Designing software with adolescents with autism

Two male adolescents sit on the kerb looking at the phones.With the right supports and understanding adolescents with autism can make a significant contribution to software design. Applications for people with differing needs is a challenge for designers. So going directly to the users and working with them is the best solution. An Australian study did just that and found that once participants felt safe they readily engaged in the workshop activities. Participants also learned from their input and engaged with the iterative design process. The agreed overall goal of all stakeholders was to devise a platform where adolescents with autism could interact and socialise. Designers usually start out with goals in mind, but they used an open-ended approach so that participants could explore their needs to determine their goals for the software. The outcome was a co-designed app for smartphones and smartwatches. 

While this article is about software design, the processes and learnings are relevant to other design disciplines. The article uses the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. However, the notion of autism being a disorder is challenged by many people with autism. The article is titled Co-designing with Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: From Ideation to Implementation.  It is open access and the researchers are based at James Cook University.

Abstract:  Most co-design-based Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) research is conducted with children and does not involve the participants directly. Studies have shown that people with ASD can take on the co-designer role in early phases of the software design process. We present a longitudinal study that investigates how adolescents with ASD participate as co-designers in an iterative software design process. In this work, we conducted seven co-design workshops with six adolescents with ASD over eight months. The team exchanged ideas and communicated through group discussion and drawings. Our findings suggest that: (1) parents, community group and fellow participants play a pivotal role in supporting a longitudinal ASD co-design study and (2) adolescents with ASD are also able to make better design decision over an iterative software design process. These findings should be considered when engaging adolescents with ASD as co-designers in a software design process.