Abstract: Traditional face-to-face social interactions can be challenging for individuals with autism, leading some to perceive and categorize these individuals as less social than their peers. For example, autism can be accompanied by difficulty making eye contact, interpreting some nonverbal cues, and performing coherent verbal utterances. While these challenges can be interpreted as an inability or lack of desire for social interactions, researchers have begun to explore how to expand the definition of sociality for those with autism. My research explores how technology can support alternative means of sociality, particularly for children with autism engaged in social play. In this advancement talk, I will present two research studies: SensoryPaint and Autcraft. SensoryPaint is a multimodal sensory environment built to enable whole-body interaction with the Kinect. Evaluation of SensoryPaint was conducted in two stages: a lab-based study and a deployment study. Results from this study show how these systems can promote socialization. My second research project explores Autcraft, a Minecraft community for children with autism and their allies. I will present results from on-going ethnographic work exploring the community’s Minecraft server and other community affiliated social media. Results from this study highlight ways in which community members use technology to create a safe environment for children with autism to explore alternative forms of social expression. Findings suggest an expansion of how sociality has traditionally been conceptualized for individuals with autism and how technology plays a key role in facilitating this new sociality.
Preview: Members of the Autcraft community for children with autism and their allies use a variety of social media platform, centered around Minecraft. The community’s use of various technologies facilitates the expansion of how members can socialize with one another, giving them opportunity to explore their own sociality, expand how they would like to be able to socialize, and deepen their connection with other members of the Autcraft community.
“I love being a member of the [Autcraft] community and love spending time with my ‘family’ here. … A place I was accepted for … just being ‘different’ than others.”
If a child finds face-to-face conversations challenging and feels isolated from their peers at school, where can they go to make friends? Online communities have the potential to support social interaction for those who find in-person communication challenging, such as children with autism. Unfortunately, online communities come with their own set of problems – cyberbullying is particularly troubling. We studied how one online community, Autcraft, through a variety of social media platforms, practices and defines how they are social.
Autcraft is a Minecraft community for children with autism and their allies run by parent volunteers. The goal of the Autcraft community is to have a safe space for children with autism to play Minecraft free from harassment and bullying (for more information visit the Autcraft website). As part of our study, I have been conducting an on-going ethnography within the community (see our paper for details). This study included analysis of activity within the Minecraft server, forums, website, Twitter, Facebook group, YouTube, and Twitch.
Our analysis demonstrates how members of the Autcraft community search for, practice, and define sociality. These results indicate more broadly how people may increasingly find new ways to express themselves and create a sense of community as emergent forms of media change the nature of our social landscape. Our exploration of Autcraft adds to a growing body of work about social platforms by showing how flexible, multimodal communications not only “keep the game going” but also can have profound effects for self-expression and feelings of social belonging.
Autcraft community members engage in the following:
Searching For and Finding Community. Minecraft serves as a bridge or means of entry for members of this community. The game plays a key role, coupled with other forms of social media, in supporting children who are particularly known to struggle with finding social support. Autcraft—including the game, forums, Facebook page, and community-related videos—helps community members to not feel “alone.” Much like for other youth online, Autcraft members describe “hanging out” with their friends in Minecraft. Although they may not be meeting in person, members consider these relationships to be meaningful friendships. Autcraft, by its very nature of blending social interaction with strict rules of behavior and appealing game mechanics, comes together to form a space of cohesion, not difference, and of support, not scorn.
Defining Sociality and Community. Although Autcraft community members often seek out social relationships through Autcraft as an augment to in-person relationships, some do not wish to seek out these in-person friendships. Those who prefer the majority of their socializing to occur online struggle with what it means to be “social.” Acceptance is a cornerstone to making being “different” more tolerable and reducing the social isolation and loneliness that frequently surrounds difference.
Practicing Sociality. In practicing their social behavior, social connections are formed and maintained through a variety of media technologies, allowing members to use communicative practices best suited for them, both as individuals and as a group. The community sets the stage for sociality by encouraging members to “Be Kind, Be Respectful, Be Responsible.” On an individual level, Autcraft provides powerful common ground for players, a key foundation to many friendships. Not only do those who join the community share a common interest in Minecraft, they also all have claimed to be either an ally of, or someone with, autism. This is a requirement the community regulates carefully. These two components of the community help lay the groundwork for friendship because they represent part of a person’s shared interest.
