Social Media Analysis

“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 . We also wanted to find out what makes those spaces 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.

  • Young man in a blue shirt and yellow shorts looks quizzically at text which reads ‘Which public places present the biggest sensory challenges to you? Why?’
  • Text reads: ‘Are there any public places you avoid because of sensory aspects of the environment? Why?’ in white and yellow on a dark blue background
  • Old women dressed in a yellow skirt and blue cardigan looks quizzically at the words: ‘Are there any public places you like going because of sensory aspects of the environment? Why?’
  • Words read: ‘Has COVID-19 had an impact on your experiences of public places over the past year?’ the words ‘If so, why?’ are written on the back of a face mask on the bottom of the image
  • A woman in a white dress stands looking at the screen holding her finger in the air. Next to her is the text ‘What changes do you think could be made to improve public spaces for autistic people?’
  • A woman is looking at the screen quizzically, and above her a speech bubble reads ‘What would you like business owners to know about sensory processing differences?’
  • Words read: ‘What do you think neurotypical people often misunderstand about sensory processing differences?’ on a cool toned background with a large question mark
  • An old man is scratching his head and looks quizzically at the words ‘How do you feel about going to eateries such as cafes, pubs and resultants? What sensory aspects of the environment do you like/not like?’
  • A series of supermarket trolleys line up across the base of the image. Above this reads the words ‘How do you feel about going to the supermarket?’
  • A woman dressed in scrubs with a stethoscope around her neck looks out at the screen. Next to her are the words ‘How do you feel about going to health care settings such as hospitals and GP surgeries? What sensory aspects of the environment do you like/not like?’
  • A red bus is driving along a road away from the Houses of Parliament. In the sky above it reads the words ‘How do you feel about using public transport?’
  • A woman wearing glasses looks quizzically at the screen. In the speech bubble above her reads the words ‘How do you feel about the sensory aspect of going to high streets or city/town centres?’
  • Text reads: ‘How do you feel about going to the shops? What sensory aspects of going shopping do you like/not like?’ In the background a person is holding a set of brown paper shopping bags with red painted nails

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 top 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

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