As part of our “Final Year Project Module” we were required to submit a 2,500 minimum report outlining our idea and what we hope to achieve with the project. Here it is.
Initial Submission for Final Year Project
Group 13: (Multimedia Solutions for Sensory Rooms)
Lenka Bardakova, Colm O’Leary, Denis Meade, Nicky O’Donnell.
This is a joint group document outlining the project concept and breakdown of individual roles within the project. All members of the group have contributed to the writing of this document.
Submitted Thursday October 4th 2012
Project Concept, Content and Rationale.
Initially, there were two project ideas which were selected by the department as possible project ventures. Those were Nicky O’Donnell’s Interactive 3D Projection Mapping idea and Lenka Bardakova’s Art Therapy Classroom. Denis Meade also had a project with a similar project to Nicky’s which had a greater focus on interactive audio. It was agreed that there may be enough crossover between the three ideas that one project could be a collaborative effort which incorporated elements of all the original ideas.
As we discussed the project’s direction and possibilities we tended to lean more towards the idea of a classroom or art therapy room for which we would provide interactive audio and video solutions. After a discussion between Colm O’Leary and Lenka Bardakova, they proposed that we aim the project either at children that have suffered from bullying or a traumatic event or children with disabilities. After further discussion among the group, we looked towards aiming these Art Therapy rooms specifically at children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As we researched this proposal further we discovered that there are specially designed rooms, commonly known as “Sensory Rooms”, aimed specifically at young children with ASD.
We have conducted further research into the possibility of providing multimedia solutions for the Sensory Rooms. We visited a centre in Liscarroll National School, County Cork, which hosts purpose built rooms for children with disabilities. At present there are eleven children in the centre with ASD. While there, we learned that each student has what is called a “disciplinary team” of teachers, each providing different forms of therapy to the children. Each student has what is effectively a “sensory diet” which is necessary for their development physically, mentally and socially. Autistic children have what is defined as a Sensory Integration Disorder, sometimes also referred to as Dysfunction of Sensory Integration or DSI.
DSI is a complex neurological disorder, manifested by difficulty detecting, modulating, discriminating or integrating sensation adaptively. DSI causes children to process sensation from the environment or from their bodies in an inaccurate way, resulting in “sensory seeking” or “sensory avoiding” patterns or “dyspraxia,” a motor planning problem.Typically, the disciplinary team is responsible for designing each child’s sensory diet. On different days a child may require different stimulus. The aim of the sensory diet is to achieve balance between the five main senses and the sense of balance. The sensory room is typically used to feed the visual and hearing senses as well as providing tactile stimulus through textured walls, floors, fabrics and objects positioned around the room.
What we have observed is that the solutions that are typically found in sensory rooms are “low-tech” devices such as lava-lamps, reflective disco-balls and fibre-optic cables attached to a simple light source and even vibrating cushions. The level of interactivity and control that the children have with these devices is extremely limited. We believe that there is scope for a wide range of multimedia solutions for sensory rooms, that as of yet, have not been developed and, more importantly, will be of significant benefit to the sensory diet of children with ASD.
At times during the discussions between the group we took a step backwards to ask ourselves if we were stepping outside our comfort zone. Would we be better off aiming the project at neurotypical children as opposed to children with ASD? Concerns were raised about the possibility of such a project falling short of its aims in providing a genuine benefit to children with disabilities since we were very much venturing into the unknown. In the end it was agreed that the risk is worth taking not just on the basis that we believe the project will be a success, but because the project can provide a genuine benefit to society. If we were to successfully improve the quality of life for children with autism with our ideas, this would be extremely personally rewarding to us all; much more than any grade or “dollar value” anyone wishes to put on our final project. “We cannot be indifferent to our place relative to this good, and since this place is something that must always change and become, the issue of the direction of our lives may arise for us.”
In short, the aim of this project is to explore the possibilities of multimedia solutions for sensory rooms, present our ideas to experts in the field of autism therapy and subsequently turn those ideas into an experimental installation. We hope that our ideas will become a feature of future sensory rooms and provide a genuine benefit to children with autism which at present is not being fully achieved.
