The Sensory Web

Thank you to those who attended our feedback group in September! It was really helpful to learn what you thought about our results, and your valuable insights have helped us to shape our findings and how we will present them. We are pleased to report that we have finished analysing our focus group data and so we wanted to give you an early update on the results of the study whilst we prepare the research article.

To analyse the data we used thematic analysis, which helped us to develop a series of themes and subthemes that reflect patterns in our data. Each of our themes represent a different principle or factor that may make a public place more disabling or enabling for autistic people. In the feedback group, we discussed how these principles interconnect and overlap with one another to create different sensory environments.

In our focus groups we focused on learning more about environmental and external factors that can impact on a person’s experience of a sensory environment. This is because the aim of our research project is to use the results of this study to inform society to make public places more enabling/accessible for autistic people. However, during the feedback group we also discussed the fact that there are multiple personal or internal factors that can impact on a person’s experience of a sensory environment. I found this interesting as these factors are something I have focused on previously in my research (open access article: Therefore, while our sensory web focuses on external factors such as the proximity of other people in a space, we will also discuss the impact of internal factors in our research article.

wheel split into six coloured sections to represent each of the six core themes: sensoryscape, space, predictability, understanding, adjustments and recovery

Therefore, our wonderful Emily (@21andsensory) has designed us a sensory web (this shape is known by many names such as a radar chart, spider graph, web chart or star plot) of the different principles. The outer edge of the web represents the more disabling end of the spectrum (e.g. a higher sensory burden with multiple difficult sensory inputs), whereas closer to the centre of the web represents the more enabling end of the spectrum (such as a lower sensory burden with reduced or less challenging sensory input). Over the new few months we will be explaining each of these sections in more detail both on our website and on our social media pages so you can learn more about each theme.

As we mentioned in our last update, we used an approach called content analysis to identify different locations that people often report as being more difficult sensory environments such as supermarkets, eateries (e.g., restaurants, cafes, and pubs), highstreets and city/town centres, public transport, health care settings (such as GP surgeries and hospitals), and some retail shops. We plan to create a series of case studies focusing on each location to highlight how each of the principles from the sensory web can make these locations more challenging for autistic people.

We hope that our results accurately represent common experiences across autistic individuals. Do please send us an email or leave us a comment if you have any thoughts, questions, or feedback. We always welcome and appreciate insights to make sure our work reflects the lives of autistic people.

Our plan is to use all our data to create an interactive, multisensory experience in 2022 for people to learn more about what it is like to have sensory processing differences. We also hope to publish our findings as a research article. We will let you know how we are getting on and we will be asking for your input as we go, so look out for further updates!


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