''Access ASD is a new research sprint in the Catalyst project that will devise digital tools to help adults in the community with autism.
The principal research question is : To what extent can digital technology be effective in reducing barriers to societal and civic engagement amongst people on the Autism Spectrum?
‘ASD’ stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder a medical category that includes people with a wide range of conditions including what is sometimes called Asperger’s Syndrome. For some people autism is a very restrictive condition and they need continual help and support but for many others it means they have a slightly different experience of life than most people. Some people on the spectrum of autism are ‘high functioning’ and able to live independently in the community – indeed it is thought that has many as a one percent of adults are somewhere on the spectrum and if this is the case, many of them don’t even know it!
Those who are aware of it might have difficulties with sensory sensitivity – perhaps being very sensitive to loud noises, to particular lighting environments or having a strong reaction to the taste of food. Others have difficulty in communicating with words, with empathising with how other people are feeling and some will find difficulty in organising their lives. Many people on the spectrum find difficulties in interacting with other people, perhaps because they feel they have very different interests or that they are not sure what other people are saying or feeling. Reading body language or facial signs can be difficult, jokes, sarcasm and metaphors can be confusing. Interaction or communication difficulties seem to go both ways; for people on the spectrum it can seem difficult to get others to understand how things feel for them. Autism is not a single or simple condition and its origins in the organic structures of the body are unclear - medicine has little to offer.
Access ASD is Catalyst Sprint that brings together university researchers and those working in the community to help people with autism to research and design digital tools that would be useful for people on the spectrum. The focus is on adults living independently whose ability to cope may be enhanced with a device, or a system or simply access to information that is relevant to their lives. There are a number of devices that exist currently, especially applications for smart phones and computers, but mostly these are aimed at helping children and their carers. The Sprint will work with adults on the spectrum to identify what things cause them difficulties and to devise tools that might help – contacts through the local authority, health services and the National Autistic Society will help the Access ASD team to meet and work with people in the North-West who are living with autism.''