Using experiential installation works based on autistic sensory experiences Lyddon aims to educate and increase awareness of autism to the public. Over 4 articles Lyddon will be taking us on a journey through her work exploring the autistic sensory world.

This is the second article in a series of four about her current project ‘Sensory Sense’.

‘Cristina’ was the first piece of work that I created in this project, Sensory Sense. It was inspired through observations and experiences at work. (As I mentioned in the first article, I work with children and young people with learning difficulties and complex health needs.)

Cristina, by Becky Lyddon

Cristina, by Becky Lyddon

One girl I work with simply sat in a chair all day with her ipod playing and rocked back and forth. She would be content all day unless – a song started playing that she didn’t like, someone tried to interact with her, ask her to do something or her ipod battery died. After a while I noticed there were different types of ‘rocks’ that she would do, there was a rock forwards, rock backwards and when standing a rock that was side to side.

I have always been interested in our personal sensory experiences and how we interpret our surroundings through experience. When thinking about the rocking motion she was doing it made me realise we also how we naturally use this movement for calming. A rocking movement is used when we are a baby to help calm and soothe us. Sensory sensitivities may affect behaviours and concentration but may also be a reason for initial social ‘autistic difficulties’.

It is common for people on the autistic spectrum to use repetitive motions to calm their sensory input from any of the 7 sensory systems. For example, rocking calms the vestibular sensory system, toe walking or clapping calms the tactile processing and humming calms auditory processing. This is because their sensory systems are hypersensitive, they are receiving too much stimulation from their surroundings.

‘I discovered that I could shut out painful sounds by engaging in rhythmic stereotypical autistic behaviour.’ (Grandin 2000)

These repetitive motions, however, may also be done to help stimulate the senses. If their sensory systems are hyposensitive, they are not receiving enough sensory stimulation from their surroundings.

I wanted to explore some of these repetitive movements further and communicate to the public why autistic people do them, aiming overall for better awareness.

Cristina, by Becky Lyddon

Cristina, by Becky Lyddon

I focused on rocking as this is a movement that is stereotypically related to autism. You may see this in a film like ‘Rainman’ or ‘Backstreet Dreams’ where they are portraying someone on the spectrum. I was keen to use this as an example to educate the public about the autistic sensory world, with the hope of giving them an experience of why autistic people may rock.

Stimming is a repetitive body movement, such as rocking, that is hypothesised to stimulate one or more of the senses. Stimming behaviours are sometimes seen as being comforting or calming to the individual.

‘Cristina’ is a chair designed so that when you sit on it it naturally rocks forward and backwards repetitively. The aim is to help the public reflect on the calming effect of rocking as they sit on the chair. The repetitive forward and backward motion is predictable and over time, comforting. Thoughts and conversations are provoked by ‘Cristina’ and it has been interesting to observe.

‘Cristina’ made me realise how I could educate the public through experience about autism. ‘Cristina’ is relevant to all ages and is a recognisable object to all. It was also the starting point of exploring each sensory system and how behaviours may occur due to ways autistic people are experiencing their surroundings through their senses.

The pieces in this project will be exhibited at Frame Gallery, Southwark from 2nd – 26th April 2014. 

Becky Lyddon 

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