By using various platforms, members of the Autcraft community are able to form deeper friendships with one another, if so desired. Being able to foster these relationships across the myriad platforms creates cohesion in the community. Two members may meet through an advertisement on the forums for builders, build a project together, and then go on to create YouTube videos together of the experience. This facilitates the expansion of how members can socialize with one another, giving them opportunity to explore their own sociality, expand how they would like to be able to socialize, and deepen their connection with other members of the Autcraft community.
For more details about our methods and findings, please see our full paper that has been accepted to CHI 2016 (to appear in May 2016). Full citation and link to the pdf below:
Acknowledgements: We thank the members of Autcraft for the warm welcome to their community. We would like to thank members of LUCI for their feedback on this paper. We would also like to thank Robert and Barbara Kleist for their support. This work is covered by human subjects protocol #2014-1079 at the University of California, Irvine.
For those that know me personally, you’ll know I recently gave birth to the sweetest little boy. He is known as baby Kai in my HCI circles to identify him from the many Kai, Khai, and CHI’s floating about. He’s 3 months old and, as I have heard from several sources, I am just now starting to come out of the fog. I perhaps likened my experiences as more sort of clawing my way out of a pit, but the end result is the same. I am here, slightly battered and definitely disoriented, but so very much richer than I was before.
I start this blog up again because I feel like it was always an important thing for me to document what has been happening in my life- both for my own amusement and to point to when people ask me how I “do it” (that is, go to grad school, be a mom, and stay a semi-sane human being).
The plan is to produce posts (realistically, semi-sporadically) about my research, writing, things I’m reading, videos as I make them, tales from being a grad school mom, progress on video games I’m making, and gaming in general (I’m going to be honest, you’re going to probably get a lot about Minecraft).
Social media, including virtual worlds, has the potential to support children with autism in making friendships, learning pro-social behavior, and engaging in collaborative play with their peers. However, currently, little is known about how children with autism interact socially in online spaces. Furthermore, there is much more to learn about how technology can support these collaborative interactions. In this study, I propose investigating how a virtual world can be intentionally run alongside other complementary social media (e.g., website, forum, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+) specifically for children with autism. The contribution of this work is to create design guidelines for creating social media systems (including virtual worlds) to support social interactions of children with autism.
Kathryn E. Ringland, Christine T. Wolf, LouAnne E. Boyd, Mark Baldwin, and Gillian R. Hayes. 2016. Would You Be Mine: Appropriating Minecraft as an Assistive Technology for Youth with Autism. In ASSETS 2016. [Acceptance Rate: 25%]. Best Paper. [PDF]
Ringland, K.E., Wolf, C.T., Hayes, G.R. (2015, May 15). “The Benefits of Online Play: An Investigation of Virtual Worlds for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder”. International Meeting for Autism Research Salt Lake City, Utah.
Individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders often experience sensory perception impairments, which can lead to challenges such as sensitivity to loud noises or irritation from specific textures on their skin. Atypical movement, such as rocking, can be exhibited as compensation for this sensory perception impairment.
Currently, therapists use dance therapy to stimulate the various senses in children with autism to help reduce atypical movement and to increase engagement in the activity. DanceCraft is a system developed to further the aims of dance therapy by increasing the children’s body awareness. We will be exploring how the software engenders different interactions styles to help inform the design of future systems focused on using body based movements to support dance therapy.
Lovely write up about the DanceCraft study by the Informatics department here at UCI: http://www.informatics.uci.edu/informatics-ph-d-student-introduces-dancecraft-to-oc-autistic-children/ ... Read More
I am happy to announce that our paper, “SensoryPaint: A Multimodal Sensory Intervention for Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders” has received Best Paper Nomination at Ubicomp 2014. Many thanks to my awesome co-authors as well as others who helped with editing and other feedback. I presented this paper Sept 17, 2014.
Here’s a short video of my design motivation and sketches of my communication app for Japanese children with autism. After consulting with my mentor at Hiroshima University, Dr. Norimune Kawai, I finished the basic sketches last week and have been hard at work coding a prototype for iPad. Coming up next: the development of the app. Stay tuned!