Tickets Are Available Now!

We’re excited to announce that free tickets for our immersive event (Sensory Supermarket) are available on Eventbrite now! We look forward to seeing you in Dagenham from the 19th-20th of August. There are just 10 slots currently available for each session, so book now to avoid disappointment.

On the 19th-20th of August we are taking over UCL’s PEARL building in Dagenham to explore what it could be like to be an autistic person in a supermarket in an immersive way. PEARL is a 6-minute walk from the closest tube station (Dagenham East), and you can find more information about the space including directions to get there on our page all about PEARL.

At the event will be sharing perspectives from autistic people as well as our research findings, including our principles of sensory environments as well as more information about locations that are more or less disabling. We hope our immersive event will inform business owners and organisations of how they can make locations more enabling and accessible for autistic people.

The sessions are a self-lead experience, meaning you can spend as much or as little time exploring the space as you would like within your 45-minute time slot.

Please note: Part of this event aims to create a heightened sensory experience of a supermarket based on quotes from autistic people. Multisensory stimuli such as loud noises and strong scents will be present throughout which some people may find more challenging.

There may be photography and/or video recording at the event. If you do not wish to be photographed/videoed, please let us know.

Update 01/09/2022 – This event has now ended. To learn more about the event, please visit our page on the The Sensory Supermarket (August 2022).

Catherine

Links between our Social Media Posts and Focus Groups

In our focus groups we found six themes that appear to influence how easily accessible public spaces such as supermarkets are for people with sensory processing difficulties. You can read more about each theme and how we used these to create our ‘sensory web’ on our page about principles of sensory environments.

We also found that several of these themes reflected the views of autistic children from a discussion group held at Queensmill school. We wanted to learn whether these were also found in the answers to the eleven questions we asked on social media.

Did people identify the same places as being enabling/disabling in our social media posts and focus groups?

Yes! While there were differences in the order that different locations appeared and the exact places people discussed, we saw the same places being mentioned over and over again.

Both the focus groups and social media posts found that supermarkets and eateries (such as pubs, cafes, and restaurants) were the two most challenging public spaces to be in. They also both identified outdoor spaces such as public parks, gardens and forests/woodland are the most easily accessible location. Read more about which locations were identified on our page comparing the locations reported on social media and in our focus groups.

Did we find the same themes in our focus groups and social media posts?

While we didn’t find evidence of every subtheme from the focus groups, we found that every theme we identified resonated with the experiences and views of people who answered questions on our social media pages.

Both groups identified that the sensory landscape (or sensoryscape) of a location can impact on how easy a space is to be in. Places with multiple overlapping inputs such as different smells and sounds are often particularly difficult to cope with. Locations can often be unpredictable and may change layout or products without warning, and this disruption to people’s routines can also make these spaces harder to cope with.

People reported in both groups that they worry about being judged by other people and that there is a lack of understanding about autism and sensory processing. Learn more about each theme at our page comparing the social media and focus groups themes.

Across our discussion group, focus groups and social media posts people highlighted a lack of understanding about autism/sensory processing difficulties in the general public. They also identified that adaptations and adjustments can often feel tokenistic rather than helpful. It shows that changes to support autistic people need to take into consideration what autistic people really want and to ensure that these changes reflect people’s diverse experiences and perspectives.

Want to learn more about what we found? Check out our page on our social media analysis for more information.

Our Event in August 2022

Update 01/09/2022 – This event has now ended. To learn more about the event, please visit our page on the The Sensory Supermarket (August 2022).

We are excited to announce that we will be hosting our Sensory Street immersive event at PEARL (Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory) in Dagenham. It is UCL’s first net zero carbon building and is a unique facility that explores the way people engage with their environment. In the past they have housed all sorts of different environments such as a train station, high street and town square, and this year we will be working with them to create an immersive supermarket inspired experience.

