“Bookshops are wonderful (except the ones with cafes in them, those aren’t really bookshops). Bookshops are usually quiet, dimly lit, have soft furnishings so don’t echo much, and don’t have many strong smells or sudden loud noises. Art galleries and museums are similarly quiet and if you find one that’s not too echoey it’s wonderful.“Social Media Post
As well as running a series of focus groups, in 2021 we created a series of social media posts to explore people’s sensory experiences in public spaces and what autistic people wanted businesses owners to know about sensory processing differences. We also wanted to find out what makes specific public spaces (e.g. supermarkets) more challenging and/or less accessible for autistic people. We published these social media posts across all three of our social media channels, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
In our first set of posts we aimed to learn more about which locations people generally find easier or more challenging, what neurotypical people often misunderstand about sensory processing and what people think could help to make public spaces more accessible. Our second series of social media posts focused on learning more about people’s experiences of specific locations such as supermarkets, restaurants and public transport.
Principles of Sensory Environments
We wanted to learn whether the themes we identified in the focus groups were similar or different to what people reported in replies to our social media posts. We used a process called reflexive thematic analysis to review the data. We found that while not every subtheme was represented in detail, people discussed each of the different themes such as the lack of space in many public places and the challenges caused by a location’s unpredictability.
While we know that every autistic person’s perspectives are unique, it suggests that aspects of these themes are common across the experiences of people in public spaces. Learn more at our page comparing each of the themes identified in the focus groups.
Accessible and Inaccessible Locations
We used content analysis to explore which locations people commonly identified as being either accessible or more challenging. We wanted to find out which locations were often easier or more difficult to manage and investigate whether these were the same as the locations we identified in our focus groups.
For both the enabling and disabling locations, we found that the same places were mentioned repeatedly. There were differences in the order that different places appeared and some of the most commonly discussed locations were specific to the social media posts such as libraries.
Read more about the different locations on our page comparing those identified in the social media posts and in our focus groups.
What do autistic people want neurotypical people to know?
On our social media posts, people identified that there are a range of areas that they feel business owners and neurotypical people misunderstand about autism and sensory processing. These include the variability of sensory processing difficulties and the negative impacts that more difficult sensory environments can have on an individual. Learn more on our page on what autistic people want neurotypical people and businesses to learn about sensory processing difficulties in public spaces.
Ethics Approval Reference: R74960/RE001