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 third article in a series of four about her current project ‘Sensory Sense,’ opening on 2nd April at the Frame Gallery in Southwark.
After creating ‘Cristina’ I wanted to gain as much information and knowledge from other sources as I could. So I spent the next 3-5 months focusing on gathering research and experiences on the spectrum before developing ‘Sensory Sense’ further while on my masters.
I wanted to find answers to the following questions: what do autistic people themselves want to understand more about the spectrum? What would they like more support with from professionals and those around them? And what approach is best to educate the public about their experiences on the spectrum.
I had a keen interest and focus on creating a better understanding of autism in society.
One particular talk that I went to was by Temple Grandin. Temple spoke about her life growing up with autism. How people in the community treated her, her interests, struggles and experiences of family life. I was particularly interested in the situations where she described her difficulties caused by her sensory experiences. In almost all situations Temple spoke about she referred directly to how she felt. For example, she described how at school the bell sounded like it was at full volume. It sounded like a fire drill.
“The thing with autism is not everyone has the same sensory problems. It’s so variable. I had problems with sound, I can’t stand itchy clothes. When I was a little kid the school bell hurt my ears like a dentist drill it was terrible.”
Temple explained that many people on the autistic spectrum have sensory processing difficulties that are unique to each person. She went on to describe her difficulties with auditory and tactile processing. Her senses are hyper-responsive (she receives too much stimuli from these sensory systems) so sounds are loud and muddled, and fabric and textures may be itchy on her skin. She explained how she calmed herself down while she was away at boarding school. Temple invented the ‘squeeze machine’. This gave her a tight hug when she needed that pressure to calm her senses. The ‘Squeeze machine’ is now used with some people on the spectrum.
Temple went on to explain that:
“I do not have visual problems but there are some people with visual processing problems that when they look at something the visual image breaks up like a mosaic.”
She then referenced this to an image in one of Oliver Sack’s book ‘Migrane’.
I realised after this talk how our sensory experiences affect everything in our day-to-day lives. I tried to consider how I might feel if I saw my surroundings in this ‘mosaic-like’ way and how it might impact the things I do and the way I respond to my environment.
I wanted to focus on how autistic people describe their experience of their surroundings through their senses. I decided to use this as a focus for this project from then on.
With the autistic perspective as my focus I started to explore some sensory experiences described by autistic people.
‘Lola’s World’ was inspired by Temple Grandin’s quote and reference. ‘Lola’s World’ invites the viewer to experience their surroundings as someone with a visual processing difficulty would.
Lola’s World has been exhibited to the public in London and Mumbai.
During September 2012 I travelled to Mumbai, India where I volunteered in a specialist sensory integration school, called Khushi.
At the school I observed the work they do to support children and families. Knowledge and understanding of autism is quite limited in India. While I was there I thought it would be interesting to create a mini ‘Lola’s World’ to take around with me to generate awareness in the communities. Even though there was a languages barrier, ‘Lola’s World’ enticed people in. They were intrigued to see themselves in the mirror. Afterwards I explained that it replicates how some people with visual processing difficulties may be seeing their surroundings.
India has such a rich and sensory culture it was great to see how ‘Lola’s world’ was reflected. Being constantly bombarded with smells, colours, sounds and tastes it was clear to see how a visual processing difficulty could make day-to-day living a struggle, and the experience highlighted the need to find strategies to create a better awareness of this..
During the end of my time in Mumbai I shared ‘Lola’s World’ with Khushi. Since leaving Dr Reena Singh (founder of Khushi) and I have stayed in touch, sharing our news regularly. Reena will be skyping during the exhibition ‘Sensory Sense’ in southwark, on ‘Eclectic approach 11th April at 6pm. If you would like to hear more about Khushi and the amazing work they do and their approaches please book you place via Eventbrite.
You can see ‘Lola’s World’ and more responses to ‘Lola in India’ during ‘Sensory Sense’ 2nd – 28th April, at the Frame Gallery in Southwark. Talks and workshops accompany the exhibition, spaces are limited so please book early. More details and how to book can be found at www.sensoryspectacle.co.uk.