We are so pleased to be working with PEARL, as it is a location which gives us the ability to engage with people’s senses in a range of ways, such as through flooring, lighting, sound, smells and so much more. We want to bring to life our event using information that we’ve collected over the past year to make it reflect autistic people’s experiences and perspectives as much as possible.

Our event will be held in August 2022 and free tickets are available at: https://sensorysupermarket.eventbrite.com. We hope to make the event free for everyone but may limit the amount of people in the space at certain times to ensure that people can truly explore what we have created. We’re looking forward to exploring it with you! Want to learn more about our immersive event? Keep checking back on our website or follow our social media pages to find out when the tickets are released in the next few weeks!

Want to be involved in shaping our Immersive Event?

On the 24th of May we want to host an informal feedback group online on Microsoft Teams. This will be your first opportunity to find out more about what the event will be like and your chance to give us feedback on the design and plan.

We want our event to really reflect autistic people’s experiences and views, and so we would like to hear from as many people as possible. We welcome individuals who have not taken part in our previous groups as well as those who have.

Want to be involved in our online feedback session on the 24th of May (5:30-6:30pm)? If so, contact us by email, through our website or via social media.

Catherine

Links between the Sensory Experiences of Autistic Children and Adults

Over 2021 we ran a series of focus groups to learn more about the sensory experiences of autistic people in public places such as supermarkets and more. Every autistic person is unique, and therefore factors which might make an environment easier for one person may not have the same effect on someone else.  However, from the information that people gave us, we identified six themes that appear to impact on how easily accessible or inaccessible a location is for autistic people. You can read more about each theme and how we used these to create our ‘sensory web’ on our page about principles of sensory environments.

Learning about the views of autistic children

As well as learning about how the sensory aspects of public places can affect autistic adults, we were also interested in finding out more about their impact on autistic children. We were lucky to link with the Queensmill Trust who support a range of children across greater London with a specialism in supporting autistic pupils. They were kind enough to host a discussion session where staff members and parents discussed how the sensory environment of public places impacted on their children’s engagement and enjoyment of these locations. The session included staff who work in Early Years, Primary and Secondary settings to explore experiences across different age ranges.

Staff identified that there are a range of factors which can impact on a child’s ability to engage with and enjoy specific locations. This can include managing anxiety around unknown or unexpected inputs such as sounds or smells. They also reported that it is not just the environment itself that can have an impact on a child but also the reactions and behaviours of other people in the space. This includes other members of the public as well as staff (e.g. sales assistants or wait staff). Learn more about what they found in the discussion group in our page about the sensory experiences of autistic pupils.

Links between our findings and the discussion group

We identified that several of our themes about autistic adults from the focus groups resonate with information from the discussion group about autistic children. While these cannot represent the views of all autistic people, as everyone’s perspectives are unique, these similarities give an insight into aspects that autistic people might find more challenging in public places.

Both groups identified environments can have challenging sensory inputs such as loud noises and high numbers of other people which can contribute to a more challenging sensory environment (or sensoryscape). However, one of the main challenges in public places is that inputs can be unpredictable and unexpected which can make these more overwhelming. As identified in the discussion group, this unpredictability can make children more anxious about being in certain spaces. When they are given time and space to explore new inputs themselves (even ones which are intense or more extreme) they may find this less challenging or even enjoy it.

As identified in our focus groups, in the discussion group people highlighted the importance of understanding and empathy from others. Negative attitudes by people due to a lack of understanding of autism and sensory processing can lead to situations becoming more challenging and reducing a person’s enjoyment of a space.

People in both groups also identified the importance of increasing accessibility and ensuring that existing adjustments actually benefit autistic people. This includes considering the placement of sensory rooms or spaces to recover so that they can be easily accessed within venues. It also includes ensuring that ‘quiet hours’ in supermarkets and relaxed performances are at times that people can easily attend.  

To enable successful change, both groups identified that public spaces need to focus on making changes to both the physical and social environments and to consider how different factors may overlap and interact with one another.  Changes to support autistic people need to take in a diverse range of reactions and perspectives into account to ensure that adaptations are not tokenistic.