Many children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism who are also hyperactive benefit from sensory stimulation. Providing a sensory room or area can be very effective.
Individual Roles within the Project:
The four group members on this project have agreed to take on individual responsibilities for different elements of the project’s implementation. We have also acknowledged that there will be a certain amount of cross-over between rolls. While we have been asked to elect a “communications person” for the project to take responsibility for organisational tasks, we have agreed that this and other leadership-type roles within the project will be rotated among the members of the group, where possible. It would be preferable for us to avoid a hierarchical structure to the make-up of the project team and to instead work as a collective. There is no one project leader. In our minds, we each need to be leaders of this project.
At our first meeting and brainstorming session we established a need for someone to take responsibility for the art direction of the project to ensure that each of its functions are exciting and unique in their production, creative approach and execution. Lenka will be looking at the art and creative directions of the project due to her graphic design and fine arts background. She will be looking after the development of the visual solutions and responsible for the overall appearance of the final installation; how it communicate visually, stimulates moods, contrasts features and psychologically appeals to the target audience. Lenka will do a research on visual design elements of the project like colours, textures, forms and shapes, what artistic style to use, which multimedia platform would be best suited for the visual outcome of the project such as the use of graphic design, video, 2D and 3D animation. Lenka will use a collection of graphic design, animation and video editing applications. These may include, among others, Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Flash, Illustrator, After Effects and 3D Studio Max.
Lenka’s will translate our ideas onto paper using a sketchbook dedicated to visual designs. This sketchbook will be used to “flesh out” key ideas discussed in brainstorming sessions, and will subsequently be used during a design and implementation process. Lenka will explore possible visual outcomes and the physical structures of the different components of the project. The sketchbook will also be a chronological record of all the interesting trips we will take for the research purposes. It will help us to imagine what the finished piece or scene may look like. It will solidify our collective vision and imagination, while resolving conflicting agendas and inconsistencies between the various individual inputs of the project.
Lenka is also responsible for the research into Art Therapy for children and its possible implementation within the project. Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help people to resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviours and feelings, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and awareness.
We have discussed during our meeting various focus groups that can benefit from the art therapy which includes children with wide-spectrum disorders, disease, and disabilities. We have narrowed it down to two groups which are autistic children and children who experienced bullying. After a long discussion we decided to focus on children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The application of art therapy for children with autism is not something new. As the profession has developed since 1960s and 1970s, countless practitioners have contributed to the educational and treatment programmes offered to autistic children in settings such as special schools and social services departments as well as in private practice. Different models of art therapy have been developed, ranging from working developmentally by helping individuals to move from one stage drawing development to the next, to intervening psychotherapeutically with a focus on the alleviation of psychological problems and distress.
We looked into a variety of problems and issues that autistic children come across and the way these issues are treated at the moment. Lenka got in contact with an Art Therapy specialist (Monika Smolakova) who forwarded us her dissertation work that is focused on Art Therapy for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Art Therapy is a therapeutic modality that uses the art making process with applied clinical psychology and counselling techniques. A specialised therapy, the art therapy approach to healing emphasizes the process of communicating issues, emotions and conflicts both verbally and non-verbally. 
Colm has done much of the leg work in relations to research into the treatment of children with ASD and assisting the project team in developing our understanding of that area. The chief issue that we have had to deal with up to this point is determining a specific direction; a specific group, whose needs we must meet using our installation. Conducting research in this area is difficult because the group we are focusing on, autistic children, have a range of developmental delays and difficulties that make life difficult for them. As such, it is not possible to be comprehensive in our approach, and so we have chosen to focus on the sensory integration difficulties experienced by these children.
Lenka’s initial idea was for a project based around the concept of art therapy: the use of creative expression to provide relief to individuals with a range of challenges and difficulties. In the case of autistic children with sensory integration deficits, they may require stimulation more than they do expression. They require a clear structure that does not confuse and overwhelm them with ambiguity or sensory overload. An “art therapy” installation involving multimedia applications would provide the child with an appropriate level of sensory stimulation, relevant to their needs.
