Otherness often fosters confusion and mistrust. What if instead it generated curiosity and exchange? What if we made differences the departing point for new discoveries? People with autism see the world differently and thus interact differently with people and their environment. My first contact with autism was indeed disconcerting and emotionally draining. But things changed as I got to know the people at autisme.lu, a protected workplace for people with autism, where I set my project. I learned to appreciate their particular characteristics and strengths and felt that more could be done to promote their integration into society. This project questions society’s treatment of people who are different and at the same time, looks for ways to end the mutual isolation and build a bridge between different perceptions. Design can be a medium to communicate and explain to people what autism means for an individual. Autism is not visible in a static picture, one needs to observe the behavior to see the symptoms. So one of the first challenges of this project was to find ways to render autism visible. The second challenge was to create a tool that would connect perceptions of people with autism to ours and allow their way of handling and perceiving the world to inspire ours. In order to achieve this, I needed to pierce the invisible veil around people with autism: I tried to put myself in their position, to act and think like them, to immerse myself into their world. People express themselves in different ways: People with autism often use only one or a few of the channels for communication that are available. I was determined to accept their way of expression and to see where it would lead me. The creation of a lab of perception allowed me to try out scenarios or tools under controlled conditions, to see how the people reacted to my input. I took several approaches: visualize the different ways in which we communicate with a color-coded spectrum, create personas to learn more about the individuals at the workshop, become a medium myself by trying to take the role of a person with autism and create a witness of the meeting, an object which documents the coming together of two worlds. This quest for a tool, for an object that could build a bridge between our perceptions and would allow us to find a common denominator also made me realize how important it is to express yourself and to encourage each person’s special talent and uniqueness when interacting.
Graduation project, 2012