Catherine

Our Findings

We are excited to celebrate the launch of a new section on our website titled ‘our findings’. In this area we will be sharing information that we have learnt from working with autistic people over the past year in an accessible and easy to read format. We are looking forward to sharing quotes with you from our participants as well as explaining more about the sensory web that both Keren and Emily from our research team designed and developed.

What can I learn about so far?

So far, our website has information about the data we collected from our focus groups. We analysed this data using two different methods called reflexive thematic analysis and content analysis. We identified a range of different public places that autistic people often find more difficult as well as a series of themes which can make a space easier or more difficult to cope with.

Principles of sensory environments

Our analysis identified 6 themes and 15 subthemes that autistic people reported can make locations such as supermarkets or train stations easier or more difficult to visit. When analysing these, people identified that many of these factors often overlap with one another, and it can be the combination of these working together which make a space more difficult to engage with.

For each of the different themes we have identified a set of questions for business owners and organisations about ways they could reduce the impact of each theme to support autistic people.

Challenging locations

Our analysis identified five key locations which can be more challenging due to their sensory environment. These were: supermarkets, eateries (restaurants and cafés), high streets and town/city centres, public transport, and healthcare settings (e.g. GP surgeries and hospitals).

For each of the different locations we have identified a set of questions for business owners and organisations about ways they could make their spaces more autism friendly.

What is next for Sensory Street?

Now we have finished analysing the data from the focus groups, we are excited to analyse the social media posts in more detail to identify whether the information follows similar trends. We are also hoping to submit a journal article for publication in 2022.

Over the next few months we are looking forward to designing and developing our immersive public engagement event for August 2021. This event aims to be a place where we can share information about what we have learnt during this project in a creative and interesting way. We also want to give people the opportunity to experience what it is like to experience certain public spaces as an autistic person as well as educate businesses and other organisations about how they could support autistic people within their spaces.

Catherine

Links between Sensory Processing and Movement Difficulties (Praxis)

Sensory processing difficulties occur when a person finds it difficult to process and interpret sensory information (e.g. touch, taste or smell). It Sensory processing difficulties occur when a person finds it difficult to process and interpret sensory information (learn more about the eight different senses here). It may affect one sense or several of these. Difficulties processing sensory information can lead to differences in responses to certain stimuli. For example, a sound that one person can cope with may be overly loud or painful to other people. Sensory processing differences can affect one or more of the senses and is more common in autistic people. Find out more on our page on sensory processing differences.  

Difficulties in processing sensory information can also make it harder to plan and organise body movements. There are two main types of sensory-based motor disorders. Postural disorders involve balance and coordinate both the left/right side of the body, while Dyspraxia involves difficulties in planning and processing body movements. To produce movements there are three main stages:

  • Ideation (deciding what movement you want to make)
  • Motor Planning (Identifying how to carry out the movement)
  • Execution (the brain sends signals to the muscles to carry out the movement)

Difficulties at any of these stages can lead to difficulties in coordinating and processing certain movements and these can be impacted by difficulties processing sensory information. For example, if someone has difficulties with proprioception, they may find it harder to register the distance between them and the object they want to pick up, meaning that they over or under reach for the item. Difficulties with motor movements can affect people with sensory processing difficulties to different extents depending on which senses are affected and how. Below are examples of how difficulties with processing the different sensory systems can lead to difficulties with movement:

Vestibular System (balance and coordinating movement):

  • It may be easier to lose your balance such as when climbing stairs, riding a bike or jumping. This can also affect everyday routines such as when changing direction when walking
  • It can also be easier to lose balance when both feet are not on the ground such when walking on the tips of your toes
  • It can be harder to carry out new tasks based on your own knowledge as well as carrying out unfamiliar movements

Proprioception (feedback from muscles/joints in the body):