It is important to note that among children with sensory integration deficit, there are both hypersensitive and hyposensitive individuals. Hypersensitive individuals are overly responsive to sensations, resulting in them avoiding over-stimulating situations and suffering “meltdowns” when exposed to excessive noise or visual distraction. Their constant avoidance of sensory input often results in them having a poor understanding of where their body is in relation to the space around them, or an inability to coordinate both sides of their body correctly.
On the other hand, Hyposensitive individuals are under-sensitive and do not receive enough stimulation from their senses. They crave input and sensation, often resulting in difficulties sitting still or the child producing strange or inappropriate gestures to get the stimulation they need.
One approach that would address the needs of both groups would be a tool that exposes the child to different sensory stimuli, and records feedback from the child on which sensations they prefer. As part of a sensory room, our application would record a profile of that child’s sensory preferences, which would be a valuable resource for parents and teachers. The fact that the experience could be altered at will by the child in line with their sensory preferences would give them a valuable outlet for self-expression: an environment they can tailor to their needs.
The most pressing challenge facing our group now is to decide on whether to provide a pure sensory experience, or something more focused on what the child themselves creates. From here on we need to begin working on specific designs and technologies to change this abstract vision into a valuable tool for autistic children.
Of the four members of the project team Denis is the only one from a music technology background. With that in mind he will be responsible for all things relating to sound quality and music.
Denis has taken responsibility for a lot of the early research into the project. In particular he has looked at the sensory rooms that currently exist in the region with a view to finding out what technology is currently being used. He pointed to the use of interactive white boards as a possible key element of our specially designed sensory room (if that was the route we were to take). Although IWBs have been in existence since 1991 their use has become much more widespread as a teaching tool in recent years.
The boards work by sending information to and from a computer, typically via USB, although BlueTooth is now also available). The ‘input device’ is usually a stylus or, in the case of SMART, a finger-tip. The changing data is displayed back on the Board via the Data Projector.
Denis arranged a visit to Liscarroll National School in North Cork, where there is a purpose built centre for assisting children with ASD from the ages of between five and twelve approximately. We were shown one very good example of how the interactive whiteboard was used to create a narrative story, placing a child into everyday situations and showing what appropriate behaviour is in each scenario.
While there are benefits to the IWBs, during our research into the technology we have discovered a possible obstacle to their use within the sensory room project. Concerns have been raised in the UK about the possibility of the boards damaging the eyesight of both children and teachers where they are being overused as a teaching tool. There is a lack of government guidelines in relations to their use. Therefore, we must do further research into the issue of their safety before we decide to include IWBs in the project.
Denis will also look at the science behind the benefits of audio therapy. Through his personal experience he has studied forms of audio that are said to promote lucid dreaming when listened to whilst falling asleep. This steered him onto the idea of incorporating a 5.1 surround sound system to develop spatial awareness and assist the visual, three-dimensional experience of the project.
Sound is the most commonly recognised form of sensory impairment. Hearing impairments can affect someone’s ability to communicate and possibly also their balance. People with an ASD that are hyposensitive may only hear sounds in one ear, the other ear having only partial hearing or none at all. They may not acknowledge particular sounds. The might enjoy crowded, noisy places or banging doors and objects.
For hypersensitive children, noise can be magnified and sounds become distorted and muddled. Children particularly sensitive to sound can, for example hear conversations in the distance that neurotypical children would not. Hypersensitive children with ASD may be unable to cut out sounds – notably background noise, which often leads to difficulties concentrating. “Do you hear noise in your head? It pounds and screeches. Like a train rumbling through your ears.”
Orbitone is an ambient interface for musical interaction by means of tangibles and user motion. It was developed with vvvv, reacTIVision, OpenCV and Ableton Live.
