What is it about?

Autistic children are increasingly a focus of technology research. We read a large set of papers to identify the varied purposes of these technologies and how they relate to autistic children. We found six types of purposes: behaviour analysis, assistive technologies, education, social skills, therapy and well-being. These predominantly view autism as a medical deficit in need of ‘correction’. Autistic children—purportedly the beneficiaries of these technologies—thus become a secondary audience to the interests of their largely neurotypical environment. For technology design to do better, designers need to strategically orient themselves towards the interests, needs and desires of autistic children.

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Why is it important?

Technology research follows a dangerous mantra claiming that with the preferences for sameness and predictability, autistic people are uniquely adept with technological environments and supposedly prefer them over human contact. The short-sighted notion ignoring the multi-facetted ways in which autistic people interact with the world in general and others specifically keeps being perpetuated for the sake of argument towards funding bodies and within research papers. And technology research around autism, particularly in the context of autistic children, is exploding. Hence, it makes sense to look into the role autistic people actually play in this research.

Perspectives

We urge researchers in the field to do better, to take their responsibilities seriously and to reflect on the larger implications of their research. To attend to autistic people’s needs, desires, wishes and preferences, to admit that one can be wrong, to acknowledge difference in appreciation and to be honest about their work. Allistic researchers designing technologies in an autism context, could think of them as being of service, practice humility, carefully deprioritise neurotypical positions in their research and only then might they claim to design technologies for autistic people.

Katta Spiel

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This page is a summary of: Agency of Autistic Children in Technology Research—A Critical Literature Review, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, December 2019, ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), DOI: 10.1145/3344919.
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