  • Difficulties knowing where parts of your body are, making you more prone to being clumsy by tripping, falling and bumping into objects.
  • It can also be more difficult to catch yourself after you begin falling

Tactile System (Touch):

  • Finding it difficult to complete fine motor movements such as holding a pencil to write or draw, fastening buttons or putting on gloves
  • It may also be harder to complete tasks which involve several steps such as cooking or putting on nail varnish
  • You may have difficulties eating and swallowing certain foods

Other difficulties could include:

  • Gripping objects loosely or too tightly
  • Finding it more difficult to adjust the body for certain tasks such as preparing to catch or throw a ball
  • Coordinating both sides of the body to perform tasks such as jumping
  • Difficulties coordinating multiple tasks at once e.g., writing at the same time as looking at the teacher.
  • Taking longer to learn to do new movements or activities

Raveen

Autistica’s 2030 Goals

Autistica is one of the UK’s leading autism research-based charities. Based on priorities identified by autistic people they have identified six goals they want to achieve by 2030. Their goals aim to increase the quality of life for autistic people, enabling them to live healthier, happier and longer lives. Autistica aims to achieve these by funding research to identify what works. Then they will advise and influence key partners to implement these solutions to improve the lives of autistic people.

The 6 goals identified they hope to see achieved by 2030 are: 

  1. By 2030 autistic people will have support from day one. Some autistic people can find it difficult to get a diagnosis, and following this, many individuals feel that they do not have the support they need. Their aim is to make specialist support accessible for autistic people and their families from day one to ensure that they receive the help they need when they need it.  People will be empowered to learn more about their diagnosis and have access to the tools they need to lead a healthier life
  2. By 2030 employment rate will double. Autistica have identified that while many autistic people are willing and able to work, inaccessible recruitment processes can make this more challenging. By 2030 they want to increase accessibility of recruitment and working practices for autistic people. Specialist employment support will be provided for autistic individuals as needed. Employers will also be able to access training and information about how to better support autistic people in the workplace.
  3. By 2030 autistic people will have proven treatments for anxiety. It is common for autistic people to also have anxiety which can have a negative impact on their day-to-day life. By 2030 Autistica aims to ensure that autistic individuals and their families can receive relevant support and evidence-based therapies to prevent, mitigate and reduce anxiety at all ages. Services will also be able to identify mental health risks and intervene as early as possible.
  4. By 2030 public spaces will be more accessible for neurodivergent (e.g., autistic, ADHD, dyslexic) people. As also identified in our research, the sensory aspects of public places can make them difficult for autistic people to access. The additional social demands can also make these challenging at times. Autistica aim to support existing public places to increase their inclusivity for autistic people and encouraging new developments to be designed with neurodiversity in mind. This may also include helping neurodivergent people to be able to access up-to-date information on existing public spaces so that they can prepare for these in advance.
  5. By 2030 every autistic adult will be offered yearly health checks. Research has identified that autistic people have higher rates of health problems (such as epilepsy, anxiety, and depression) throughout their life span. This means that autistic people may die at a younger age than neurotypical people without support. Autistica wants all autistic people to receive regular access to specialist healthcare check-ups. This will include providing GPs with the resources to support autistic people including how to adjust appointments to suit a person’s needs. This may include information about changes to how assessments are conducted, changes in communication style between patients and doctors and increased identification of co-occurring health conditions.
  6. By 2030 attitudes towards autistic people will change. Negative attitudes towards autistic people and their experiences can make it more challenging to access support and services, and Autistica has identified that approaches such as the Human Library can help to address prejudices people may have. Platforms such as this aim to educate and change changing negative opinions around topics such as autism. Part of this aim includes identifying successful approaches that can positively change attitudes towards autistic people so that these can be used to support change.

