Over the past 5 weeks, working on this project has resulted in both a shift in my understanding and my behavior. In high school and college, I have volunteered for organizations that run after school programs for children with special needs. I have worked with children with both high and low functioning autism. My exposure to this point has been from a third-person perspective, outside looking in. I didn’t know much about stimming, the family’s role in caring for someone with autism, and the educational and adult opportunities. This project filled a void in my understanding; a void that I believe should be filled for everyone. After spending the past five weeks with this topic, I have gained a newfound appreciation for parents, caregivers, teachers, individuals with autism, and anyone who has been touched with this disability. In particular, learning about “falling off the services cliff” and the unfair challenges families and ASD individuals have to face as they grow old moved me. Growing with autism was a taboo concept. I had no idea what happens when the time comes to be self-sufficient. I now know many of the services virtually disappear and state-funded adult programs are few and far between. The systematic skills that have been building on top of each other suddenly are no longer supported. Not only has there been a knowledge shift, I genuinely believe there will be a behavioral shift. Approaching an individual with autism doesn’t bring the same hesitations, questions, and intimidations. I’m more inclined to approach an ASD individual and I have the background to treat them appropriately.
While reflecting on my research process and systems mapping, there were a few things that stood out. I researched much more than I implemented in my guide. That’s expected. It’s been cited that movie directors conduct a tremendous amount of research with very little making it into the movie. In my case, it felt like too much. At one point, the research took over my project. I was concerned with covering every element of my topic at the expense of synthesizing what I have already researched. With research, there’s a tangible output. It felt like I was being productive, but possibly, I was distracting myself from a focus. Also, with limited constraints, the research felt endless. In the end, the richest research and most useful material came from my two interviews, personal experiences essays, and informal writing. The academic research felt somewhat forced. My boy scout guide was less concerned with statistical, concrete information, and more concerned with “between-the-lines” research from personal stories, family recommendations, and medical webpages.
In terms of the systems mapping, I shied away from it at first. It was difficult to find the utility. I feel as though I go about everything internally systems mapping. In the end, thinking about the systems helped me think about my final form. Once I spoke with Marina, she introduced to me some gaps in my research and system mapping, like the “technical materiality” aspect of stimming. Both my systems mapping and research processes felt essential to get to my final prototype.
With this being said, for the next project, I will consider the final form sooner. I will think about the type of experience I want to create by the end. I will map the systems as I research, or at least think about it as I progress. I will not be shy away from the systems mapping. I will be more open to trying new mechanisms to visualizing my systems. This will inform the experimentation-research balance.
Once I settled with a boy scout guide as my form inspiration and began my experimentation, something felt missing and uninspiring. It felt like mindlessly spitting out my research onto a page. When I considered the affordances of my form and listened to feedback from my peers, that’s when I found inspiration. I went with taking the sentiments of a boy scout and converting it into a guide for fathers with low-functioning autism. With this, I wanted to capture the type of experiences that I love; experiences that are imaginative and playful, yet still, have merit. I knew this would have the most potential to connect with others. It’s powerful to capture imaginations and create something entertaining. Though at time, while crafting the handbook, it felt robotic, I kept reminding myself that this is an important topic to tackle. My handbook frames a delicate topic through a playful lens, which motivate me throughout.
I was proud of the prototype and enjoyed listening to the feedback. The feedback reassured my intention of making it fun and imaginative, yet well-thought-out. Monika said it was compassionate and sincere in a touching way that was sophisticated. Sarah mentioned it was an approachable way into the topic. This was inspiring to hear. The group also seemed to come to a consensus that the name of my guide, “How to be a Marlin (an homage to Finding Nemo),” was distracting and is a layer that doesn’t add anything. I agree with the feedback. I created something in its own world so the title should be in its own world too. Yiru even brought up how a boy scout guide with associations to land and wilderness is in direct opposition to oceans, which may undermine my intention. Sarah suggested that there may a biological connection or analogy between a clownfish and navigating autism. I could have fully fleshed out the metaphors within the guide more and altered my mindset at the start. When looking back,, I gained more out of it than I ever could have realized.