Autism, Visual Thinking, and Independence

Story by Jeremy Young

Faculty of Architecture and Design, 2018

Introduction

Think about your daily routine. Most likely it includes a variety of tasks: get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work, cook dinner. Imagine if you were unable to complete these necessary daily tasks. For many people living with autism this is a daily struggle. For example, a person with autism may try to do the grocery shopping but might forget the small steps required to get that task done.

The Rmindr App

Elliott Broughton from the Victoria School of Design has developed an app called ‘Rmindr’ that is designed to assist those who live with autism spectrum disorder. The app works as a personal organiser designed to help people with autism manage themselves without assistance from family or caregivers. The app was built from looking at what those with autism need assistance with and identified a gap in the market of products; nearly all packages and applications for autism are designed to help children and their caregivers. Little assistance is given to young adults living with autism. The app gives visual aids for daily tasks such as getting dressed, washing dishes and cooking.

It is important that those living with autism receive assistance as they transition from childhood to adulthood, a period where the desire for autonomy increases and support from family or caregivers typically decreases. Rmindr works to aid young adults and older people who live with autism and aims to assist them in their journey towards independence, without the need for continual observation and help, so that they can become self-sufficient and self-ruling adults.

The app is based on Elliott’s research that shows that a digital personal organiser is perceived as useful by the young adults living with the disorder. While other parties have made small attempts to build applications for people with autism, this research has revealed that there is still too much focus on children and not enough on what happens when they grow up.

Rmindr

  • <p>The Rmindr App. </p>
  • <p>The Rmindr App. </p>
  • <p>The Rmindr App. </p>
  • <p>The Rmindr App. </p>
  • <p>The Rmindr App. </p>

A Critical View

Elliott’s app works hard to help those in need and recognises that as people with autism reach adulthood they still need assistance. However, the app may have a fundamental flaw. Autism can restrict social and physical behaviours to varying degrees, meaning that those suffering from autism to a point where they fail to do daily tasks (the target user of the app) could realistically also be unable to do the daily task of using the app. This creates the problem that those who most need the app would be unable to use it, while those who could confidently follow the instructions on the app would most likely not need to follow instructions to do things such as how to dress oneself.

It is found that over a third of people with autism are non-verbal, while a third also have an intellectual disability. Attention deficit, hyperactivity, and anxiety are also common. These factors mean that the inability to do daily tasks is more of a complex issue than simply not having clear instructions handy. The app has been designed as a one-size-fits-all solution for those with autism, while in reality it is unclear if such a solution would be helpful to many or just a very small niche.

It is commendable that the app looks at new ways to contribute to assisting those with autism by partially replacing the caregiver in order to encourage independence of the user. However, those touting systems such as Rmindr should be mindful that while the app may increase independence, it is not a substitute for the bond and friendship built up between those with autism and their loved ones or caregivers.

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