In the early stages of the project Nicky has taken on the role of “communications person” as recommended by the project brief. He has taken responsibility for the timetabling of the project, arranging meetings and taking minute’s. He is also responsible for putting together documentation and reports made up of contributions from all members of the project team, so that they read as independent, coherent documents. It has been acknowledged that others within the team will need to fill this role at different stages of the project depending on workload and commitments to other work within the project.
Nicky is a qualified computer technician with five years experience in the workplace and has a background in computer programming. In the past he provided technical support to Art & Design students at the Limerick School of Art for their final year multimedia projects and installations. These included an interactive cinema placed inside a car and a bicycle which when pedalled interacted with playback of a cycling video. While studying abroad he has worked on interactive multimedia projects which experimented with user-control of light and sound by enabling a computer’s on-board camera to recognise shapes and body movements. Similar techniques may be used in the implementation of this project.
He has suggested the use of a number of different applications that can handle interactive devices for the purpose of creating interesting visuals and sounds. He has experience in using an application called vvvv and has recommended that this form the backbone of the project. vvvv is a hybrid graphical/textual programming environment for easy prototyping and development. It is designed to facilitate the handling of large media environments with physical interfaces, real-time motion graphics, audio and video that can interact with many users simultaneously.
Another possible software application for the project is Isadora; a real-time media manipulation package to create more advanced interactive visuals, sounds, and environments. Use of this application will depend on funding in order to purchase a software license, whereas vvvv is open source and completely free to use. Legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola recently used Isadora to expand cinematic viewing into an interactive, live experience with his new film, Twixt.
Nicky will take responsibility for the coding of the software that will create the interactive environment of the sensory room. He will work closely with Lenka to design the visuals and with Denis on the creation of interactive soundscapes. He will also be responsible for computer networking, power and hardware requirements.
During the research stage of the project Nicky has also been in contact with Ireland Autism Action with a view to arranging a meeting in October. The purpose of the meeting is to build up a network of contacts which specialise in the areas of art therapy and the treatment of autism. The organisation is likely to be able to provide invaluable input into the possibilities of the project, its potential benefits for children with ASD and open doors to potential funding opportunities to aid our research.
Augmented Dancing: A performing artist controls projected animation with his own body movements. Produced using vvvv, Musion Eyeliner and Kinect. Watch the video here: http://vimeo.com/30447206
- Tayor, Charles, Selfhood and Narrative Understanding, Western Phylosphy. An Anthology. 2nd ed. P. 303
- Center of Development. Pediatric Therpies, Sensory Integration Dysfunciton & Duspraxia, http://www.developmental-delay.com/page.cfm/281, Last Accessed October 4th, 2012.
- The Art Therapy Blog, What is Art Therapy, http://www.arttherapyblog.com/what-is-art-therapy/#.UGsQAZjR5ZE, Last Accessed October 4th, 2012.
- Evans, Kathy, Dubowski, Janek , Art Therapy with Children on the Autistic Spectrum, (2001), pg. 7.
- Healing Sense, Art Therapy, http://healingsense.org/art-therapy-and-counselling-2/ Last Accessed October 3rd, 2012.
- Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) and their use in Irish Classrooms, Drumcondra – InteractiveWhiteboards, http://www.cbiproject.net/what_are_cbis.html, Last Accessed October 3rd 2012.
- The A Register, Whiteboards could damage kids’ and teachers’ eyesight. July 2007 http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/07/03/interactive_whiteboards_education_eyesight/, Last Accessed October 3rd , 2012.
- Powell, J. (in Gillingham, G. 1995), p. 41.
- vvvv- a multipurpose toolkit, http://vvvv.org/ , Last Accessed October 3rd, 2012.
- Toikatronix, Francis Ford Coppola uses Isadora for Interactive Film Project, March 2012, http://troikatronix.com/coppola/ , Last Accessed October 3rd, 2012.
- Irish Aurism Action, Abour IAA http://www.autismireland.ie/about-iaa/ , Last Accessed October 3rd 2012.