Using experiential installation works based on autistic sensory experiences, artist Becky Lyddon aims to educate and increase awareness of autism. Over four articles Lyddon will be taking us on a journey through her work exploring the autistic sensory world.
“To function and participate in the world that surrounds us, we need to use our senses. Senses provide individuals with unique experiences and allow us to interact and be involved with the rest of society. They help us to understand the environment around us and respond within it. They play a significant role in determining what actions we take within a particular situation.”(Wilkes, 2007)
Just over 4 years ago I graduated from a degree in Graphic and Media Design and started a job as a play worker with children with learning difficulties in west London. I’m not sure I realised at the time how much this job would impact my career, but it soon became the start of a completely new venture for me.
During my final year at university I was interested in the way we perceive our surroundings and how we respond to them. Being a play worker opened up a whole new world of sensory perceptions and our understanding of experiences. I worked with verbal and non-verbal young people, people with complex health needs, learning difficulties, and those on the autistic spectrum – there was a lot to learn.
Working as a play worker opened my eyes to the stigma in society of ‘normal’ behaviour. I wanted to learn more about autistic perceptions of the world, with the hope of educating the public and an aim of creating a better understanding of autism and how it affects their everyday lives.
I quickly learnt that there are mixed views both scientifically and medically about the spectrum. This makes it difficult for autistic people themselves and their support networks around them. I felt it was important to find out what people on the spectrum would like to know more about autism.
Emily Willingham, a Forbes journalist, asked people with autism what they would like to understand better from science. They wanted to understand their sensory issues:
“For me if I touch water, so if I go to wash my hands or take a bath it feels like it’s raining needles on my hands… and then so I quickly take my hands out of the water as fast as I can then when I try to dry it off with a towel it feels like I’m rubbing my hands on sandpaper.
So I have needles in my hands then sandpaper, just that feeling of grain on my hands left over so it’s twice as bad. So I go to grab an ice pack because it feels like my hands are on fire and then the ice pack will have water on it so that will pretty much start over again.”
The full video can be seen here.
It is estimated that around 80% of people on the autistic spectrum also have a sensory processing disorder. Imagine what it would be like if one or more of your senses were intensified or not present at all. How would you feel if you could hear every aeroplane flying overhead in the sky, or have permanent pins and needles in your feet. The way they respond to sensory stimuli may be to help calm or stimulate their sensory system.
Sensory Sense started as a project in response to these behaviours, which are often observed by the public but rarely understood. As it developed, my work took an experiential role. I wanted the viewer to put themselves into the world of a person with a sensory processing difficulty. By learning through experience the aim is to educate society about autism. All my work is directly based on descriptions of sensory experiences by people on the autistic spectrum.
I currently have three experiential pieces of work in this project. ‘Cristina’ is a chair inspired by a repetitive rocking motion. This movement is known as a ‘stim,’ which is a repetitive movement that self-stimulates one or more of the senses. Rocking stimulates the vestibular sensory system which is involved in balance and movement.
‘Lola’s World’ is a site specific mirrored installation that reflects how some people with a visual processing disorder may see the world.
‘Being Ben’ is a head box that gives the viewer an opportunity to experience what it may be like to have an auditory processing disorder. The viewer puts their head up into the transparent perspex box and is exposed to an alternative auditory world. Once inside ‘Being Ben’ the viewer experiences how it might feel to interact with people when you have an auditory processing difficulty like this.
This article is one of 4, the following articles will explore these works and the research behind them in further detail.
The pieces in this project will be exhibited at Frame Gallery, Southwark from 2nd – 26th April 2014.
Wilkes, K. (2007). The sensory world of the autistic spectrum; a greater understanding. London : The National Autistic Society.