Here at Sensory Street we are particularly interested in Goal 4, as the work that we are doing aims to help identify the challenges that certain public spaces such as supermarkets have for autistic people. We want to use our immersive event in 2022 to help educate people about how spaces could be adapted to support neurodiverse people. We will also be adding more information about the work we are doing to our website and social media pages over the next few months, so keep checking back to learn more about our project.

Learn more about Autistica’s 2030 goals on their website.

Raveen

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: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-021-05186-3). 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!

Keren

Focus Groups – Round 2

We have had a very productive couple of months since our last update. Following our first found of focus groups, we have been busy analysing the responses using an approach called content analysis. We used this approach to identify which public places people from the focus groups commonly identified as particularly challenging. There were several locations that people reported as being more difficult sensory environments, such as supermarkets, shops, restaurants and health care settings (such as GP surgeries and hospitals).

In our second set of focus groups we asked people to explore these different locations in more detail to find out what they found more challenging about them. We ran four different groups in which people shared their thoughts and experiences about why these places can be challenging sensory environments, as well as how they could be adapted to be more accessible. It was interesting to hear personal accounts about different public places and how a range of factors can influence how sensory input is experienced.

Over the next few weeks, Cathy, Catherine, and I will be analysing the data across both rounds of focus groups using an approach called thematic analysis. In this approach, we will review the data to develop a series of themes and subthemes that reflect patterns of meaning in the data. From the first round of focus groups, we hope to develop themes that represent ‘principles’ of sensory environments. This will help show factors that moderate the accessibility/experience of the sensory environment across public places. From the second round of focus groups, we hope to develop themes related to specific challenging environments. This will help show more specific factors related to the accessibility/experiences of these places.

We are also releasing a second set of social media posts in August to learn more about the different locations that we identified. You can find these on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages as well as our first set of posts from July.

All the data that we have collected over these focus groups and our social media posts will help us 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.

In the meantime, we are going to conduct an informal feedback group online via Microsoft Teams in a few weeks’ time. This will be an opportunity for autistic individuals to give us feedback on our results and how we plan to present our findings. While we will not be recording this session, we will use your feedback to help us shape our future work. We welcome individuals who have not yet taken part in our previous groups as well as those who have.

Want to be involved in our online feedback session on the 7th of September (5:30-6:30pm)? If so, contact us by email, through our website or via social media…

Keren

Focus Groups – Round 1

So what have we been up to recently at Sensory Street? Well it has been a busy few weeks as the first of our ethics applications was approved and it was time to start collecting some data!

This month we ran our first set of focus groups exploring the lives of autistic people in public places such as restaurants, shops and more. In each group we asked people to share their thoughts about public places that they like going to and ones that are more difficult due to the sensory aspects of the environment.

It was great to have the chance to talk directly to autistic people and hear their experiences first-hand. Over the course of the week we had three different groups and everyone shared with us their thoughts about public places they enjoy and ones that are more difficult. I found it really interesting that some people said that COVID has been a positive experience for them, with the streets being quieter and restaurants being less busy and draining. I wonder what else we will learn in our future groups?

Over the next few weeks our research assistant Keren will be conducting a content analysis on transcripts from the focus groups. Content analysis is a process where researchers analyse the frequency, meanings and relationships of certain words, themes or concepts. For example, if people in the groups talked about a specific emotion or thought associated with one location (e.g. that certain locations were noisy) then the analysis would count how many people talked about this across the different groups and how often they talked about it.

We hope to have several different researchers look over the data and analyse it themselves if possible. Using a range of people will increase the inter-rater reliability, or the likelihood that the results that we find are valid.

Once we have identified the main themes and concepts from people’s responses in our first groups, we will create the questions for our second round of focus groups in mid to late July.  In this second set of focus groups we are hoping to develop our understanding of ideas that people have identified as important to them.

From all the data that we collect over these focus groups and our social media posts, we hope to create an interactive, multisensory experience in 2022 for people to learn more about what it is like to have sensory processing difficulties. Want to be involved in one of our focus groups in July? Contact us here…

Catherine

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