface, instead drawing everyday objects into a responsive tracking system that engages sensorily; creating fertile ground for exploring aesthetic choice in those without verbal language. This research discusses the feasibility of the designer resisting introducing their own aesthetic into an interaction, instead facilitating a dialogue between participant and system, and ultimately unpacks the paradox of programming freedom of expression.