News/Research

Summer Research: Rachel Chen on Embodied Platforms for Children on the Autism Spectrum

01 Sep, 2021

Summer Research: Rachel Chen on Embodied Platforms for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Rachel Chen received a BCNM 2021 Summer Research Award. Hear about her great work developing a platform for non-speaking children on the Autism spectrum.

This summer I collected data for my dissertation, a Design-Based-Research (DBR) doctoral study that examines an embodied-design technological platform developed for non-speaking children on the Autism spectrum. The study combines my background in Linguistics, examining the naturally-occurring embodied interactions of Autistic individuals, with a mixed-methodology approach through my Ph.D in Special Education. The platform, the Magical Musical Mat, maps touch to music, allowing users to explore music together through high-5s, claps, and different touch-based gestures.

In the summer of 2021, I was in Singapore for fieldwork. I brought the Magical Musical Mat, into the homes of 12 Autistic children. I worked on the prototype in between sessions with my participants, iterating on the design of the mat in between. At each session, I took video recordings of my participants interacting on the mat, and also interviewed the children’s parents. I then customized the mat and the sounds that we placed in the mat to the preferences of the children.

The grant helped in paying for prototyping materials, such as yoga mats, arduinos, fabrics, sensors, and also helped me cover transportation costs required to travel from one participant’s home to another. Conducting in-person research in the midst of Singapore’s changing COVID-9 regulations meant that unforeseen costs such as disinfecting protocols needed to be considered. The summer grant helped us cover these unforeseen, miscellaneous costs.

In addition to completing data collection for my dissertation, I presented my work at the Interaction Design and Children conference, where I discussed preliminary results and future plans for my work.